The night football united behind Fabrice Muamba at White Hart Lane
Spurs correspondent Ben Pearce looks back on the harrowing events of the abandoned FA Cup quarter-final in north London.
In the all-consuming world of football, perspective only tends to extend so far. In Tottenham’s case, perspective has recently meant remembering that Spurs are still third in the Premier League, despite a run of three top-flight defeats.
That is perfectly understandable. While this game is endlessly important to its millions of fans around the world, it is effectively a form of entertainment and therefore escapism - a chance to forget about real-world issues like life and death.
On Saturday, however, the footballing world were reminded of the true meaning of perspective, as a Premier League footballer fought for his life on the White Hart Lane turf.
Suddenly, the real world came crashing in – and not for the first time this season.
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The start of Spurs’ campaign was delayed as the London riots, which began in Tottenham, forced their curtain-raiser against Everton to be postponed.
And, when the Lilywhites last faced Bolton in early December, Gareth Bale celebrated his opening goal with a touching tribute to the ex-Wanderers man Gary Speed, who had died a few days previously.
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Of course, the football community has a nasty habit of being horribly divisive – taking the opposing nature of the sport to the extreme with foul-mouthed chants at rival players, managers and fans.
This season has been particularly appalling at times, with racism making an unwelcome return to the back pages.
Spurs fans have hardly been blameless over the years, given their treatment of Sol Campbell and Emmanuel Adebayor (up until this season).
And, when Adebayor lined up against Arsenal at the Lane in October, some of the Gunners fans taunted their former striker about the terrorist attack on the Togo team bus in Angola in January 2010 – when three of his international colleagues were killed.
At times, the Premier League seems to be a hotbed for hostility, with mob mentality highlighting some of the worst features of human nature.
And yet, football also has an incredible ability to unite – to bring people of different nationalities, religions and ethnicities together because of their love for a sport which bridges every boundary.
Saturday’s events were horrible and harrowing, but they also provided an inspirational opportunity for the footballing world to join together with a common goal – few football fans will be unaware of the message ‘Pray 4 Muamba’ today.
Those who were present at White Hart Lane all describe a similar event – the moment when the paramedics commenced CPR, and an eerily silent stadium suddenly erupted as 36,000 people urged Muamba to fight for his life.
I was there in the press box, and it really was an incredible moment of collective willpower.
Thanks to the magnificent response and skill of the paramedics, the ambulance crew and the medical staff at the London Chest Hospital, Muamba is still battling today.
The outcome is far from certain, but if the conclusion is the positive one that everyone is praying for, then those who were present may yet come to remember Saturday as a stirring moment of motivational unison, rather than one of fear and anguish.
What followed in the ensuing minutes was equally touching as the Spurs fans joined their Bolton comrades in singing Muamba’s name, and giving him a standing ovation as he left the pitch on a stretcher.
When the stadium announcer declared that the game had been abandoned, there was not a single dissenting voice – just utter compliance and respect for the seriousness for the situation as the fans quietly departed.
In these days of social networks, every fan has a voice – but in the hours that followed, I did not see a single supporter questioning the decision to abandon the match, or raising partisan concerns.
No-one asked whether their tickets would be refunded, and no-one suggested that Spurs could do without another midweek fixture.
As one Tottenham fan tweeted, “In a season of hatred, vindictiveness and pettiness by some we all came together to show what is really important.”
Elsewhere, football clubs from around the country sent messages of support. And, in Italy, Andrea Pirlo came off the pitch following Juventus’ 5-0 victory over Fiorentina and immediately declared: “We wanted to dedicate our goals to Bolton’s player Fabrice Muamba, who is fighting for his life. We are all close to him and hopefully he will recover soon.”
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy summed up these sentiments with a well-worded statement yesterday: “Our thoughts are with Fabrice’s family and Bolton Wanderers and we are all willing him to pull through,” he said. “Events such as this put everything into perspective.
“We are immensely proud and grateful to the medical teams at both clubs, their response was immediate and professional.
“Our thanks also to both sets of fans for their support and behaviour. Too often we read the negatives about football and yet [on Saturday night], at a time of intense emergency and uncertainty, we saw the true humanity and empathy of the footballing family.”