(Top photo: Screen shot, via)
Listen, I think we can all agree that football is coming to an end. This is, as most things are, Messi and Ronaldo's fault: in past times, once-in-a-generation footballers have come more or less once-in-a-generation, and by extension one at a time: we went from Maradona to Ronaldo to Zidane with gaps in between, and now, by freak occurrence, we have Messi and Ronaldo at the same time.
There are meant to be five year spaces between these players, at least: having them both at the same time breaks the rules, one cancelling the other out, making the Ballon d'Or an annual tug-of-war yawnfest about who was the most truly exceptional in this calendar year. Think: when Messi and Ronaldo retire – and we've probably got about two to three more seasons left of them, realistically, because players like Messi and Ronaldo don't stick around to distress in public; even a megabucks tour of China or Qatar is going to be an embarrassment to their legacy; they can only go out on top, and so they can only go out soon – who is going to win the Ballon d'Or in their place?
Gareth Bale, the most complexly balding man on earth? Neymar, a straightforwardly glossy Brazilian step-over merchant? Kevin de Bruyne, the visibly ill kid from your school who never had to do PE because of his asthma? Come on. Be real. With them gone, football is over. It's going to be at least 20 years until we have another truly great footballer come along, maybe more.
So we all agree now that football is over. But, thankfully, last night, it briefly peaked:
This is Sutton United reserve goalkeeper/goalkeeping coach/all round handyman Wayne Shaw, and here he is eating a pasty. This is because Sutton United had used all of their substitutes in the game against Arsenal last night – a fifth round FA Cup tie I am bound by law to describe as "magical" – and there was absolutely no way Wayne Shaw was ever going to make it onto the pitch. The statistics you need to know about Wayne Shaw, widely cited, are that he is 46 years old and weighs 23 stone. He is not unfamiliar with the concept of eating pasties. And so, last night, in glorious super HD, he ate a pasty like he was trying to hurt it with his mouth.
This, without context, is the greatest thing to ever happen in football.
But it's also the worst. As it transpires, Sutton's sudden beam of media focus meant they were able to leverage the game to make more money for themselves: a new shirt sponsorship was arranged with Sun Bet, Arsenal donated learning facilities to the club in exchange for the gesture of half of the gate receipts, ticket prices were temporarily raised, a new generation of Sutton fans were made aware of the club for the first time and, hopefully, will sustain it now long into the future.
But we're not talking about philanthropy, we're talking about a pasty, and a tweet from the Sun Bet account made two hours before kick off either suggests Nostradamus-like pasty-based soothsaying powers from the social media manager responsible, or, worse, a horrible, dirty little pasty stunt. And before we enjoy (or do not enjoy) Wayne Shaw eating a pasty, we need to decide if the action of eating it was politicised – i.e. a horrible, hollow PR stunt arranged by The Sun – or neutral and pure, a genuine, cherishable moment of non-league cup football. Two writers with diametrically opposed viewpoints (good, bad) will argue this in a segment I like to call, "Wayne Shaw Eating a Pasty: Good or Bad?"
WAYNE SHAW EATING A PASTY: GOOD OR BAD?
JOEL GOLBY, GOOD: Wayne Shaw eating a pasty is good. Wayne Shaw eating a pasty is perhaps the universe's final pure example of banter. Banter, as we banter historians know, peaked in 2015, after a long 2014 of university rugby clubs being banned for being bastards, with The Rise and Subsequent Fall of Daniel "Dapper" Laughs. Banter, since that time, has become a sort of sullied concept, a dirty word, and 2016 and 2017 has seen a severe shortage of it as a result. Dabbling in banter, in big big 2017, is akin to talking about Knebworth or how great acid used to be in the 70s: redundant, embarrassing dad behaviour. When was the last time you did banter? Exactly. In 2014 it was all you could do. You got your knob tattooed in Zante, remember? You lived for the bants. And now it seems so far away.
Wayne Shaw is bringing it back, though, eating 50 percent of a pasty in two huge, precise bites. If you've never been a fat lad eating a pasty – and I have, multiple times in my life – then you do not appreciate what Shaw is doing here. When he eats the pasty, he does not let a single crumb of it go to waste. Pastry is a flaky casing, right? It crumbs easily. You eat a pasty out of a warm paper bag; that bag is going to be filled with crumbs afterwards – pasty shavings. Not Wayne Shaw's bag. This is a man who has eaten a pasty so many times he is now essentially an expert at it. Wayne Shaw could go pro at pasty-eating. And that is banter.
JOEL GOLBY, BAD: Wayne Shaw eating a pasty is bad. Eating a pasty is bad because it's the Sun. Listen: you cannot begrudge a small, non-league team from taking every opportunity to make money from their once-in-a-generation cup tie. You cannot fault them for accepting a reported five-figure sum from Sun Bet to be their shirt sponsors for the game. Sometimes you have to put politics to one side and accept the grubby, grubby, grubby, grubby, evil blood money that comes your way. Sometimes you have to do it! If it was any other betting company: we would not be having this chat. But it's the Sun, so we are.
And so Sun Bet tweeted 8/1 odds on Wayne Shaw eating a pie, and then he ate the pie. This is not a coincidence, hinting strongly at a Wayne Shaw–Sun axis of evil that led to a pasty being consumed on BBC One last night in slow motion. This is corruption to the very deepest core of the game, and, worse, corruption under the guise of banter and imagined by the Sun. There's a Daniel Merriweather song, if you remember him, which is applicable to Wayne Shaw eating a pie: "You took something perfect—" Daniel Merriweather sings, and in this analogy that perfect thing is 'eating a pie for banter' —"and painted it red." Wayne Shaw painted a pie red. With his mouth. Because of the Sun, the worst bastards there are.
JOEL GOLBY, GOOD: It is also banter, I suppose, because Wayne Shaw is a sort of human meme. When the FA Cup draw was announced, photos of Shaw – along with the caption "this is Sutton's reserve goalkeeper" – made the rounds, because look at him: he's sort of like one of those scenes in a movie where six children smuggle themselves into the cinema in one gigantic trench coat, but the children are all the size of association football goalkeepers, and they are all stuck inside the same Joma kit. There are no photographs of Wayne Shaw not wearing a Joma kit, which makes me think that maybe he does everything in it. Wayne Shaw, gardening in full kit and football gloves. Wayne Shaw divebombs into a swimming pool wearing Sutton away 2014. Wayne Shaw, showering in shinpads. Does Wayne Shaw wear a full Joma kit to make love? I am not going to speculate. Football is a glossy game – too glossy, arguably, too detached from the fans who sustain it; a computer-generated mega corporation interlocked with another mega corporation and played through the eyes of 22 men and their management teams – and moments like Wayne Shaw eating a pasty, or literally being in the bar at half time, briefly keep it grounded before the whole game flies off into the shining chrome neutrality of space. Wayne Shaw eating a pasty is great because it could have happened at any game in the last 120 years, but it happened at Sutton, against Arsenal, as a team of millionaires made quite-hard-work-but-not-really of beating them 2–0.
JOEL GOLBY, BAD: Augh, but then Wayne Shaw went on Good Morning Britain today and posed for this selfie with Piers Morgan, and it just really would help me enjoy the pure moment of Wayne Shaw eating a pasty more if he didn't so consistently align himself with the very worst people in the world!
JOEL GOLBY, GOOD: The fact that Wayne Shaw has released two statements about the pasty today – two statements – one confirming it was a pasty not a pie, and one explaining he didn't eat it in direct alignment with The Sun, makes this good again. Shaw told the Independent: "A few of the lads said to me earlier on: 'What is going on with the 8-1 about eating a pie?' I said: 'I don't know, I've eaten nothing all day (*4), so I might give it a go later on.' As I say what is that, Sun Bets had us at 8-1 to eat a pie. I thought I would give them a bit of banter and let's do it. All the subs were on and we were 2-0 down." He ate the pasty for banter. He did not gobble the pasty into his body for financial gain. The pasty is good again.
JOEL GOLBY, BAD: Augh, but then the actual manager of Sutton United gave a quote to the press saying eating the pasty was bad, reflecting poorly on the club and everything. "I would assume so," Paul Doswell said, last night, when asked whether he thought it was a PR stunt. "I think Wayne has become this global superstar on the back of being 23 stone. He's made that a chance to make some more media coverage off the back of it. The reality is I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me. I don't think it shows us in the best light." Wayne Shaw's media career starts now, and I am here for it from this moment right until he wins Celebrity Big Brother 2017, and not a moment later.
JOEL GOLBY, UNDECIDED: I think basically what we've come to here is an impasse, and I would like to propose a theory: Wayne Shaw eating a pasty is both bad and good at the same time, in exactly equal measurements. This, by extension, makes Wayne Shaw eating a pasty a philosophical question: how can an action be at once in two entirely opposite states? Wayne Shaw's pasty is both hot and cold. Good and evil. Heaven and hell. Wayne Shaw's pasty is a piping-hot paradox. It is Shrödringer's pasty. It is 2017, and we want our heroes and villains to be demarcated clearly between black and white, with no grey area in between. We have no space for nuance any more. Wayne Shaw eating a pasty, though, somehow falls into no man's land, becoming both. There is no right answer. The last 2,000 words were entirely in vain.