It was an indigestible week in English football. A man was sacked for eating a pie. And another went after slapping a ban on chicken burgers.
Both episodes offered food for thought.
In the case of Wayne Shaw, Sutton United’s ‘roly poly goalie’, the official line puts him down as another victim of the bantz.
As for Claudio Ranieri, a lost dressing room, and maybe a lost canteen, has stirred a lament for the game’s lost soul.
First, to the savage hunger on view at Gander Green Lane. Pressed on why he munched a pastie while an unused substitute in the cup defeat by Arsenal, 23-stone keeper Shaw explained it was all done in the noble cause of “a bit of banter”.
However, FA and Gambling Commission probes will take into account the 8/1 available and draw their own conclusions. In the meantime, Shaw will have to earn his crust elsewhere after losing his jobs as Sutton’s community liaison officer and coach.
Shaw has had a mixed relationship with the bantz, having previously been released by Sutton for nutting a supporter after “the banter got too personal.”
But unusually this week, we were treated to live coverage of the precise moment when bantz dissolved into controvassy. BBC commentator Steve Wilson was in a state of high amusement as the cameras trained on the second-half snacking and Shaw’s ‘legendary’ status briefly deepened across social media.
But he’d barely drawn that first bite into his gullet before this story was being regurgitated as another parable of all that’s gone wrong with modern football.
In the space of a hundred retweets, everything became harder to swallow.
The insidious selling of betting ‘opportunities’ that is finding its way into every nook and cranny of the game.
The BBC’s gratingly patronising coverage of these ‘fairytale’ evenings, which possibly reached a crescendo in Wilson’s description of Sutton’s simple folk as: “People for whom Costa is a coffee and Kane is a stick.”
The they-don’t-like-it-up-em tone that also pervades these occasions, granting average footballers an accepted moral superiority over their more technical counterparts, and earning Sutton captain Jamie Collins the ‘proper tackle, heh heh heh’ treatment from the gantry for a murderous leap into Alex Iwobi.
And the short-term lease of Sutton’s shirt and its advertising space to The Sun in a quick cash grab that bypassed all other considerations.
In the ferocity of the backlash, a greedy man was chewed up and spat out. But at least there was a happy ending for the banter websites that will recycle videos of Shaw munching for all eternity and the betting firm that scooped free advertising in multiples of the “five-figure sum” it supposedly paid out.
The sad denouement to the Claudio Ranieri story, meanwhile, may have made Gary Lineker cry, but it looks like the silver screen will pass up the chance to rework this fairytale as a weepie.
Should the opening credits roll over Bocelli singing at the King Power and the script attempt a ‘life after Everest’ portrait of psychological unravelling, it might well be the finest sports movie ever made. Suggested title Five League Goals.
But the modern record of imagination and risk-taking in cinema is not great and word yesterday was unpromising: “The rise to stardom of Jamie Vardy is an inspirational and universal story that simply must get told.”
So we may have to piece together the more interesting part of the narrative ourselves, with the help of our old friends the dressing room leak and the reported delegation of senior players to the boardroom.
Early indications are it was the removal of chicken burgers from the menu, and tinkering with the team — in that order — that hastened Claudio’s demise.
David Moyes and his chips and Paolo di Canio and his ketchup will recognise one of those plot points.
The easier answer, as we mourn the Claudio of 2016 and his pizza, is to find that hunger had been sated.
And as we mourn football’s lost soul, there is some chewing and spitting out of the players who produced the fairytale, men who ceremonially handed over their courage and morals to the giant-killers of Millwall last weekend.
Also in the firing line is the man who may have met disgruntled senior players in the boardroom — vice-chairman Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha.
Top (no longer Top Top) may have delivered a particularly strong version of the ‘dreaded vote of confidence’ with his recent “unwavering” support for Ranieri.
But it’s a touch patronising too to demand that Leicester should wait until outright calamity before wielding the axe, while Chelsea were entitled to move swiftly with Mourinho.
Regardless, Top will hope to feature prominently in Fearless. At the end of last season, he told us of his trip to Vardy’s house a year before, having feared the striker was already playing out the final act of his Hollywood rise, with Top fearing the lack of goals may have had something to do with Vardy drinking every day.
“He said he didn’t know what to do with his life. He’d never earned such a large amount of money. So I told him: Just think carefully about what would you do for the club. I invested in you, do you have something in return?’”
When the music swells in Fearless
, it mightn’t rank up there with Al Pacino and the great sporting orations of our time.
But Top suggests those words switched Vardy on and he certainly banked a return on investment
Perhaps recent conversations with Claudio have proven less fruitful.
It might leave a sour taste, but when reality bites, the game is still about earning your corn.
Gamers take centre stage
As TV viewing figures for sport drop and analysts fret about counter attractions such as video games, TV has moved decisively by stepping up the screening of people playing video games.
BT Sport will begin live coverage of Fifa 17 matches from next month, enabling us to conjure the mental image of a worried parent down the line, fretting that he cannot persuade young Johnny to play football on his XBox any more, because all he wants to do is sit on the sofa watching people play football on the XBox.
And any day now, Gilesy and Eamo — and probably Duffer too, judging by his recent lamentation — will worry that we are just not producing Fifa Street footballers anymore.
It was also someone sobering, on the opening day of the new League of Ireland season, to note the winner of the FIFA 17 Ultimate Team Championship Series will pick up a prize of £130,000 (€150,000), €40,000 more than Dundalk earned for top spot last season.
That old LOI slogan ‘real football, real fans’ sounds more poignant than ever.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Radamel Falcao: They could sack a manager every week and the soul of football would never be lost while there are players who can make you gasp.
Ty Lawson: Gilesy once claimed his Leeds team were the first to take the ball in the corner to waste time. Sacramento Kings baller Lawson joins the cynical innovators, milking 23 seconds by letting a pass roll idly on the court.
HELL IN A HANDCART
Jose Mourinho: Nine years ago, he said: “Ranieri has the mentality of someone who doesn’t need to win. He is almost 70 years old. He’s old and he hasn’t won anything.” One day, perched on his respect seesaw, Jose might even wear a top monogrammed with AW.
Rory McIlroy: That avowed determination to avoid politics lasted just over a month as the “entertainment” of Trump proved too big a draw. We can’t yet rule him out roaring Amhrán na bhFiann draped in the tricolour at Tokyo 2020.
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