From Totton to Arsenal - it's an amazing story. Former Gosport Borough goalkeeper Wayne Shaw (46) has been propelled to nationwide fame as he and his Sutton United side prepare to take on Arsenal tomorrow night.
Sutton, along with fellow National League side Lincoln, managed by former Concord Rangers boss Danny Cowley, have consistently defied the odds in this seasons competition.
Sutton booted Championship side Leeds United out in the last round, adding to their earlier upset against AFC Wimbledon and can now look forward to the likes of Mezut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott et all having to play on the 3G surface in the unusual surroundings of Gander Green Lane - which will be alien to everything their star studded squad are used to.
Yet despite not being their number one goalkeeper, a familiar face at Gosport Borough, has been single-handedly propelled to super stardom in the three weeks since the win against Leeds.
Wayne, spent three spells at Privett Park as a player and a coach, (his first in 1990/91 and last ending three years ago) has become the figure head of Suttons remarkable campaign. With Boro', Wayne was at Wembley as back up to Nathan Ashmore in the 2014 F.A Trophy Final.
He had also spent time at hometown club AFC Totton, Eastleigh and AFC Lymington during their golden Wessex League era in the mid-1990's. Now he and his Sutton team mates are plotting to outwit Arsene Wenger and his Gunners side.
But forget Leeds match winner Jamie Collins or even Sutton's first choice goalkeeper Ross Worner - it's Wayne that everyone's talking about following being seen on screen during BT Sport's coverage of Sutton's success against Leeds.
Sutton’s goalkeeping number two has attracted media interest from as far afield as Russia, Mexico and the USA as he prepares for the FA Cup fifth round tie against the Gunners.
“It’s absolutely crazy," he told Simon Walter of the Southampton Daily Echo.
"NBC specifically asked for an interview with me,” chortles Shaw, whose face is being used to sell t-shirts, mobile phone covers and even chilli sauce in the build up to Arsenal’s visit.
“The lads should take the plaudits, I just sit there on the bench. But I think one picture caught me yawning and another was taken just after a I’d finished a pie! It’s all good banter," he laughed.
Shaw left Gosport Borough to go to Sutton in 2014 to take up a full time position at the club managed by his good friend, the former Eastleigh manager Paul Doswell, who still lives locally.
Shaw is now loving life at Sutton, where as well as being the reserve goalkeeper and goalkeeping coach he is responsible for the hiring out and maintenance of the 3G pitch that Arsenal will grace tomorrow evening.
One of only two full-time staff at Gander Green Lane, along with physio Bobby Childs, he is loving the change of scene after more than two decades working for Carlo’s Ice Creams, his aunt and uncle’s business, in West Wellow, near Romsey.
“I was 44 and remember thinking if I’m still here at 45 I’ll be here for the rest of my life,” he explains.
“It was different and I enjoyed it but it meant working a lot of weekends and late summer evenings. It was full-on and I got to a crossroads. Then, three months before my 45th birthday, Doz told me he was getting a 3G pitch put in at Sutton and that they needed someone who was a bit jovial around the place to put a smile on people’s faces.
“He made a job along the way for me, really. We have in excess of 200 people through a day, it’s really taking off. Once a week I help schoolkids who have special needs with their co-ordination through sport. It makes me realise how lucky I am to be really active.
“We’ll have the academy on-site next year with another 80-100 lads coming in each day. We also groundshare with Sutton Rovers, who play in the Combined Counties League (a similar standard to the Wessex League), Wimbledon Ladies and a disability team that I’m an ambassador for.”
Now the likes of Theo Walcott, who scored a pre-season screamer for Saints against Shaw as a 15 year-old, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are preparing to make the transition from Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena to Sutton’s artificial turf.
If Sutton manage the unthinkable against Arsenal, it will take the club to a new level entirely. First-choice goalkeeper Ross Worner has conceded ten goals in Sutton’s last three games, all of which they have lost.
But those defeats have all been away from Gander Green Lane, where Sutton are unbeaten in nine matches, six of which they have won.
“It would have been great to play at the Emirates but we’ve got the best home record and the worst away record in the National League,” smiles Shaw.
“We’re just going to enjoy the occasion and hopefully do the league proud. Whatever happens we’re guaranteed to be in the quarter-final draw! he concluded” Well, anything Lincoln could do at Burnley....Sutton can do better......right?!?
Sutton United V Arsenal is being shown live at the Inn Off the Post at the Aerial Direct Stadium, opening at 7pm, with kick off at 7.55pm. Why not come down and enjoy a pint in good company. All welcome.
Updated 07:48 - 20 Feb 2017 by Site Manager