Before we get started let’s get one or two things straight.
Firstly, it wasn’t a pie. It was a pasty. The inability of Great Britain to tell the difference between the two says so much more about the state of modern football than I ever could.
Secondly, we need to stop adding “gate” to controversial stories. “Gate” doesn’t mean “scandal”. It comes from the Watergate hotel, the location of two politically motivated burglaries that took place there that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and was dubbed the “Watergate Scandal”. If the same incident had taken place in a Travel Lodge, then we would no doubt use “Lodge” in the same way. Which would be weird.
However, as Pie-Gate sounds much better than Pasty-Issue we’ll stick with it for now.
The scenes when Sutton United drew Arsenal in the FA Cup were a thing to behold. The Non-League club had done brilliantly to get to the last 16 of the competition. It would be harsh to describe their route thus far as ‘easy’ but at the same time names like Leeds United and AFC Wimbledon don’t quite fall into the “Giant Killing” category that the players of a club like Sutton dream of. This was to be a massive opportunity for the South London minnows. Not only to prove what they could do on the big stage but also this was a chance for the club to secure its financial future with a giant a host of sponsorship and TV coverage deals.
That’s where it all started to go wrong.
Much of the pre-match attention was on Roly-Poly-Goalie Wayne Shaw, the 23 stone, 43-year-old reserve team goalkeeper and groundsman. The kind of football player who would look more at home turning out for the Dog and Duck than a proper football team. The kind of figure that gives us all hope that it’s not too late, that maybe one day we could still get spotted playing 5-a-side and offered a lucrative Premier League. Despite a growing waist line and disappearing hair line.
Wayne was more than happy to grasp the 15 minutes of fame on offer with both greasy hands. The nations sporting media clambered to chat to the big man filling their pages with talk of his diet, team-mate lowdowns and even the offer of a nude photo-shoot. All of them stopping just short of pointing and shouting; “Ha ha look at his belly. Look at the footballer’s massive gut” because, you know, it’s funny to laugh at fat people right?
Shaw was delighted to play along with the cornucopia of jokes about his weight (Maybe what we hear about fat people being jolly is true after all). So, when he spotted that SunBets, the teams sponsor of the game, were offering odds of 8-1 that he’d chow down on a delicious pastry snack whilst sitting on the bench for the televised game of course he was going to bite, excuse the pun. After all, it was all just “a bit of banter”. It’s amazing that he was so happy to play along. Having previously been sacked by the club back in 2013 for head butting a Kingstonian fan who called him “Fat” it would be fair to say that Wayne has somewhat mellowed about the topic with recent wads of cash years.
It’s easy to paint Shaw as the villain of the piece (or at least I found it easy) and stick him in the role of the cash grabbing, fame hungry wannabe who was so desperate for his 5-minutes of fame that he was willing to stuff baked goods into his pie-hole (literally) on national television. In the same way we deride contestants on TV talent shows with no identifiable talent, laughing and shouting “Do THEY not realise”. He is not the villain here. Here is a man who got carried away. A man who loved his job, and gave it everything, often sleeping at Sutton’s stadium overnight to make sure he could complete his duties. A man who has been taken advantage of by a national newspaper and will now be hung out to dry by the same newspaper no doubt labelling him a “sell out” and a “disgrace”.
Forget FA and Gambling commission investigations into exactly how and why the pie got eaten (you really couldn’t make this up could you) what is really important is that yet again we’ve let a little of the FA Cup’s Magic get sold off to the highest bidder. The TV coverage did its best to convince us that Sutton’s game against Arsenal was more important than Trumps election, Brexit and the global financial crisis all rolled into one. The treated us to tours of the away team dressing room. They examined the 3G pitch in great detail. They talked to tea-makers, programme sellers, scarf venders and countless life-long fans that have supported the team through thick and thin despite only buying a shirt last week and having only been to 2 games in their lives but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough because a national newspaper decided that it could use Sutton United’s historic match, the biggest occasion in the club’s history, as a cheap publicity stunt.
Sadly for Wayne he’ll be remembered as the man who’s considerable shadow put the hard work of his teammates in reaching the latter stages of the FA cup in the shade.
Sutton United will be remembered as the team whose goal-keeper once ate a pie on TV.
As for the Sun… They won’t be remembered for dodgy betting deals the likes of which would embarrass Joey Barton. They won’t be remembered for cheapening one of the sports oldest and most respected competitions. They won’t be remembered for the latest in a long line of events that damage the reputation of the beautiful game.
However, we should try and remember that it is they who are really to blame. They took advantage of the hopes and dreams of a whole club and its supporters for the sake of a cheap laugh and a few extra column inches. The tabloid machine chewed them up and spat them out… if only Wayne had done the same with the pie.