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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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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
In 2007, now-Rotherham manager Andy Scott said:
“The medicals are nowhere near stringent enough. The fact of the matter is that everyone should be tested. How many times are people going to die? Is it going to take a Wayne Rooney or David Beckham to keel over before anyone sits up and takes notice? Its getting ridiculous now.”
“There is clearly no reason why a young person should die when they are in the prime of their career and fitness. Its complete ignorance that this has not been taken further. This is an ideal opportunity now to make it compulsory for all players to be screened.”
I think it should be an FA initiative, backed by the PFA. There are mobile screening units who go around and can identify imperfections in the heart that could indicate sudden death syndrome. It needs a sweep now of all the players that are under contract. It would only take 10 minutes to check a player.”
“There is clearly no reason why a young person should die when they are in the prime of their career,” said Scott, Brentford’s assistant manager. “It’s complete ignorance that this has not been taken further. This is an ideal opportunity now to make it compulsory for all players to be screened. How many times is it going to have to happen? Everyone knows it’s going on but it’s getting someone at the top to get off their backsides.” The FA described such a move as a “strategic decision for the whole game”. No one at the PFA could be contacted last night.
More than 4 years later Fabrice Muamba is in critical condition in hospital. Is it possible that his current situation could have been prevented had the FA been interested in protecting the welfare of the players from whom it earns its riches?
Those in Senior management obviously do not consider there any ‘corporate’ risk to players keeling over in the middle of a match. If there was an identified risk to the FA then it seems entirely proportionate to screen all the players – it doesnt cost much. What I also wonder is why clubs (who are the ones who are much more greatly affected) do not screen players as a matter of course. Surely if you even took it from a cold harsh financial point of view, it would reduce insurance premiums? I think the rather horrendous statistic that was cited (possibly by CRY) yesterday was that 500 youngsters die unexpectedly from cardiac arrests every year, it’s really quite appalling in the UK the number is so high when it only needs a few basic measures to identify those at risk and prevent it.
I hope Muamba pulls through and regains full health. There will be a little more consolation if his case is used to improve the screening process in the future for everyone.
I was watching it yesterday in greek broadcst and immediatelly i was shocked!Not only of the incident but “mostly” of the high level reaction of the supporters. In comparison with greek situations (today it’s the great rival Panathinaikos vs Olympiacos) and the shouts like as “he died..he died” when a palyer has been injured here. Of course it\s another situation when you see a player collapses suddenly.
I was wondering if you believe that this demonstration of support and concern has to do with the charachteristic of “Fair Play” which I believe is inspired by English sports tradition.Or it’s a result of “de-hooliganism” and attracting of middle clqass families in the terrraces?
Thanks in advance and apologies for my English.
cheers by Athens!
[…] kind) player had a heart attack during the game. The facts themselves are pretty crazy, but this article does a great job giving the broader context to what happened around the story: Many said yesterday evening that football becomes irrelevant in such circumstances. This is […]
The answer is a definate no, and as like the above there have been warnings about the likelyhood of this happening again. Both the deaths of Foe 9 years ago and the death of the Motherwell captain Phil O’Donnell towards the end of their match with Dundee United in 2007 seems to have gone without any lessons being learned.
BTW another very well written post that strikes the right balance. Keep up the good work.
That point about football becoming irrelevant is excellent. It’s a ray of light in a very dark situation that the football community has pulled together in the way that it has.
Fabrice was tested 4 times for a heart problem over his career. All 16 year old academy members are tested for heart problems. Unfortunately, some heart conditions cannot currently be tested for.