The week began with an FA cup tie to bring back some of the romance of the cup. Sutton Utd, from the National League playing host to Arsenal from the Premier League, currently with 105 places separating the two sides. The Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger selected a strong side, showing respect to their hosts and the tradition of the Cup. Sutton were not the part-timers of yesteryear, with the obligatory PE teacher, bank clerk, postman, milkman or builder. They were made up of youngish hopefuls, recently rejected by the academies of bigger clubs and hoping to work their way back to the higher levels, and players nearing the end of their career, sliding down the levels after having performed at the top levels. One of them, for example had played in the Sutton youth team before reaching the Championship with Charlton and Middlesbrough. One or two of them were carrying a few more pounds than they did at their peak.
There had already been a little controversy over Sutton’s acceptance of a one off shirt sponsorship deal with SunBet, a betting offshoot of the Sun newspaper, which is persona non grata for many football fans in general and Liverpool in particular.
By the 80th minute Arsenal were a comfortable 2 – 0 up and Sutton had used all their substitutes. In a break in the action the TV cameras cut away to a shot of the Sutton bench. There was Wayne Shaw, the goalkeeping coach and reserve keeper. It’s fair to say that since the days he was in the Southampton Youth Team with Alan Shearer, he has let himself go a bit, piling on the pounds. There he was, the 24 stone ‘sportsman’, in full close up munching on a meat and potato pie.
I am no expert in the history of sportsmen and junk food during a match. I know that Marcus Willis, a British tennis player who lost to Roger Federer at Wimbledon last year, once ate a candy bad and sipped soda during breaks in a match. More famously I know of the tale of the NBA legend Charles Barkley and his time at Auburn. Nicknamed ‘The Round Mound of the Rebound’, and rather heavier than one might expect, the story goes that fans of a rival college arranged for Dominos to deliver two pizzas to him as he sat on the bench during a match.
No harm, no foul, fat bloke eats pie, a cheap laugh.
Then it transpired that SunBet had offered odds of 8 to 1 on this happening.
The cheap laugh was now a betting scandal. Wayne knew of the bet and knowing that (a) he would play no part in the match and (b) some of his friends had taken a punt on that bet, he ate the pie. The rotund keeper, who frequently slept on a sofa at the ground, to make sure it was ready for matches and training the next day, tearfully resigned.
I don’t think he thought it through and got carried away with the attention he received in the build up to the game. I don’t imagine that The Sun newspaper cares about him, they got the publicity they wanted. I find the position of the FA hard to support since they allow clubs to be sponsored by betting companies and are letting a player alleged to have placed over 1000 bets play in the Premier League. No one comes out of it well, like the inflatable pupil with the drawing pin at the inflatable school – he has let the school down, he has let his friends down, but most of all he has let himself down.
The other sacking was Claudio Ranieri. Leicester City the unbelievable, fairy-tale, champions last year, one place above the relegation zone this year have sacked the manager. Maybe his mistake was winning the title; had Leicester City just avoided relegation or even achieved mid table obscurity then this season wouldn’t be such a shock. Perhaps the decision will prove the turning point in their season; maybe they’ll still go down. It just goes to show there’s no place for sentiment in the football business. Last year they caught lightning in a bottle, this year they got a nasty shock and whilst Claudio bears the responsibility for some dodgy purchases and tactical tinkering, it just shows that it’s easier to sack one coach than ten or so underperforming players.
My much better half has just called to me from the kitchen, that in this afternoons football the Sutton United goalkeeper had to go off injured and because of Pie-gate they had no substitute goalkeeper. They still won the game at Torquay, 3-2.
She adds that dinner is ready.
We’re having pie tonight.