An English soccer player who enjoyed a meat pie on the sideline during a game was forced to resign on Tuesday after his meal spurred a formal investigation into gambling. The strange tale involves a Cinderella team, a bookmaker eager for publicity and, most important, a portly, middle-aged goalkeeper with a taste for meat and potatoes.
When Sutton United, a small team from the fifth tier of English soccer, met mighty Arsenal in an F.A. Cup fifth-round match on Monday, there was naturally a lot of attention on the game. One of the Sutton players who was singled out for pregame press was Wayne Shaw, as much for his girth as for his talent.
His own team referred to him as the Roly Poly Goalie. He is 46 years old, 6-foot-2 and somewhere around 322 pounds, or 23 stone as the British papers usually put it. Mostly a coach, caretaker and community liaison for the small-time team, he was also its backup goalkeeper.
As a teenager, he played for the professional club Southampton and was on the same team as the soccer legend-turned-BBC broadcaster Alan Shearer. “I actually followed my dreams to the Premier League, and he followed his to the burger van, I think,” Shearer said in the pregame BBC coverage of Monday’s match.
Bookmakers rushed to provide betting opportunities on the high-profile nationally televised game. In its eagerness to stand out in the competitive industry, the lesser-known company Sun Bets offered lighthearted, but very real, odds of 8-1 that Shaw would eat a pie on the sideline during the match. It was great for a laugh.
In the 83rd minute of the match, which Arsenal won, 2-0, Shaw, who was not playing, was caught on camera dining on a meat and potato pie on the sideline.
Afterward, he guilelessly confessed that he knew about the bet and had eaten the pie because of it. “I said: ‘I don’t know. I have eaten nothing all day. So I might give it a go later on,’ ” he told The Daily Mail.
Shaw said he had not profited from his pie, but knew that others had. “Obviously, we are not allowed to bet,” he said, but he acknowledged that “I think a few of the mates and a few of the fans” had.
The trouble is, his dinner could be considered what is called “spot fixing.” Most sports-betting scandals around the world these days do not involve throwing an entire game. That requires too many participants and is too easily noted.
Instead, fixers take advantage of the many side bets offered by bookies and arrange for a player to do something small that they can nonetheless bet on: Take a throw-in at a certain time, bogey a specific hole or bowl a cricket ball a certain way.
No one is saying Shaw’s act was motivated by a criminal betting syndicate, but his manager, Paul Doswell, told reporters, “I don’t think it shows us in the best light.”
On Tuesday, Shaw was forced to resign from the club after the Football Association’s gambling commission said it would investigate if consumption of the pie was a breach of betting regulations.
“It’s a very, very sad end,” Doswell said, adding the club was “very disappointed in how we were portrayed.”
Sun Bets seemed to enjoy the publicity, announcing that it had lost a five-figure sum on the bet and noting that Shaw “finishes his pie with glory.”