What has happened to the Bolton player, Fabrice Muamba, puts football and all sports in perspective. We can only join his family in hoping he will make a full recovery. But the way the world of football has responded since the tragedy unfolded at White Hart Lane on Saturday afternoon provides some comfort in this dark moment. It shows that the beautiful game has not quite lost its soul as many feared it was in grave danger of doing.
That such a conclusion was being drawn was hardly surprising. The past few months has not shown the game in the best of light, what with the never ending corruption problem and gross mismanagement of the game by those entrusted with its administration. Add to it charges of racism and the inept manner some in football reacted to them. All this has not been helped by the behaviour of the fans and, in particular, what is presented as singing in English football grounds, but which are in fact hate filled diatribes of the type that no decent human being should want to be associated with.
They all concern death and to give some recent examples, consider that, at Pride Park as Derby County played Nottingham Forest, Derby supporters were heard singing, “Where’s your chairman gone?”, a reference to Nigel Doughty, Nottingham Forest’s chairman recently found dead in his gymnasium. To this they added these hateful words, “You’re going down with your chairman”.
Worse still, there were Everton fans at Anfield mimicking with gestures how Liverpool fans were crushed to death at Hillsborough. And it seems even four year olds now know the words of that most distasteful of songs, “Who’s that lying on the runway?”, a reference to Manchester United’s Munich disaster, about which the four year old knows nothing.
Yet at White Hart Lane, the supporters, not least the home fans, from the start understood what was taking place and responded with a dignity that many of us thought had gone out of the game. It showed the dark soul of football was not quite as dark as some of this singing had made us feel it might be.
The players response to what had happened to Muamba showed that, for all the talk of modern players being mercenaries only concerned with what goes in their bank balance, they too can quickly understand when something happens that puts everything else in shade. And the response of Howard Webb, the referee, in taking the players off and abandoning the match showed the sort of maturity the game’s officials have not always demonstrated.
We must also be thankful that the game’s administrators, including Fifa, for all the other failings of this organisation, have worked hard to improve the medical facilities are now available at grounds. It does not bear thinking what might have happened to Fabrice Muamba when the ground authorities just did not have the sort of medical support they now have.
Football must always be a game of passion and argument, but this tragedy shows that, for all its failings, there are enough people in football who realise it is only a game meant to entertain, amuse and divert us, but not something that can take over from life and its struggles.
Follow Mihir on Twitter @mihirbose