Lineker, Ronaldo, Messi, Ronaldinho: 11 times players got standing ovations from rival fans

  • Kobe Tong
Lineker in action for Tottenham.

Gary Lineker is a widely respected figure in English football and for good reason.

As well as enduring as one of the greatest centre forwards that the English game has ever seen, Lineker always carried himself with a classiness and integrity that endeared him to countless rival fans and players.

The dads, sons, mums and daughters on the terraces would tip their hat to the Three Lions legend just as much for his record of never receiving a single yellow or red card as they would for, say, his Italia 90 heroics.

Lineker’s final game in England

As such, when the sad day came that Lineker played his final ever game in English football on May 5, 1992, it couldn’t have felt more apt that he was given a moving reception by both sets of supporters.

Ahead of a transfer to Nagoya Grampus Eight that would round off his professional career, Lineker bookended his time in the old First Division by scoring – naturally – in a 3-1 defeat for Tottenham Hotspur at Manchester United.

However, perhaps even more special than Lineker finding the net on that most emotional of days was the fact that the Old Trafford faithful joined Spurs fans in marking his great career with passionate applause.

It’s not often that a player will leave such an indelible impact upon the sport that supporters meant to be jeering them, not cheering them, will unabashedly take to their feet and show their respect.

Antony to Manchester United Advanced! Anthony Martial STAYING! (Football Terrace)

Lineker on receiving a standing ovation

As such, when Lineker sat down with Jake Humphrey and Damian Hughes as part of a fascinating appearance on the High Performance Podcast, it was an unforgettable moment that just had to be discussed.

“How much is integrity important for you?” Hughes posed to Lineker. “And the reason I ask that is that I remember your last game in English football was at United. And you got a standing ovation, didn’t you?”

To that, Lineker responded: “It was beautiful. That’s one of the reasons that I’ve always had a degree of affinity towards that football club.”

Read more: The High Performance Podcast hub

“I remember being with my brothers,” Hughes continued. “When you came off the field and we sort of reflected on why you got it. And I think it was because you’d acted throughout your career with integrity. And I think that was what people were recognising.”

Lineker replied by musing: “I hope so. I do think it’s important, I really do, especially in modern times, you know, there’s a lot of hate out there now. I mean, we’ve always been tribal creatures, but I think with social media and things, it’s become more so.

“And why can’t you have a different opinion to someone, whatever it is, why does it have to be so divisive?”

Lineker playing for Tottenham.
9 Dec 1989: Gary Lineker of Tottenham Hotspur in action during an FA Carling Premiership match against Everton at White Hart Lane in London. Tottenham Hotspur won the match 2-1. \ Mandatory Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport

It really is a credit to Lineker’s legacy in the English game that his departure from it was greeted with universal applause, thus seeing him take his place amongst an exclusive club of players to receive a standing ovation from opposition fans.

The phenomena of standing ovations

So exclusive, in fact, that we couldn’t resist trawling through the record books to find other heartwarming examples where rivalries and bitterness were cast aside for admiration and sportsmanship.

After all, as much as we love the tribalism of football, there is something truly special about seeing fans put their disagreements aside for just so much as a second and joining together every now and again.

Plus, well, Lineker just so happens to find himself in esteemed company with his fellow recipients of standing ovations also ranking amongst the greatest male footballers to have ever lived.

Lineker scores for Tottenham.
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – SEPTEMBER 14: Spurs striker Gary Lineker celebrates after scoring the first goal during a 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers in a League Division One match between Tottenham Hotspur and QPR at White Hart Lane on September 14, 1991 in London, England. (Photo by Bob Martin/Allsport/Getty Images)

11 players applauded by opposition fans

Intriguing, right? Well then, don’t let us keep you any longer as we walk through 11 players who, like Lineker on that spine-tingling day at Old Trafford, had opposition fans on their feet and clapping at their brilliance.

1. Ronaldinho vs Real Madrid (2005)

Let’s start with arguably the most famous example of them all. A prime Ronaldinho was just so magical in Barcelona‘s 3-0 win over Real Madrid, scoring two absurdly good solo goals, that the Bernabeu simply had to stand up and pay their respects.

2. Lionel Messi vs Real Betis (2019)

When the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner wrapped up his 51st career hat-trick with a lob so good that it was nominated for the FIFA Puskas Award, the home fans at the Benito Villamarín Stadium could do nothing but applaud the greatness.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Juventus (2018)

Ronaldo was earning applause from Juve fans even before his transfer to the club just weeks later with his iconic bicycle kick, one of the Champions League’s greatest ever goals, instantaneously sparking admiration from every corner of the ground.

4. Thierry Henry vs Sunderland (2003)

It says everything about Henry’s virtuoso performance at the Stadium of Light that drew passionate applause from the home fans that it wasn’t overshadowed by the small fact that Freddie Ljungberg scored a hat-trick.

Arsenal's Henry terrorising Sunderland.
Football – FA Barclaycard Premiership – Sunderland v Arsenal – 11/5/03 Fredrik Ljungberg – Arsenal celebrates one of his 3 goals against Sunderland with Thierry Henry and Robert Pires Mandatory Credit:Action Images / Lee Smith

5. Steven Gerrard vs Chelsea (2015)

A mixed one, this, because Gerrard later fired back at the Chelsea fans in his post-match interview after sections of the crowd mocked him for his infamous slip, but he was nevertheless applauded by all four corners of Stamford Bridge when he was substituted.

6. Andres Iniesta vs Real Madrid (2015)

The third and most recent Barcelona icon to get an El Clasico applause from the home fans at the Bernabeu, Iniesta turned provider for Neymar and scored a special strike of his own to crown a masterclass in the Blaugrana’s 4-0 win.

7. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Liverpool (2014)

A typically electric atmosphere at Anfield for a European night with every Real player given their dues by the Kop, but it was Ronaldo – who scored a fabulous opening goal – who received the heartiest applause when he was subbed off after 75 minutes.

8. Diego Maradona vs Real Madrid (1983)

It might not have been all sunshine and rainbows for Maradona at Camp Nou, but his eternal greatness was on full display when he scored a truly breath-taking solo goal in El Clasico to earn the love of the Madristas.

9. Ronaldo vs Manchester United (2003)

I know the hat-trick, you know the hat-trick, your grandma’s dog-sitter’s ex-boyfriend’s hairdresser probably knows this hat-trick and therefore you’ll know exactly why United fans simply had to applaud it.

10. Alessandro del Piero vs Real Madrid (2008)

Kudos to Real fans because they sure do know how to pay respects to opposition players with Del Piero bringing the Bernabeu to its feet by scoring two fabulous goals from outside the box, including a silky free-kick.

11. Dennis Bergkamp vs Manchester City (2003)

How typical that a player defined by his classiness on the ball would be on the receiving end of the classiest gesture opposition fans can offer, drawing applause for a masterclass at Maine Road as he scored in a 5-1 win for Arsenal.

Bergkamp scores at Maine Road.

Lineker amongst icons

You’re in pretty good company there, Gary.

Now, for the most part, the above examples are actually quite different to Lineker’s story as they revolve around performances so excellent that the opposition fans just had to give credit where credit was due.

However, not to downplay what undoubtedly makes for a staggering list of footballing moments, there’s an argument to be made that the reception Lineker received is actually greater for having represented something more.

Lineker in his Tottenham days.
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – APRIL 14: Spurs goalscorers Gary Lineker (l) and Paul Gascoigne celebrate after the 1991 FA Cup semi final between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at wembley stadium on April 14, 1991 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Smith/Allsport/Getty Images)

How special it must still be for a legend of English football to reflect back on his final game in the country and recall that Old Trafford came together, stood up and applauded him for, well, being him.

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