15 August 2012

A sad end for Fabrice Muamba

Fabrice Muamba plays in what is sadly his last ever professional match.

We had been expecting this news for some time, but it doesn't make it any less sad that Fabrice Muamba has had to retire from football.

Many of us know where we were when we heard the news, on the evening of 17 March, that Muamba had collapsed while playing for Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup against Tottenham Hotspur.

I was sat in front of the very computer with which I type this article, listening to some 80's music when I was alerted by a newsflash on the Guardian's sports website. The next hour was spent frantically dashing between the computer and the TV as I sought more news on Fabrice's condition.

Personally, I was very taken aback by this news. As an Arsenal fan, I can remember when Fabrice's career started when the Gunners still played at the old Highbury stadium, although he only made two League Cup appearances for the club. In 2006, the DR Congo-born midfielder was loaned out to Birmingham City, where he stayed for two years before moving on to Bolton. I have followed Muamba's career throughout.

Thoughts turned to the dreadful evening of 26 June 2003. It was Sky Sports' news ticker which first alerted my 13-year-old self to a footballing tragedy - that of Marc-Vivien Foé. The Cameroon midfielder, formerly of West Ham United and Manchester City, suddenly collapsed during the Confederations Cup semi final against Colombia, and passed away at the age of 28.

Less than a year later, football also lost the Hungarian forward Miklos Feher to the same condition as Foé - hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). More tragedies were to come, including Antonio Puerta, Phil O'Donnell and Dani Jarque.

Footballing chiefs took action. Extra health measures were put in place at professional football grounds, including White Hart Lane, where Muamba suffered his cardiac arrest at 6:13pm on 17 March. The quick thinking of the Bolton and Tottenham doctors saved his life. Muamba was given multiple defibrillator shocks, and was effectively dead for 78 minutes before doctors managed to get his heart beating again at 7:31pm.

Muamba made a miraculous recovery from the brink of death, but tragically, a month later, the Livorno midfielder Piermario Morosini was not so lucky. He collapsed from a cardiac arrest during a match in Pescara, and died shortly afterwards.

After these latest incidents, FIFA said that they wanted a defibrillator at every football field. There were calls to introduce regular cardiac screenings, and CPR training for schoolchildren. All of these measures are intended to reduce the risk of another heart attack patient dying on the pitch.

On 2 May, Muamba made his first public appearance since his heart attack, at the Reebok Stadium ahead of Bolton's league meeting with Spurs. As he emerged from the tunnel with fans of both teams chanting his name, Fabrice was visibly moved. This was arguably the most emotional moment of the football season, showing the human side of the beautiful game.

Sadly, he will never come onto a football pitch again in a team strip. But, of course, there is life after football, and 24-year-old Fabrice is grateful that he is still alive to care for his son Joshua, his first child with devoted fiancee Shauna. He is also a smart guy, gaining A grades at school and taking an Open University degree during his Birmingham days.

Fabrice Muamba's career no longer lies on the pitch, but whatever he wants to do next, everybody in the football community will wish him well.

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