Shortly before 6.15 yesterday evening, White Hart Lane began to fall silent. As the possible scale of what had happened started to disseminate, first around the ground itself and then out, through cathode ray tubes and broadband connections, a respectful hush descended over English football. The FA Cup took last place last night, as our thoughts turned to the stricken player and his family. The words of goodwill were fulsome and came from across the globe, a sudden ray of warmth on an evening that had suddenly turned so numbingly cold. Yesterday evening, we were all supporters of Bolton Wanderers, and we remain so today.
There is a striking irony that this should happen to Fabrice Muamba, of all people. As a child, Fabrice had become used to the sights and sounds of death in the chaotic Congolese capital city of Kinshasa. His arrival in London in 1999 found a young boy gifted in so many respects – not only in terms of sport, but also academically – but unable to speak English. Yet London became his home, and his education eventually, and perhaps inevitably, took place to the wild riches that the life of a professional sportsman has to offer, although he still managed ten GCSE passes and three ‘A’ Levels, only several years after arriving here. In so many respects, this is a professional footballer that is not like the majority.
As the evening wore on, the news became predictably confused. Some news outlets demonstrated commendable tact in sticking only to confirmed press releases. Others, though, were as thoughtless as we might have previously predicted, splashing their websites with long lens photographs of the player prostrate on the White Hart Lane turf. A debate swirled around concerning the official semantics used in the medical profession in such circumstances. What does “critical” mean? What is the difference between “critical” and “stable”? We live in a world in which we have become conditioned to needing answers immediately, but last night there were to be no quick or easy answers that could be offered. All we could do was wait, and place our faith in those entrusted to tend him.
Some prayed, whilst others did not. We hoped for the best whilst starting to mentally to prepare for the worst. There were, of course, a few that considered such an event an appropriate moment to demonstrate their idiocy by making jokes on the subject in a display of such rank ignorance that trying to consider a rationale for their behaviour seems like the most of futile of tasks. These people, however, were in the vast, vast minority and they will get what they deserve. One arrested this morning, we understand, is a student at a British university. Should he end up kicked out of university and with a criminal record at a time of record high youth unemployment, it is unlikely that he will get much sympathy from anywhere.
For all of this doltishness, however, there was much to be thankful for last night. We should be grateful to the medical staff on hand at White Hart Lane last night, whose prompt action saved Fabrice’s life. He is far from being out of the woods yet and remains, at the time of writing, in a critical condition in intensive care in the Heart Attack Centre at The London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green. In the case of events such as this, though, all that we can hope for is that the medical staff can get him from one stepping stone to the next, on a road to full recovery. Thus far he remains alive, and this, perhaps, is as much as we should be hoping for at the moment.
We should also be thankful for the reaction to the events of last night from the supporters of both Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers. Football supporters are frequently labelled pejorative terms which insinuate that we are incapable of so much as basic human decency. Yesterday evening, the supporters of these two clubs – amongst many others – behaved in a way that is a considerable credit, not only to their clubs but also to the rest of us, and to the game in a broader sense in this country. The words of comfort flooded across social media were indicative of a beating heart which does still exist at the heart of our game.
Many said yesterday evening that football becomes irrelevant in such circumstances. This is partially true, but doesn’t tell the complete story of last night. When something such as this happens, the match that is taking place ceases to be of much importance, of course. The game, however, to the extent that “football” exists as an entity in and of itself, certainly doesn’t become irrelevant, and this much was demonstrated by the messages of support and concern that we saw last night. Football frequently seems to exist in a bubble, isolated and insulated from the outside world. When the full horror that real world can occasionally offer came calling last night, though, its humanity shone through. Considering what happened at White Hart Lane last night, it’s a tiny consolation. But a tiny consolation is better than no consolation at all.
It should go without saying that all of our thoughts and wishes are with Fabrice Muamba, his family and friends, and everyone connected with Bolton Wanderers Football Club at this difficult time.
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