Wayne Shaw has made a fool out of himself. In fulfilling the terms of Sun Bet’s promotional punt – roly-poly goalie to eat pie during FA Cup tie – the Sutton United reserve made it seem like he was either breaking rules on gambling or moonlighting in marketing for a bookmaker.
Neither is a good look. He damaged by association the club he loves and they were well within their rights to ask him to resign.
The furore over “Pie-gate” has as much of a whiff about it as the stunt that went before, and the smell is not the glorious one of beef, gravy and undercooked pastry.
It is of companies promoting their own commercial interest, most obviously Rupert Murdoch’s Sun, which has lent its brand to Sun Bets, a joint venture with an Australian gambling firm that was the brainchild of one Rebekah Brooks.
It is of confected outrage at perceived po-faced sense-of-humour losses (the usual suspects are involved here and they rhyme with Fierce Organ). It’s the sound of the Twitterati showing their solidarity with the ordinary 24-stone blokes in the stand.
One of the things Pie-gate makes you wonder is just when betting companies decided they were funny. The answer is probably something to do with Paddy Power, which in 2002 claimed the keenly disputed title of “most complained-about advert of the year” by publishing a billboard encouraging people to bet on two elderly people crossing the road featuring the tagline: “Let’s make things interesting.”
There are other questions it raises, however, one of which is this: is gambling too closely entwined with our national sport, full stop?
In the 2016-17 season, 11 of the Premier League’s 20 teams have their shirts sponsored by betting companies, based everywhere from Kenya to Gibraltar.
The top six bear the logos of more prestigious international brands on their chests but even they have their preferred gambling companies, as Liverpool do with “principal partner” Bet Victor.
The entire Football League is known by the moniker “Sky Bet EFL” (Sky Bet being another Murdoch-affiliated company). And that’s just the stuff inside the game.
Take in the secondary sponsorships or the ubiquitous commercials and the connection appears to be umbilical. This excludes Ray Winstone’s head, of course, which floats in space untroubled by such earthly matters.
To wonder whether this may not be an entirely healthy thing makes you feel like a drag, a spoilsport taking the fun out of things.
After all, fun is the way that gambling on football is often sold; a little something to make the game spicier.
When football functions as a social aid, bringing young men together in the pub, how to care about a match that doesn’t feature your team, or care about it if you don’t have a team at all? Put a wager on it.
Within those few words, there’s firstly that common colloquial assumption that everyone likes a bet.
It also assumes Shaw was not in place to profit himself, but then finally makes the point that people in financial difficulty could help themselves out by gambling. That is true but it’s not exactly heartening.
The charity Gamble Aware offers support to those trying to deal with a gambling problem. It believes more could be done in the sporting space, and particularly within football, to leaven the constant incitement to wager with the reminder that it can be habit-forming and deleterious to one’s wellbeing.
It wants to see touchline billboards with that message in among the other messages or a box in the sponsors’ section behind managers when they speak post-match.
It is a small thing but it’s a way to start prodding the culture in a different direction.
Another way might be to generate publicity by offering odds of 100‑1 against football discovering the ancient virtue of temperance.
EDITED FROM: theguardian.co.uk