The whole episode is an exercise in poor taste
Everything about the story of Wayne Shaw, Sutton’s reserve goalkeeper who ate a pie on the sidelines during his team’s match against Arsenal, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Shaw, as you have likely seen in countless memes, images, and gifs, is a very large man. He has, one imagines, eaten pies on previous occasions. Sun Bet—the gambling affiliate of a certain Hillsborough-denying newspaper—gave odds on his eating a pie on TV during this rare nationally televised match for a non-league side. He went to the pub at halftime and bought the pie, which he later faced. Shaw has now resigned from Sutton as the FA investigates the whole affair.
This is what happens when The Magic of the Cup runs headfirst into non-league or lower-league football: the smallest hint of local color becomes a painfully on-the-nose meme that burns brightly before collapsing under the weight of its own obviousness. Wayne Shaw, in that regard, was the perfect storm. He was large—and large men are always shorthand for non-league’s physicality—and vacuumed the substitute’s bench before kickoff. How quaint. Food is a useful point of contrast with broccoli-obsessed Arsène Wenger’s lean and muscular boys. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a salad in my life, or a vegetable,” Shaw’s teammate, Nick Bailey, told The Sun. “It’s always worked for me.” Since Shaw is larger, however, Sun Bet appears to have gone with him for its food-related stunt.
Shaw ate a pie on the sidelines once it became clear he wouldn’t be playing and everyone freaked the hell out. Had nobody seen a grown-ass man have a snack before? Sure it would have been strange if Arsène’s twink-ish youth prospects indulged in such a manner, but Wayne Shaw is a non-league player in his forties. Let the big man eat.
There is, of course, the whole betting angle to consider here. As a general principle, players shouldn’t engage in activities which suggest collusion with betting parties. That did happen here. This is a controversy about a man who ate a pie after he could no longer participate in a match. It is unseemly, but nothing more. When one considers the proliferation of betting companies and shady financial service providers sponsoring English soccer in its many forms, this appears an even more piddling sin. To punish Wayne Shaw here for the sake of proving an abstract point in an area where consistency long since ceased to exist is grossly disproportionate.
So, in typical fashion, the Premier League side came to town, everyone giggled at pictures of a small dressing room and ogled the burly players who have other jobs. A bit of local color was enjoyed, but at what cost? Instead of engaging with the richness of non-league football, The Magic of the Cup turned it into an Instagram-filtered pastiche. Wayne Shaw will briefly cash in on his celebrity before becoming the punch line a depressing football culture needs to be. The cup should be an opportunity to engage with other football cultures, but in practice we have turned it into a form of slum tourism where the non-league participants are amusing archetypes until their usefulness expires. Let’s all eat pies and never speak of this again.