Fabrice Muamba: Our reporter’s view from 20 yards away
11:22 19 March 2012
Joe Bill on how football’s terrible drama unfolded before him
Reporter Joe Bill had gone to White Hart Lane on Saturday night to cheer on his beloved Spurs in an FA Cup game. Instead, he found himself just 20 yards away from the terrible scenes of Bolton star Fabrice Muamba suffering a heart attack and a desperate fight to save his life.
In a special report, he explains what he saw and the mood among the crowd...
The term “everything has been put into perspective” is often over used. But never has it been more fitting than at 6pm on Saturday, March 17, 2012.
Midway through the lambasting of another refereeing decision against their team, Spurs fans turned to face Fabrice Muamba as he slumped to the floor.
Contrary to some reports, no-one shouted for him to “get up” which is often the retort when an opposition player throws himself to the ground at White Hart Lane.
The realisation of the situation was almost immediate. With his hands crumpled underneath his body, not protecting his face as he hit the ground, 36,000 people knew that there was something very wrong with the Bolton number six.
Just 20 yards from our seats, Luka Modric could be seen jumping up and down frantically gesturing to the dug-outs for help while referee Howard Webb worriedly waved on the medical staff.
Both Bolton physios and Tottenham medics raced to the player’s side and instantly tried to turn him from his front onto his side and into the recovery position.
Muamba is a huge guy and it took a good few of the staff to successfully manoeuvre him. And as stretcher men and paramedics raced across the pitch, the panic of the situation became clear and the entire stadium fell silent.
A sickening whimper from a helpless crowd went up as it became clear that paramedics were pumping away at Muamba’s chest trying to bring the player back to life.
Superstars slumped to the turf in agony while parents turned their children away trying to field awkward questions as to what was going on.
Former England Under 21 team mate and central midfield partner Nigel Reo-Coker walked over to the Spurs fans just in front of me with tears streaming down his face.
Jermaine Defoe was on his knees being comforted by others while Rafael Van Der Vaart looked to the heavens.
In the midst if this unbearable silence, one man climbed the barrier and ran onto the pitch and joined the group that were gathered around Muamba. We were later told that the guy was a cardiologist and wanted to lend his skills.
Two more medics appeared carrying equipment, and as they gathered around the stricken player it was clear that an electric defibrillator was about to be used. Anyone would think that this was an episode of some dramatic soap, not live on TV and in front of thousands of desperate fans.
As Muamba’s body kicked up from the electric pulse of the defibrillator, the silence broke and a deafening roar went up. It was like a goal had been scored, in the sense that it was spontaneous, there was no-one conducting this choir. The shouts of “come on, come on!” were as upsetting as the scene in front on me. It was pure desperation of the 36,000 people urging Muamba to move, to be ok, to give those around him a sign that there was still hope.
As the minutes ticked by silence drew in again before the cries of Fabrice Muamba’s name started in the Bolton section of the crowd. This was echoed around the stadium until all were singing his name urging him to stay alive.
It was the most surreal and uplifting feeling knowing that everyone wanted the same thing, but at the same time it was the most horrific thing anyone in that group has ever seen on a football pitch.
The medics continued to work on Muamba as he was loaded onto the stretcher and carried away towards the tunnel. A standing ovation continued as he was taken from the pitch and from view. Almost 10 minutes had passed since Muamba hit the floor. They were some of the longest minutes in my life.
For another quarter of an hour, supporters all around were kept inside the stadium, watching, waiting and phoning friends on the outside for news. It was like being kept in a submarine not knowing what was going on in the outside world. Of course, the Spurs officials did this to make sure that the ambulance collecting Muamba had a clear entry and exit from the ground.
It was finally announced that the game had been abandoned and people started to leave. The faces on of some of the burly men walking out of White Hart Lane said all you needed to know about how they were feeling.
In the street people gathered around cars for radio news but nothing was conclusive.
Fans are often criticised for their behaviour, their chants and their blinkered view of football, but for me that was the day that football changed.
It is sad that it has taken a horrible incident like this to get people to wake up and think about things, but I have no doubt in my mind that the game will be a little more clear now.
Money, transfers, the England captaincy, which footballer is having an affair with who…none of it means anything when someone’s life is on the line.
I don’t like the phrase “football family” but from the outpouring of support from social networking sites, other football teams and the wider world have given, you can tell people finally realised that it is indeed “just a game”.
I hope that day goes down in history for the right reasons. I know that I will never be able to go to see my beloved Tottenham Hotspur without looking at the piece of turf where Muamba fell and thinking, just thinking.