Each year, amongst a growing tide of ‘modern football’ sweeping the English game, there is often a story which embodies the grass-roots game, a story of triumph against all odds. This year, Sutton United were passed the baton, with the magic of the FA Cup sprinkled on their run more liberally than the rubber crumb on their 3G pitch.
Having defeated fellow non-league sides Forest Green Rovers and Dartford F.C, Sutton made light work of the higher echelons of the football league pyramid. Cheltenham and AFC Wimbledon were humbled at the hands of the U’s before Leeds United were drawn as their opponents in the fourth round. In their most inspiring performance yet, Sutton sent their challengers back to Yorkshire with their tails firmly between their legs. Arsenal were drawn for the next round, and this year’s fairy tale tie was founded on unfamiliar astro-turf.
As Sutton’s victories grew in magnitude, so did the mini narratives which surround smaller clubs. First was the novelty of the astro-turf itself, purchased by the manager Paul Doswell, who himself patrols the side-lines vape in mouth. Perhaps the most heart-warming story was that of Wayne Shaw, the 23 stone reserve keeper. A club icon, not only for his portly size, but also his dedication to the club, being caretaker of the pitch, community-liason officer, and sleeping in the clubhouse three days a week. This cup run must have meant the world to him, more than anyone else in the club.
All eyes were on the match this Monday, with Sutton fighting valiantly against a club over 100 places above them in the football league pyramid. Whilst Goliath swept aside David this time, each member of Sutton’s team and backroom staff provided a terrific advert for non-league football, except perhaps Shaw. Following a novelty bet set up by The Sun, Shaw ate a pie on the side-lines, fulfilling the terms for the 8-1 bet. Shaw has since resigned from his position and is under investigation from the Gambling Commission. The Sun, continuing their great relationship with the British football community, subsequently hung Shaw out to dry. The legal repercussions of this event and Shaw’s culpability are an interesting debate which I’m under qualified to deliver, what I feel must be addressed is how the general public are treating his actions as part of the ‘magic of the cup’.
This is not a story of FA Cup magic. FA cup magic is about fulfilling dreams, about teams outdoing opponents which outclass them through sheer grit and determination. David and Goliath tales. Characters like Sutton striker Roarie Deacon, himself an Arsenal academy graduate, coming out with a point to prove and being the best player on the pitch. Names like Ronnie Radford and Guliano Grazioli being inscribed in their club’s respective histories. What Shaw demonstrated was a novelty act which undermined the acts of his teammates on the pitch. These players fit training around full-time jobs, such is the passion for the game, and Shaw’s actions show nothing but contempt for their professionalism.
Featured Image: BBC