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Piegate and the Age of Faux Outrage

‘Gates’ ain’t what they used to be. Time was when you only created a ‘gate’ by doing something genuinely and spectacularly messed up. Such as a president of the United States bugging political rivals, stealing documents, paying off burglars, covering the whole thing up and having to resign in shame. Something along those lines anyway.

Even two decades after Richard Nixon you still had to go some to become the subject of a gate. Maybe a prince being taped telling his mistress he wouldn’t mind being reincarnated as one of her tampons (given the basic rules of karma, he’ll probably come back as himself instead); or another US president doing unmentionable things with a cigar in the Oval Office.

But the dawn of the new millennium (and perhaps the dawn of widespread internet use) brought a flood of gates so trivial as to demean the name. After all, in the cases of Prince Charles and Bill Clinton we were talking constitutional crises, rather than mere crumbs.

The proliferation of gates almost exactly corresponded with a proliferation of faux outrage in society (I don’t work for the BBC any more so don’t have to provide facts to back any of this up), so that we ended up with ‘Flakegate’, when a former Blue Peter presenter ate a chocolate bar at her wedding (three years later she came 15th in a Channel 4 poll of worst Britons, 66 places above Sting); ‘Nipplegate’, when a pop star’s breast (the actual nipple was hidden by an actual ‘nipple shield’) was revealed for half a second; and ‘Bacongate’, when a politician apparently blew his election chances by looking a bit weird eating a sandwich.

It is striking how many gates involve someone inserting something where or when they shouldn’t, whether it be a tampon, a cigar, a sandwich, their John Thomas into the mouth of a dead pig or a needle full of steroids into whichever vein in their body is still operational. Which takes us seamlessly onto Wayne Shaw, a man who is conspicuously steroid-free but who has clearly inserted a pie or two into that flapping mouth of his.

During the week leading up to Sutton United’s FA Cup fifth round tie, the 23-stone Shaw spent three nights sleeping at Gander Green Lane, in order to make sure the non-league side’s ground was shipshape for the visit of Arsenal, whose pampered stars are apparently above showering in cold water and shitting without the safety net of toilet paper.

When the reserve keeper rolled out of bed on Monday morning, becoming a gate would have been very far from his mind. Pies, maybe. This was a man who had done great things for the club (apart from the time he nutted an opposing fan a few years ago) and spent the build-up to the Arsenal match selling his own chilli sauce to raise money for a cancer charity. No, really.

Twenty-four hours later and Shaw had, I am informed by grown people who should know better than to use such phrases, "broken the internet". And not by sitting on it. His crime? Eating a pie on the touchline while the game was still going on and potentially breaching betting rules, a company having offered odds he would do just that.

Sutton’s manager Paul Doswell, who in less outraged times would have told reporters to “grow up and piss off out of it”, sadly informed the media that Shaw’s actions had “taken the gloss off” his side’s FA Cup run. Doswell further revealed that the big man was in tears when he called to offer his resignation. Nixon, who hung about for months after Watergate, wasn't even rheumy-eyed when he announced he was standing down, and he was head of the free world rather than stopper-cum-handyman of a side struggling in the Vanarama National League.

Maybe Shaw’s words to Doswell were as presidential as Nixon's words were to the American people: “I have never been a quitter. To leave the club before my contract is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body..." I doubt it, he probably had one of Ginsters' crack PR gurus on the other line – as Shaw was keen to point out, it was a pasty, not a pie.

When it was reported that the Gambling Commission and the FA had “launched investigations”, it started to become clear that there were more people looking into this than Watergate. We had truly entered the theatre of the absurd.

Meanwhile, Stan Collymore rumbled portentously (as much as it is possible to rumble portentously on Twitter): “Starts with a pie, ends up with foreign syndicate offering poorly paid players money for cards.” And there was me thinking an overweight goalie had eaten said pie/pasty for a bit of a laugh. Shaw can only cling to the hope that, as President Ford saw fit to pardon Nixon, Collymore, football's moral arbiter, can find it in himself to pardon him.

I fear not. Later this week I expect to see forensic police officers on the news, removing trays of baked goods from Shaw’s house; perhaps an anxious neighbour cowering in a doorway, professing her shock that Wayne would get himself mixed up in “this sort of thing”.

“As Stan Collymore said,” she will add, “it always starts with a pie. Was not Archduke Franz Ferdinand struck down by a pie? Was not Chamberlain appeased with pie in Munich? Pies are and always will be the thin end of the wedge. And I don’t want any more of those foreign syndicates coming over here anyway, there's enough of them on this estate already.”

So there you have it: one of the greatest FA Cup runs of modern times ends up as ‘Piegate’. In the Age of Faux Outrage, everyone will be the subject of a gate for 15 minutes.

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