There are far more important things going on in the world, but I can’t help but to be completely caught up in the tragic tale of Wayne Shaw – the Ken Bone of English football.
Most readers will have had no reason to have heard of the 46-year-old, 325-pound Englishman who was the reserve goal keeper for Sutton United, a team of part-time professionals who went on a Cinderella run in this year’s Football Association Cup – a soccer tournament open to all clubs in England.
Shaw cut a figure that was immediately embraced by media – both the footballing variety and social. In an age of sporting celebrities who make millions of dollars a month, he was a legitimate everyman hero. Not only was he of an age and shape that should have precluded him from any serious athletic competition, he spent evenings on a couch in the team’s clubhouse between the twice-a-week training sessions.
He became the mascot for the club, which had no shortage of interesting figures, including a manager who was captured taking puffs from an electronic pipe (vaping in common parlance) while pacing the sidelines during a cup match.
But like so many figures elevated in status by a fast-moving media culture, he was quickly booted back to earth in an absurd scandal that forced him to resign his position and fade into obscurity.
Shaw’s team, Sutton, through several improbable wins against theoretically better competition, drew Arsenal Football Club in a matchup that took place on Feb 20. Arsenal, a global powerhouse, pays nearly all of its starting players a salary that would cover Sutton’s entire roster. In U.S. sporting terms, it was as if a men’s pickup basketball team at the Water Tower Rec Center earned the right to play Lebron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.
Anyone in possession of an imagination was rooting for Shaw’s band of improbables. And to their credit, they put in a remarkable performance, eventually succumbing by a respectable score of 2 – 0. But the fairytale story took a dark turn when Shaw was caught in a betting scandal.
A betting company (much more prominent in the UK, which does not frown upon public sports wagers made right at the stadium where games are played) put 8 – 1 odds that Shaw would eat a pie during the game, and sure enough, in the second half, cameras caught the self-proclaimed “roly-poly goalie” stuffing a pastry of meat and potatoes into his mouth.
Shaw resigned for the stunt when Football Association officials said they’d investigate betting impropriety. His vaping manager said the episode had driven Shaw to tears. His fairy tale run of footballing glory and popular celebrity ruined in an instant.
It’s tough not to feel bad for Shaw. He hardly deserved to lose his position even if he had conspired to eat a pie for book makers. His actions had absolutely no impact on the sporting event – arguably the more important outcome of the evening in question.
Even more difficult is the continuing reminder that we can’t really have heroes. Even the most harmless among us have the habit of imploding in the spotlight when the same media forces that work so hard to elevate us, work just as swiftly to take us down. We want so much for the Wayne Shaws of the world to succeed, but it never seems to work out that way.