Football often gets an absolute kicking in the wider world, for the behaviour of players, officials, fans and authorities, and plenty of times the criticism is fully justified. This season has seen a slew of unsavoury incidents, from racism to homophobia, from corrupt officials to rival fans singing despicable songs about misfortunes that have befallen players or their families. Respect and class are often sorely missing.
But on occasion, football as a sport can unite the fiercest of opponents, and bring out the absolute best in everyone. Today was one such day.
Shortly before half time in the FA Cup tie between Spurs and Bolton, Fabrice Muamba collapsed with no-one else near him. Always a worrying sign in itself, the obvious distress on the faces of both sets of players quickly made the situation clear – Muamba was in serious trouble. Both sets of fans stood in respectful and worried silence, punctuated by the odd song of support for the stricken young man now fighting for his life before their eyes. After what seemed an age, he was finally stretchered off the field to heartfelt applause, and with none of the players in any state to continue, the match was rightfully abandoned.
As I write this, the news is tentatively good, and is that Muamba is stable (but still critically ill) in hospital, which is remarkable, frankly. I hope that as the hours roll by, the news continues to be positive, and he can make a full and speedy recovery.
But the point of this post wasn’t to tell you what you undoubtedly already know – even if you weren’t watching the game I have no doubt that you have since been made aware of the situation. The point of the post was to bring attention to the incredible unity that so many believe football incapable of.
On the field, players who had been tearing into each other just minutes before were embracing, supporting each other, no matter the shirt they were wearing or the issues any of them had with each other. At that moment, they were just men scared for the safety of a stricken colleague.
Off the field, the Bolton fans sung his name with gusto, and the Spurs fans ignored the fact that Muamba was not only an opponent, but an Arsenal product, and joined in with equal volume and passion. Every single person that sung his name deserves immense credit for showing the sort of humanity and care that counters the belief that the sport is bereft of it.
But finally, and most importantly, the medical staff who tended to him on the field, who did everything they could to resuscitate him in those immediate and crucial moments, who treated him on the way to, and at the hospital – they are the real heroes. They may have saved the life of a 23 year old who has already been through more strife in his tender years than most of us could even imagine, and who is now a doting father. We look up to some strange people – celebrities, musicians, even footballers – but these people are genuinely deserving.
Thanks to them, Muamba still has a fighting chance, and for that everyone should be enormously grateful and relieved.
Get well soon, Fabrice.