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'Piegate' made a mockery of non-league football. How dare you

PR stunt that went horribly wrong overshadowed a superb achievement by Sutton United

When you make a deal with the Devil then you better be ready to get burned.

Ah yes, 'piegate', as it has been originally coined this week, managed to make a mockery of an overweight man who got too carried away with the media spotlight and overshadowed the achievements of a non-league football club that had defied all the odds to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup and given a wonderful account of themselves on national television against Arsenal.

But they aren't the only victims of this whole PR disaster, orchestrated by SunBets, who will actually consider this some fine PR work. After all, for a brand that is reviled in many parts of the country, notably Merseyside, they seem to do pretty well.

On the Saturday we had Lincoln City flying the flag for non-league football, deservedly defeating a strong Premier League side in Burnley to book their place in the quarter-final of the FA Cup. A phenomenal achievement and a superb advert for the National League.

And then came Sutton United.

Wayne Shaw eats a pie in the dugout at halftime against Arsenal in the FA cup fifth round.(Image: BBC Sport)

Sutton had beaten the likes of AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United en route to the fifth round and should have had the backing of a nation for 90 minutes on Monday. They didn't.

Money is tight in non-league football and the Us opted to take the offer of sponsorship with SunBets for the game. It was a decision that ultimately proved costly and the involvement of the betting company, an offshoot of The Sun newspaper, would prove damaging.

Paul Doswell's men did themselves and the town of Sutton proud and they walked off with their heads held high after going down 2-0 at Gander Green Lane. They should have been receiving all the plaudits the following morning.

But, little did they know at the time, a man eating a pie seven minutes from the end of the match would overshadow all their good work and, with it, help send the reputation of non-league football tumbling back in time.

With SunBets offering odds of 8/1 for the 'Roly Poly Goalie' Wayne Shaw, Sutton's goalkeeping coach and reserve keeper, to eat a pie during the game, Shaw decided for a bit of a laugh to go along with it.

A few shots of him gorging his 23-stone frame on a meat and potato pie later and he had national notoriety and was on the sofa with the odious Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain just hours later. Of course, that was the story, wasn't it? Man eats pie.

Shaw was foolish and was forced to resign following a backlash and an investigation by the Gambling Commission and the FA. A man with the club at his heart, he was forced to walk away. SunBets had done their job and no doubt increased their Twitter and Facebook followers. On to the next poor sapp, hey?

And what of the fallout?

To those used to consuming coverage of their teams via 24-hour coverage on SkySports news and live games every week, non-league football is often a figure of fun. But there were no postmans or milkmans they could turn to to take the mickey out of non-league football on Monday, so they latched on to the tubby coach at Sutton who, they failed to mention, wouldn't get anywhere near the first team.

How the nation laughed.

'Haha, look at that, that must happen at every non-league game, no?'

'Look at the changing rooms, aren't Arsenal good for using them.'

As someone who covers the National League week in, week out, I watched in disgust as one commentator quipped 'to these people, Costa is a coffee shop'. The most patronising of comments from someone who will be safely snuggled into their comfy seats and slap-up pre-match meal at the Etihad within a week.

The National League is a league full of Roarie Deacons. There is an abundance of talent in this league and, let's not forget, it is largely full time.

There are wonderful volunteers up and down the country who help keep these clubs ticking over, from Chester FC to Sutton United, North Ferriby to Maidstone United. The heartbeat of many a community. To assume these people know nothing about football and to abuse them to get your mucky brands in the limelight for 90 minutes or to fill some kind of goodwill quota in your TV schedule where lower league football is patronised and used as a figure of fun is wrong.

While many in the national press bemoan the erosion of the 'magic of the cup', let's not forget it is the pandered Premier Leaguers and those chasing the top dollar who are responsible for it with their weakened teams. We sadly live in a time where finishing fourth is more valuable than winning. What a message that is.

Non-league football has been doing it's bit to rescue the competition from the greed but they won't have that, will they?

A non-league team will take on Arsenal in the quarter finals of this famous competitions and what are the odds Danny Cowley will be asked if he will be eating a pie at some stage? I reckon less than 8/1.

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