Mark Lawrenson, the long-serving former Football Focus pundit, has suggested that he was culled by the BBC because he is “65 and a white male”.
The former Liverpool defender’s retirement was announced at the end of last season after 30 years with the corporation, but in an interview he explained how he did not leave of his own volition. When asked by The Sunday Times why the BBC wanted him to go, he replied: “Well, I’m 65 and a white male, so you know...”
Lawrenson described himself in the interview as “anti-woke”. “In all my time at the BBC, nobody ever said you can’t say this or that, but the woke thing drives me bonkers,” he said. “The BBC is the national broadcaster and I get that, but they are frightened to death of upsetting anybody.”
He described a “very early woke” moment at the BBC in 1997 when he was co-commenting at Bradford City after the death of Princess Diana. “The editor of the programme said, ‘Any free-kicks around the penalty area tonight, please don’t mention the wall,” Lawrenson added.
He also criticised a culture where editors “probably in their mid-20s” would say “’Don’t say that’ and I am thinking, ‘I’ve been here for 20-odd years, I think I might know what to say and what not to say’.”
Prior to scaling down duties in recent years, Lawrenson was a regular co-commentator for England matches with John Motson. He covered six World Cups in total, but said the BBC’s head of football told him in March that he was no longer needed.
“It was just, ‘We are going on the road next season with Focus. We don’t think it is really something for you’. I haven’t watched the programme since to see if they have gone on the road.”
The BBC has previously discarded popular names in sports broadcasting as part of efforts to improve diversity. In 2020, Radio 5 Live presided over a strategic cull which led to Cornelius Lysaght, its voice of racing, to leave along with fellow staffer and host Jonathan Overend. Mark Pougatch – another respected anchor – was also told there was no regular work.
Lawrenson says current Football Focus host Alex Scott, whom he initially worked with, “was just thrown in... It’s a tough gig, because Dan [Walker] was so good. Some people just don’t want her to be any good, but she has gotten better and better.”
Telegraph Sport has approached the BBC for comment.