Fabrice Muamba’s collapse reminds us football is just a game

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Bolton Wanderers' Fabrice Muamba is obscured by medical staff trying to resuscitate him after collapsing as Tottenham Hotspur player William Gallas reacts during the English FA Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers at White Hart Lane stadium in London, Saturday, March 17, 2012. AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

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On Saturday night a player by the name of Dave Harvey made a stunning Super Rugby debut for the Western Force. Hours later on the other side of the world, Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba lay dying on the pitch.

I took studied interest in Harvey’s debut for the Perth-based Force because I used to play cricket with him.

We weren’t in the same club side but played representative cricket together, where he proved more than capable keeping up to the stumps to my looping leg-spinners.

I was delighted to see Harvey score 16 of the Force’s 21 points in their shock win over the Waratahs, not least because I knew his family and friends would be watching from the stands in his hometown of Sydney.

I hope Fabrice Muamba’s family weren’t in the stands at White Hart Lane on Saturday night.

The horrifying scenes played out in north London were the kind you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy, let alone loved ones.

For those not aware, 23-year-old Muamba collapsed to the turf with no opponents around him in an FA Cup quarter-final clash against Tottenham.

It was immediately apparent he was in serious trouble.

Medics rushed on to the pitch in a bid to revive him from what is suspected to have been a heart attack.

As the distraught Bolton and Tottenham players watched on in obvious distress, some fans inside the stadium began to weep, while ashen-faced Bolton manager Owen Coyle stood barely metres from where paramedics frantically tried to resuscitate the stricken Muamba.

When the midfielder was carried from the pitch on a stretcher a round of thunderous applause broke out in the stands, as fans from both clubs chanted Muamba’s name.

Referee Howard Webb sensibly and correctly abandoned the match after consulting both captains. This was no time to be thinking about football.

At the time of writing, Muamba was listed as critically ill in a London hospital.

Hopefully he doesn’t join a growing list of professional footballers to have died on the pitch, including former Cameroon international Marc-Vivien Foé.

I thought immediately of Foé when I heard about Muamba because I used to watch the combative Cameroonian playing for Premier League clubs West Ham and Manchester City on TV.

Legendary Japanese defender Naoki Matsuda passed away last August aged 34, after collapsing in training at third-tier side Matsumoto Yamaga. He was one of the toughest players I ever saw play in the J. League.

When such tragedies occur, it’s hard not to lurch into clichés about football being just a game. Clearly there are more important things in life than kicking a ball around an expanse of grass.

However, those who decry sport as pointless frivolity ignore the fact it often forces us to think long and hard about humanity and our place in the world.

I was delighted for Dave Harvey on Saturday night, and hearing of his exploits made me think about my own life and my small connection to him.

But the sight of a young man like Muamba lying prone on the turf, oblivious to the urgings of more than 30,000 desperate fans for him to get up, deeply affected me.

I hope he makes a full recovery and I hope his story makes us all take a little time out to remind our loved ones that we cherish them.

Because if the gut-wrenching scenes at White Hart Lane taught us anything, it’s that our lives can change irrevocably in the blink of an eye.

Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and was a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008 to July 2014.
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