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Special team needed – and not just medics
JUST under a week ago there were fears that professional footballer Fabrice Muamba was going to die on the football pitch.
That Muamba, recovering with phenomenal speed, did not perish while lying prone on the pitch at White Hart Lane where his team Bolton were playing Spurs in an FA Cup tie, is testament to the midfielder’s tenacity and strength, but perhaps even more to the skill of the respective medical teams.
First to the prostrate Muamba was the Tottenham doctor and his Bolton counterpart, accompanied by paramedics who began the arduous and grim process of trying to keep the England Under-21 international alive.
Then it was a speedy transfer to the London Chest Hospital, where further treatment enabled the worst fears to be dispelled as daily bulletins revealed how Muamba’s condition started to improve.
The respective medical teams subsequently disclosed that Muamba was technically dead for 78 minutes.
For the young man who came to this country from the Congo as an 11-year-old to this week actually be able to speak with family, relatives and friends, as well as move his limbs, is nothing short of a medical miracle.
In the aftermath of the horror to strike Muamba there has been a huge outpouring of kindness and heartfelt wishes of recovery to the midfielder, whom Bolton fans have hailed all season as one of their better performers despite the Lancashire club’s long battle against relegation.
Supporters from other clubs, officials and players too, have all produced genuine and heart-warming – no play on words intended – displays of kindness towards the midfielder.
Eminent sense has been spoken in the right quarters from the likes of Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor, who said a fresh assessment would be made of screening pro players for potential heart defects, even though he added that the players’ union has spent around £7 million over the last two decades.
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini’s imprecation for even more screening, as carried out in his native Italy, was treated with due respect and notice.
Not for the first time the phrase “football family” surfaced amid a flurry of benevolence, as it did in the days and weeks following the tragic suicide of Wales manager Gary Speed.
The notion of a family of football may have a clichéd and clumsy attachment to it, but it does have an indisputable resonance. There is a come-together clan which manifests itself particularly during dark days of adversity and disaster.
That came home to me nearly 23 years ago when myself and a fellow Liverpool fan travelled from our then work in Scarborough to spend more than seven hours in a queue, which snaked sombrely around Stanley Park before we reached Anfield to lay our scarves in the dug-out as a mark of respect for those who perished at Hillsborough.
The tributes we witnessed on that bizarrely sunny April day from clubs not just all over England, but Britain, Europe, indeed from all over the world, were utterly overwhelming.
Those painful echoes of a united front have been evident again this season, especially welcome during the death of Speed and the near-fatal blow to befall Muamba.
One particular regret though is that the football family remains far from harmonious over other issues.
While great strides have been made, racism’s snarling countenance is still visible. There has been even less progress in the game’s treatment of homophobia.
Now I am not in favour of outlawing the inherent tribalism of football. If football is sanitised it will wither. For me it is part of an emotional tug that we belong to one club, as the song goes, “’til I die”. I have no truck at all with some so-called supporters who say they follow one club, but, tee-hee, also have a second favourite team. On yer bike, it’s one club or nowt.
But it’s about time that the football family actually closed ranks and stood as one to condemn the vicious and pernicious evils of racism and homophobia and not just become united whenever tragedy strikes.