Olympic torch relay: Gary Lineker helps Leicester celebrate
Former Foxes favourite Gary Lineker helped whip up excitement in Leicester yesterday morning as the Olympic flame set off on the latest leg of its journey across the country.
Sporting his official torch carrier’s tracksuit and a 005 badge, the ex-City striker spoke to fans as he waited near Abbey Park for his stint to begin.
Then, at about 7.30am, Gary’s torch was lit and he headed off with it for a short stretch along Abbey Lane.
Speaking after his jog, Gary said: “I didn’t singe my ears and I didn’t drop it so that’s something.”
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Gary was the fifth carrier of the hallowed flame as it made its way from the National Space Centre to Uppingham, in Rutland, yesterday.
“To see the Olympic flame here in Leicester is very exciting and I couldn’t imagine carrying it anywhere else,” he said.
As Gary he ran past the park, crowds bustled around him taking photos and videos and cheering him on.
“It’s lovely to get such a warm reception,” he said.
“It’s nice that some people still remember that I used to play here once upon a time.
“To be part of such an exceptionally huge event is fantastic and it’s great that people have come out to support it.”
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The Match of the Day presenter completed his leg of the world’s biggest relay when he handed the fabled flame to Matt Gopsill, of Thurnby.
Masters student Matt has cerebral palsy and uses a motorised wheelchair controlled by head movements.
The 30-year-old, who relies on a synthesised computer voice to communicate, said: “I felt really special - I didn’t realise that Gary could still pass that well.
“I’m so proud to be part of the day, it was amazing.”
Matt was nominated for the relay by staff at De Montfort University.
“I thought it was wonderful that DMU put me forward,” he said.
“When they told me, I didn’t feel like I was anyone special, but after today I certainly do.”
Matt’s mum, Lesley, 61, passed the flame from Gary to her son as he is unable to use his arms.
The torch was placed in a special holder which was attached to the front of Matt’s wheelchair.
His dad, Haydn, 63, said: “Matt had to get up at 4am this morning. That’s the middle of the night for a student.
“He was quite laid back about it all until organisers said, ‘right let’s get you on the bus’, and that’s when the nerves hit.
“He’s chuffed to bits, especially - being a big football fan - getting to meet Gary Lineker.
“I think the torch relay has really captured everyone’s imagination.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience and one the whole family has been able to get involved in. It’s been amazing.”
Spectator Joshua Marley was also delighted to meet Gary - his hero - and grab a quick photo and signature.
The youngster said: “I will never forget this day.”
The torch was given a raucous reception as it arrived in Belgrave Road, with people cheering the runners on from every vantage point.
Fencing coach Richard Sharpe, 49, from East Goscote, who has trained several prodigious talents to represent their country led the way with the torch.
He said: “It was just great to be here and a tremendous honour.”
Turning to onlookers, he added: “And yes, I have seen Gary Lineker! I think I’m in everybody’s pictures because I was sitting next to him on the bus, which was mobbed at one point. I think really enjoyed himself.
“Speaking for myself, I was ready to go again. It was brilliant!”
Richard handed over to charity fundraiser Shobha Trivedi, 55, from Leicester, who was nominated for inspiring people, especially those from ethnic backgrounds, to get involved with sport – going as far as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007.
“It’s a great honour to have been selected to be a torchbearer,” she said.
It was then left to city teenager Lucas Hayward to take up the torch for not one but two legs, sprinting along Belgrave Road and Loughborough Road.
The 15-year-old, who was born with a facial disfigurement and has undergone several operations, was nominated for his campaign work with the Changing Faces charity.
After completing his two legs, he said: “It’s a massive event and a great opportunity. I felt so excited.”
It was then the turn of Richard Bebbington, 45, former mayor of Ashby, who ran 12 marathons in as many months during his term in office for children’s charity Wishes 4 Kids.
He said: “It was such a great atmosphere and something I will never forget.”
And waiting to take up the baton in Birstall was his wife Angela Conibear, 38, who is also a stalwart for the children’s charity.
“We were delighted to have been chosen and nominated independently,” she said.
“I had the privilege of carrying the flame on the train on the Great Central Railway.”
People of all generations came out to support the torchbearers as the convoy made its way along Loughborough Road, Belgrave, to the Red Hill roundabout.
Teacher Katherine Burns, 46, from Evington, came prepared, with a fold out chair and good book to catch the spectacle in Belgrave Road.
“I arrived 6.30am to make sure I had a spot,” she said. “I had to be early to catch the torch before I went to work.
“I’m glad I made the effort.”
More than 100 youngsters enjoyed a mass outing from Catherine Junior School, in Brandon Street, Belgrave.
Head teacher Joy Denning said: “The children were so excited and didn’t want to miss out. It’s been building all week. It’s a really special day.”
Pupil Upashna (CORR) Savadia, 10, said: “It’s a big party. Everyone is cheering and shouting. I love it.”
Residents and staff at Asra House care home, in Loughborough Road, joined the party, with volunteers holding an Olympic torch relay breakfast on the roadside.
Manager Husaina Hirani said: “It’s been a lot of fun and everyone has been in good spirits.”
Assistant mayor, Councillor Manjula Sood joined residents for breakfast along with her mother Mrs Raj Bowry, 89.
She said: “What a wonderful day for Belgrave and Leicester.
“It’s a great thing for people old and young and from all different backgrounds to be part of.”
Reporting by Peter Warzynski, Tim Healy and David Owen