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

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By Mike Tuckerman, Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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17 Have your say

    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
    Mike Tuckerman

    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 has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • March 19th 2012 @ 7:11am
      Bondy said | March 19th 2012 @ 7:11am | ! Report

      I didn”t see this game but I think Howard Webb made the correct decision you cant play for points under those circumstances it’s not on .

      I too thought of Mark Vivan Foe a Citizen at the time If memory serves correct I was watching live when he passed at the Confed’s Cup,everybody new immediately this was very serious the match continued by the way .

      The world awaits good news, Get well soon Fabrice .

      • March 19th 2012 @ 1:17pm
        Kasey said | March 19th 2012 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

        Am I a horrible person or just a cynical football fan in a country that seems to use any excuse to kick the sport I love? I really hope Fabrice Muamba recovers for a multitude of reasons(what a great story coming from a refugee background to premiership footballer! not to mention he seems like a genuinely nice guy. ), but buried deep down(so deep I seriously debated whether to even write this post) in my subconscious is the fear that if he doesn’t pull through, it will only be a matter of milliseconds before some emboldened code warrior in the mainstream media uses it as ‘proof’ that Soccer isn’t that safe at all(playing on the ”the only reason Soccer is popular is because little Timmy’s mum doesn’t want him to get hurt playing the other (real) sports on offer” garbage. They might even bring up Marc Vivian Foe to show a ‘ pattern’. More people playing the game worldwide of course means more likelihood that unfortunate medical conditions could occur) I mean the mainstream media didn’t exactly cover itself in glory with regards to looking into the deep under-currents of Egypt’s political unrest before rushing to label the Port Said tragedy as just another ‘routine’ example of Soccer violence did they?
        Get well soon Fabrice, even if you can’t play football again, good luck.

        • March 19th 2012 @ 4:05pm
          micka said | March 19th 2012 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

          I don’t think even code warriors would be that insensitive Kasey.

          Might be worth having a look in the mirror before piffing rocks at everyone else.

          • March 19th 2012 @ 4:14pm
            Kasey said | March 19th 2012 @ 4:14pm | ! Report

            Let’s really hope we don’t have to find out micka,
            Muamba’s condition is listed as Very serious but Stable. God willing and with some luck he will pull through.
            I have looked in the mirror many times and it is difficult to escape the paranoia that sometimes comes with being a football fan in this country, but for the reasons I’ve outlined above, I thought I’d made a pretty reasonable point over a fear I had. You might see it as just a Soccer fan’s notoriously thin skin, but to us it is defending something we love and hold dear(the reputation of our game) to us, its not like we as a sport haven’t been unfairly singled out in the past is it?

            • March 19th 2012 @ 4:26pm
              micka said | March 19th 2012 @ 4:26pm | ! Report

              No, I would agree that you guys cop a heap of flak. I just think in this case the suspicion(?) is unwarranted.
              Feel free to put the shields up if there is a report of flares thrown on the pitch though 😉

              I don’t really think football fans need to worry about AFL, RL and RU fans. When Chris Judd, Billy Slater and Matt Dunning (hahahahaha) are paid as much as Rooney et al you will have some worries.

              I don’t see it happening.

              • March 19th 2012 @ 4:37pm
                Kasey said | March 19th 2012 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

                If it was just reporting on the off-field antics of our players as we see in other sports I could understand. The public are rightly interested in the foibles of the players they rightly or wrongly put up on a pedestal. The more high-profile a sport is the more attention its players receive in their activities away from the field of play. Your response is entirely reasonable, what I object to is the media running what appears to be a scare campaign against football in the complete lack of anything to actually be scared about, only some undesirable negative stereotypes from a bygone era in England to fall back on. Hell, when a high profile sports reporter like Caroline Wilson actually proudly proclaims on her CV that she covered ”the FA Cup Final and soccer riots” how objective are we to expect her to be on the odd occasion that she writes or talks anything to do with the round-ball code? To date there has not been a ‘soccer riot’ in this country and God willing there will never be any sort of crowd disturbance at any sport in this country that could be compared to that which stemmed from the 70-80s era social policies in the UK.

    • March 19th 2012 @ 8:32am
      Tigranes said | March 19th 2012 @ 8:32am | ! Report

      All the best Fabrice.

    • Roar Guru

      March 19th 2012 @ 9:53am
      Fussball ist unser leben said | March 19th 2012 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      Thanks Mike, for beautifully capturing the emotions of this sad story.

      It seems unlikely Fabrice will ever play pro-football again, so all we can pray is that he recovers and can live a reasonably normal life.

      One positive from this tragedy has been the way fans & players across the football world have put aside petty rivalries to support one of our “family” – after scoring the opening goal in Chelsea’s FA Cup win over Leicester, Gary Cahill revealed a t-shirt he was wearing with the words “Pray for Muamba”; this morning Real Madrid’s team warmed up in t-shirts with the words “Get well soon Muamba” & “ánimo Abidal”.

      Based on this story in the Guardian, perhaps, qualified medical practitioners – rather than non-medically trained sports scientists – should have ultimate control over the conditioning of elite athletes?

      • March 19th 2012 @ 10:25am
        Kasey said | March 19th 2012 @ 10:25am | ! Report

        Also reading the Guardian, it was good too see the PL learning from lessons past in that MDs and an EMT are a club requirement for each home game(this probably save Muamba’s life is the supposition after the horrible incident that lead to Petr Chech’s severe head injury in 2006. #prayforMuamba trending on twitter still during this weekend’s games. God speed his recovery.

    • March 19th 2012 @ 10:49am
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | March 19th 2012 @ 10:49am | ! Report

      Sad story indeed. We all wish him well.

    • March 19th 2012 @ 11:49am
      TomC said | March 19th 2012 @ 11:49am | ! Report

      Nice article, Mike.

    • Roar Guru

      March 19th 2012 @ 5:29pm
      Fussball ist unser leben said | March 19th 2012 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

      Here’s how one person – Annie Eaves – tries to make sense of why this tragic incident involving Frabrice Muamba has touched us all.

      A must read for any sports fan

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