I’ll always remember the moment when I first caught sight of the medic performing CPR on Fabrice Muamba.
That is the moment when the match changed from another Saturday afternoon game, with an unfortunate injury, to a game I could never forget. It could have been 4-4 and the greatest game ever, but no one would ever mention the football. From there on in the atmosphere changed in an instant. This was now clearly no normal footballing injury, but a fight for life. The fight for life of a fit, top-level sports star, 5 years younger than me and with his whole career ahead of him.
For what seemed like an age, the ground descended to a complete hush. I’ve never heard such a muted atmosphere amongst 36,000 fans before and it felt eerie. The small pocket of Bolton fans in the corner of the ground sung Fabrice Muamba’s name, and confirmed for us lesser educated fans, who the stricken player in question was. The ground fell back to hushed silence as the medics continued to give CPR, and then something strange happened. The fans began to cheer. Not the sort of cheer you give for a goal, but something more akin to the sort of cheer which comes as the result of a bout of sustained pressure; as if the fans are trying to will the ball into the back of the net. In this instance though, the fans, now completely aware of the battle being faced, were trying to will Fabrice Muamba back to life, desperately seeking some kind of response. A kick, a breath, anything. It was a moment that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Fans were beginning to choke back tears as the battle continued, seemingly to no avail. The looks on the faces of the players seemed to confirm the worst fears of the crowd further away, and my heart sank further.
Once the medics felt comfortable enough to move Fabrice Muamba, he was lifted up, still with the medics pushing his heart as they headed to the tunnel. All 36,000 fans stood up, applauding, chanting his name. Never have I seen so much love towards an opposition player, let alone a former Arsenal player. Football wasn’t important anymore and I’m so proud of the reaction of the whole crowd in acknowledging that. There wasn’t a single dissenting voice when the PA announcer confirmed the abandonment of the match. Yet people weren’t keen to rush for the exit, so desperate were they to hear some positive news to come out. As I walked down the High Road towards Seven Sisters Station the sporadic cries of “Fabrice Muamba” continued. Apart from that it was stunned silence the whole way home.
I’ve never heard such a muted atmosphere amongst 36,000 fans before and it felt eerie.
My first action every morning since then has been to check the news for updates on Fabrice Muamba’s condition, hoping for the best, but fearing the worse. Thankfully, it appears as though he’s winning his battle for life. I fear that he may never be able to play football again, but at a time when he’s still in intensive care, that feels like it should be an afterthought.
Despite it all, I hope this proves to be a freak occurrence. An underlying heart problem which could have affected any young man, at any time, but definitely the exception rather than the rule. This could have happened to him anytime, anywhere, but if you could pick a place to fall so seriously ill then a Premiership football ground is potentially the best place, with all the medical facilities and doctors on hand. And for that we should be slightly thankful. All the medics on hand on Saturday night, having to perform their duties in front of 36,000 and a world-wide television audience did themselves proud and should be recognised accordingly.
I’m returning to White Hart Lane on Wednesday night for another Premiership game against Stoke. I know I won’t feel the same, and I’m sure the people I’ve sat around for the last 13 years will feel the same as me. I hope that all that bile, nastiness and aggression, which has become part and parcel of English football these days, will now be put into perspective, put to one side and forgotten about. It’ll be a different type of atmosphere in the crowd on Wednesday night, but I hope that if one good thing comes out of this terrible incident, then it’s a long-term attitude change in the stands. Saturday confirmed that football’s nowhere near as important as life or death, so from here on in I hope we’ll see fans get on together and simply enjoy the game. We owe Fabrice Muamba’s brave efforts and courage in staying alive that at the very least, don’t we?
Read more from Rob Burton at his blog Tika-Taka Football
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