Hung out to pie

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Picture the scene: Sutton United play host to Arsenal in the biggest game in their history. 83 minutes in, 2-0 down and three substitutes used, goalkeeping coach, substitute goalkeeper and general club man Wayne Shaw tucks into a savoury pastry, safe in the knowledge he could not be called upon by his manager, Paul Doswell. A harmless joke to entertain the millions of viewers, lighten the mood of those underdog enthusiasts and further embrace the ‘rolie-polie goalie’ title he had been championed with. Or so he thought.

Our great game certainly throws up a few weird and wonderful occurrences (think Rene Higuita’s scorpion kick or Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick), but surely ‘piegate’ trumps the lot. 23-stone Shaw faces trouble from the FA and The Gambling Commission after he admitted he knew one-off match-day sponsors Sun Bet had offered odds of 8-1 that he would be caught eating a pie live on air any some point during the game. The Gambling Commission enforcement has since commented, with intelligence director, Richard Watson, saying:

“Integrity in sport is not a joke and we have opened an investigation to establish exactly what happened. As part of that, we’ll be looking into any irregularity in the betting market and establishing whether the operator has met its licence requirement to conduct its business with integrity.”

By potentially defying the FA regulation that forbids players to coerce or influence anybody’s decision to bet on the ‘result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in, a football match or competition’, what started as an innocent jibe, has resulted in Shaw resigning and Sutton left red-faced.

There are so many things to question within this bizarre story such as should Shaw be punished? Was it just a harmless joke? Was the snack itself a pie or a pasty? The latter of which has caused the bigger divide in the football watching community.

Even after further examination on defining attributes of ‘pie’ or ‘pasty’, this peculiar question still has no easy answer. Shaw himself maintains it was a meat and potato pasty, and this does look to be the case when, on close examination, the snack appears to be of a folded pastry variety. However, with pie being defined as ‘fruit, meat, cheese, or other ingredients baked over, under, or surrounded by a crust of pastry’, it could be seen to fit this description. A debate, perhaps, for another day.

In the case of the two other questions raised, it is worth considering the fact that, when simplified, a man has lost his job for eating a pie. Did he do it to intentionally bag his friends some money? Probably not. Had the fame he received as a result of his weight and professional got to his head? Potentially. Was the joke harmless and entertaining? Most definitely.

There comes a time when, despite regulation, one must take a situational approach to certain events. The extenuating circumstances of this man, probably never lectured on gambling bylaws, potentially not media trained, possibly heavily influenced by fame and popularity, partaking in a prank that has done no one harm, should surely see him excused. The media should get behind the man that they have, on occasion, ridiculed. Shaw has taken the weight jibes with tremendous grace and humour, embracing his size to the point that some began to vilify him for doing so. A lose-lose situation for the 45-year-old.

What is done, is alas, done, and Shaw’s resignation will see him walk away from the club he has honourably represented. In the day and age of fitness freaks in our top leagues, Shaw has shown you can be successful without Xherden Shaqiri’s quads or Adebayo Akinfenwa’s biceps. He is a character who will be sorely missed.

Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

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