One of the worst scenes experienced at White Hart Lane…and yet, we experienced the best of responses.
Medics and physios from both clubs sprinted to his aid. Players and staff stood together…stunned, shaken, shocked.
Prayers were uttered. And then it began. The Bolton fans started it, the Spurs fans quickly joined in. Muamba’s name was chanted around the stadium, a choir of 35,000 using every breath to try and inspire a revival for a player who they feared may have just taken his last.
It was emotional, it was uplifting, it was heartening.
Grown men in lilywhite Tottenham shirts cried openly as they sang to save a life.
For this was no time for rivalry or division.
Quite rightly our great game of football was forgotten, deemed a ridiculous irrelevance as the horrifying events unfolded in front of us. This FA Cup quarter final had been under way for 41 minutes when midfielder Fabrice Muamba, 23, suddenly fell to the floor.
There was no one near him. Nothing to explain his slow-motion collapse. But it was immediately apparent that something was drastically wrong.
For a few brief seconds there was nothing. Then, as Muamba’s plight was noticed, a moment or two of puzzlement and confusion. Then came the realisation…this was as serious as it comes.
Players from both sides turned away in obvious distress as the medics raced on from the touchline.
White Hart Lane went silent as Muamba’s chest was pumped. Then pumped again. And again. Trust me, that is as distressing a sight as you will ever see at a game of football.
Now it was apparent this was not your normal football injury. This was a fight for life being acted out in front of 35,000 stunned supporters. Fans on all sides sobbed as the awful drama developed. They had come to the Lane to enjoy the fun and excitement of an FA Cup tie. To cheer on their teams towards a Wembley semi-final…another step in the quest to capture the famous old Cup. And the game had begun in pulsating fashion.
Bolton took the lead after just five minutes, Tottenham equalised six minutes later. It was building up into a cracker of a cup tie.
But all of that drama was instantly forgotten, immediately put into perspective by the terrible fear we were witnessing a young man’s life ebbing away in front of us.
Worse was the realisation we were utterly powerless to intervene and save him.
That is almost certainly why all the fans joined together in a bid to roar the Bolton star back from the brink. What else could they do to help but what football fans are best at…offering up support and exultations.
That is why they sang his name, applauded, pleaded and prayed.
We all feared the worst, every one of us afraid to consider the consequences of this shocking scene. But at least we could sing, we could clap and we could hope.
It was hard, though, as Muamba was rushed off the pitch on a stretcher and medics continued to work on him in the tunnel while they waited for an ambulance to pull up and race him off to hospital.
Which is why referee Howard Webb was absolutely right to consult Bolton manager Owen Coyle and Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp and skipper Scott Parker about whether to let the match continue.
All of them instantly agreed the game had to be halted…the only decision possible when medical staff were battling to revive a footballer just feet away.
And there was not one dissenting voice as it was later confirmed that the tie had been abandoned. Fans streamed away saying: “The right decision…no doubt about it. Football’s not important after that.”
Bill Shankly infamously argued otherwise. Shanks is a football icon, but even he got that one badly wrong.
Just ask another Liverpool legend Kevin Keegan, who was at White Hart Lane last night working as a TV pundit.
Keegan was Manchester City manager when Marc-Vivien Foe died on the pitch while playing for Cameroon.
And Keegan said: “Marc died in a very, very similar incident. He was right in his prime, 28 years old. I saw it on TV and straight away when you see some people fall, you don’t have to be a doctor to know it’s not a good fall. The medical assistance was straight there for Fabrice, it was incredible how quick they were at getting to him. I hope and pray he pulls through.”
Last night, hospital staff at the London Chest Hospital announced that Muamba was ‘critically ill’.
Fans across the country will continue to pray for him.
by Terence Johns