An English soccer player who enjoyed a meat pie on the sidelines during a game was forced to resign from his team 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 quarterfinal on Monday, there was naturally a lot of attention on the game from all over. 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.
Then Shaw actually ate one.
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 sidelines.
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.
“You can look back and say it was part of it, and we got our ticket money back,” he said.
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.”
“He has got himself in the papers again and the fame obviously has gone to his head a little bit, but we will soon bring him back down to earth, don’t worry about that,” said the club chairman, Bruce Elliott, on Radio 5 Live.
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.”
Sutton’s amazing run to the F.A. Cup round of 16 had been a feel-good story. But many fans felt the team’s success had been tainted by the pie story.
“Integrity in sport is not a joke, and we have opened an investigation to establish exactly what happened,” the Football Association’s enforcement and intelligence director, Richard Watson, told the BBC.
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.”
Shaw himself, in the midst of his largely cheerful Twitter feed, declared, “It was a pasty, not pie.”
Either way, Sutton no longer has its Roly Poly Goalie.
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a BBC broadcaster who once played with Wayne Shaw. He is Alan Shearer, not Gary Lineker.
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