A radiant smile
Much has been written about Fabrice Muamba in the aftermath of his horrific collapse in the FA Cup quarter-finals. He was obviously a popular footballer and someone with an impeccable work ethic, an infectious smile, well liked by his team mates and coaches where ever he went. Muamba’s was also a special story, coming to England after his father fled the brutal and corrupt regime of Mobutu Sese Seko and sought political asylum. He got into the Arsenal youth system through unconventional means and launched his footballing career. England came knocking and he was chosen to represent his new country in the U21s. Not bad for a lad from a country formerly know as Zaire.
However, for thousands and maybe millions who did not know Muamba, these stories as compelling as they maybe, mean little. What then drew them in and keeps Muamba in their thoughts and prayers? Football is a contact sport and when he went down, most expected a player writhing in agony over a shattered ankle or torn knee ligaments following a tackle; legitimate, malicious, or otherwise. That we have seen. It is a risk a player takes everytime he walks onto a football pitch. The fans look on with hand on their mouth, players mill around their stricken team mate, their faces stretched in concern, some averting their eyes. He receives an outstanding ovation from the crowd after he’s stretchered off but at the back of their heads they have seen or heard this before. He will be back in several months after painful and arduous rehabilitation in most cases to resume his career. The only debate being whether he would be as effective as before.
There is another aspect to look forward to. Going after the villain. And so the boards and social media become thick with rage against the tackler as it descends into an indictment of a club being a den of vicious jack booted thugs and the FA a bunch of pantywaists who can’t enforce enough punishment. Then comes the pushback where the coach and peers issue character certificates, the player as salt of the earth, the tackle as par for the course in a sport like football. If you can’t hack it, leave. The north vs south. The industrial vs the artistic. Stoke vs Arsenal. We can rage because we each have a target to rage against, perceived or real. But how do you rage against something that is unseen, silent, and so malevolent? There are no sides to pick or choose. There is no culpability because there is no crime.
If it happened to Muamba, in his 20’s, playing a sport that demands supreme physical fitness, in such visceral a fashion in front of thousands in the stadium and all over the world, how do we stand a chance? His team mates are the ones most affected. But we, the more sedentary, the beer quaffing occasional jock, the Play Station warriors, those who pay up because of a belief through osmosis, we’re bestowed a few minutes of immortality. Where does that leave us? The feeling is one of helplessness. Unity through unease. We’re pulling for Muamba because we each have a stake in his life.
Update: Better news emerges. Muamba is reported to be moving his arms and legs after medically induced hypothermia. He also asked after his son and recognized his fiancee. The long term prognosis is unclear because of the potential for brain and motor damage.