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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Unsavoury pie furore is far from a bit of harmless fun

The Thursday column

Wayne Shaw bit off more than he could chew
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The concept of fun has always sat uneasily with me. It’s my fault. I just don’t find anything particularly enjoyable about the things that are commonly regarded as being fun.

Dancing, for instance. I can’t dance, I would rather stand there naked than attempt to sway rhythmically fully clothed. I can’t even watch anyone I know dancing.

Also clapping along in time is as fun as a wasp sting. Why do people do it at pantomimes, children’s concerts and the like? Why do they smile while they are doing it?

Fetes, dads’ races at the school sports day, telling jokes, card tricks, going on a pedalo, board games, ice-skating, sudoku. The list goes on. I’m well aware that makes me a weirdo but it’s the way I am.

The point is, I suspected when the ‘story’ broke on Monday night that I was not, due to my warped definition of fun, best qualified to comment on the dull saga of Sutton United’s sub goalie Wayne Shaw eating a pie during his side’s FA Cup defeat against Arsenal.

After all, the idea of him tucking into the pie once his side had used their quota of substitutions and thus landing a minor betting touch because Sun Bets, who sponsored Sutton for the night, were offering 8-1 that 20st Shaw would indeed eat a pie, sounds like just the sort of thing normal people would indeed regard as 24-carat fun.

But then I wondered whether this is actually the case. What is really so fun about it? It’s surely just a rather tawdry publicity stunt, particularly when Sun Bets subsequently claimed they had paid out a five-figure sum on the pie being consumed.

Does this kind of caper actually work? Were Sun Bets’ servers creaking under pressure this week as new customers flocked to their website?

In the same way that Paddy Power, usually clever judges of when to attract publicity without overstepping the mark, paid Nicklas Bendtner to expose a pair of green branded pants after scoring a goal at Euro 2012, this felt a little too intrusive.

I love sport and I love betting. They are the most fun things in the world. But there is a divide between which the two must not mix because betting should not contaminate sport.

And even though Shaw was unable to play a part in the match on Monday, he was too close to the action even on the bench to be messing around trying to drum up publicity for a bookmaker.

It will be interesting to see what will happen now the Gambling Commission has announced it will look into the incident, more in terms of how it views how Sun Bets has acted than from the player’s perspective.

He has lost his job, which could easily be regarded as harsh, although it should be remembered even though Sutton United are a non-league club they are a respected one and this kind of silly carry-on belongs to a kind of football way down at the Dog and Duck level.

This is not a scandal, a disgrace or an act of serious wrongdoing by any stretch of the imagination. It was just a bit naff.

But the GC, once so chronically inert, is now a far more animated organisation as its probe into Monday’s incident demonstrates. The findings might just make fun reading.

Able arbiter will be sorely missed

Hahaha! Isn’t it great that Mark Clattenburg is buggering off and leaving English football. He’s useless. He once gave a throw-in against my team when it should have gone the other way and they scored a goal that cost us a point. I think that was about four years ago.

He has a haircut that he thinks is trendy but isn’t. He’s got tattoos. He makes decisions clearly and demonstrably but for some reason we don’t like that.

He was involved in some furore over an Ed Sheeran concert. Or was it One Direction? Erm, what else? Oh yeah, everyone on Twitter thinks he’s useless as well so he must be. Good riddance mate.

But just hold on a second, people. What about the fact he’s a superb referee, probably the best in the world? You’re all happy about that, are you? Happy that instead of him officiating so brilliantly, a slightly less able arbiter will take charge of the big games?

What a foolish bunch football supporters can be sometimes. Best of luck in Saudi, Mr Clattenburg. You are a master of what you do and I for one will miss you in the middle when the key decisions are being made.

Uplifting awards that recognise most deserving

Racing does many things badly, on that we can all agree. But it also does many things right, something we can be a little too slow to acknowledge at times. And it is hard to think of a better example of that than the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards.

The latest version of the annual ceremony took place in London on Monday evening and was every bit as uplifting as ever as the people who put in all the hours for a fraction of the money that some earn were given the recognition they deserve.

The finalists in the six categories and their colleagues shared a fantastic £120,000, making this perhaps the finest sponsorship in all of British racing and it was excellent to see employees from an increasingly wide range of yards and studs entered.

In recent years it had been slightly depressing to see how reluctant people were to nominate staff and profoundly depressing to hear the commonly offered reason: namely that it had been found that winners had been met with jealousy by some colleagues.

It’s either a pathetic excuse or a sad state of affairs and one that sends out a woeful message: work in racing, do well, get your talent and hard work acknowledged by these fantastic awards and then get treated with utter resentment by your workmates.

Hopefully Godolphin’s generosity in terms of the amounts they give to the winners’ colleagues means the victors are greeted like the admirable people they are rather than teacher’s pets, and these brilliant awards can continue to thrive and throw up heartwarming stories like those we heard on Monday.

And hopefully, too, the sport will continue to look after and shower love on Freddy Tylicki, who was the special guest on Monday.

Nobody who was lucky enough to be there will forget Freddy’s smile as he reached the stage to a standing and heartfelt ovation. It was a memorable moment but Tylicki’s battle will last for decades and the racing world must be with him all the way.

Fallout weighs too heavily on one individual

The heated debate between Michael O’Leary and Phil Smith over the allocation of weights for the Randox Health Grand National was mildly intriguing at first but quickly degenerated into a pointless spat in which nobody won.

I had hoped to avoid putting my oar in, but there is one thought that comes to mind now the dust has hopefully settled, and it is that Phil Smith is too personally synonymous with the National weights and any ill-feeling and negativity they cause.

Smith has always struck me as a good bloke. He likes the Tour de France, which automatically puts him a couple of pounds ahead of those who don’t appreciate the great race, but when the weights are revealed next year it might not be a bad idea for the BHA to either wheel out another member of the extensive team of handicappers or just say what the weights are and not bother commenting.

In the same way it is moronic to call for refs to explain their decisions after a match because all they will say is that is what they thought was the right call to make at the time, there is no benefit to handicappers saying why they give a particular horse a particular weight. It’s just what they think the horse should carry based on their interpretation of its form.

By making Smith such a public face of the weights the BHA and Aintree risk giving the impression one person is too influential in deciding who carries what.

It’s quite possible Smith is a total autocrat who dismisses his colleagues’ views out of hand, but hopefully that is not the case and the weights are agreed collaboratively, in which case a less inflammatory message would be sent out if it was clear this was the BHA party line rather than Phil Smith versus Irish racing.

Ironically, it could all end in hugs and kisses on April 8 with a horse of O’Leary’s who has actually been given less weight than it would have if the Irish ratings had been used looking a massive price.

Third in the red-hot 2015 Gold Cup and third to Vautour in last year’s Ryanair, Road To Riches has since lost his way a little but with a weight of 10-13 and a price of 50-1 he looks to have a fine chance of wiping the snarl off O’Leary’s face and turning it into a smile.

I love sport and I love betting. They are the most fun things in the world. But there is a divide between which the two must not mix because betting should not contaminate sport
E.W. Terms
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