Wanderers show such dignity throughout Muamba ordeal

First published in Gordon Sharrock

THE manner in which the football world – from the most humble fan to the game’s top official – has united in support of Fabrice Muamba has been quite overwhelming.

As one would expect, Bolton Wanderers have been in the vanguard as this popular, highly-respected but unassuming footballer has fought for his life. Muamba is a member of their “family” and when one of your kin is in need, the family rallies round.

Privately, they have spent difficult days providing valuable support and solace to the player’s immediate family, who have been at his bedside at the intensive care unit of the London Chest Hospital. Owen Coyle has been there throughout, often with his chairman Phil Gartside by his side, while the club’s chaplain, Phil Mason, has been on hand to offer spiritual support.

Their encouragement, I am assured, has been greatly appreciated by Fabrice’s folks.

But what has impressed most over these past few days of watching, waiting and praying for positive developments is the dignified way in which the club has dealt with the public side of what is a very sensitive matter. A young man’s life has been hanging in the balance under the gaze of the world’s media and it cannot have been easy for those involved to strike the right balance of giving comfort to the Muamba family while at the same time satisfying the demands of the genuinely concerned public.

Whether it has been Coyle or Gartside on the steps of the London Chest Hospital speaking emotionally yet eloquently in front of the cameras or club captain Kevin Davies putting himself through a round of interviews at Wanderers’ Euxton training headquarters on Monday morning, the men in the spotlight have been a credit to themselves, their club and the game.

They have shown compassion and humanity in the most trying of circumstances – not knowing whether their good friend would live or die, yet still being prepared to face the media.

Their instincts would have been to stay out of the spotlight, but they knew from the avalanche of messages that tumbled in from around the globe and from all persuasions – not just from their own club’s fans – that they were not alone in rooting for the boy to pull through. And those anxious well-wishers needed regular, authoritative updates.

Not only did the public get their bulletins, but they eventually heard what they wanted to hear – good news.

For various reasons – not least the fact that it occurred during TV coverage of Saturday’s FA Cup tie – this was a tragic event that not only hit Bolton Wanderers but touched football people everywhere.

Witness the support that has come from far and wide.

Within 24 hours, Muamba’s former Reebok team-mates Gary Cahill and Daniel Sturridge displayed their support on T-shirts during Chelsea’s FA Cup tie against Leicester; Real Madrid players did likewise on Sunday evening and on Monday afternoon the entire Sunderland squad took time out from their preparations for last night’s game at Blackburn by laying a shirt in Muamba’s honour alongside other tributes outside the Reebok.

Fifa chief Sepp Blatter called for the football world to pray for Fab, yet this was a tragedy that brought a spontaneous, worldwide response – some of the most touching coming from the public who have swamped Wanderers with messages, assuring them that the stricken player has been in their prayers.

In fact, the club’s appreciation for the outpouring of support for Muamba, which they have assured well-wishers has been of great comfort to his family members, is surpassed only by their admiration and gratitude for the specialists who have looked after him – both on the pitch at White Hart Lane, where prompt action probably saved his life, and at the hospital in east London, where they are working expertly to nurse him back to health.

Their efforts will never be forgotten.

These are still early days, however, and doctors have cautioned against over-optimism. Nevertheless, I have never been more comforted by a football manager’s words than when Owen Coyle underlined how the mood had changed on Monday and said with genuine sincerity: “There is real hope he can come through this.”

Having feared the worst and hoped for the best I was convinced then that everything would be okay.

WHILE the welfare of Fabrice Muamba has been uppermost in our minds these past few days, I must confess my thoughts have strayed towards a couple of amusing matters that fall into the John McEnroe “You cannot be serious!” category.

Last week English football suffered the major embarrassment of hearing one of its top officials – Sir David Richards – utter a load of absolute nonsense at a seminar in Doha where he came across as a bumbling dinosaur with no appreciation of his hosts’ culture.

The chairman of the Premier League and vice-chairman of the Football Association has done a lot of good for the game during his period in office, but he scored a massive own goal when he complained that FIFA and UEFA “stole” football from the English.

He then made matters worse when he urged Qatar to relax their alcohol laws for the 2022 World Cup, saying: “We would like to go for a pint.”

And as if that wasn’t enough, he was pictured falling into a water feature, from which he was helped by none other than our own Bolton Wanderers chairman, Phil Gartside.

Can you imagine the reaction of the other dignitaries?

Closer to home, in the midst of the turmoil as debt-ridden Glasgow giants Rangers battle to stay in business and save Scottish football from financial meltdown, it has been suggested – now brace yourself for this – that, should they survive, they aim to play in the English Premier League. Reports north of the border also claim Celtic have made overtures to join the Football League.

Yep, that old chestnut.

Thankfully, the Old Firm have been given short shrift by the authorities down here.

They are clearly not wanted and the sooner they get the message and concentrate on getting their own houses in order, the better.

But then again, who are we to talk when we have the likes of Sir David Richards running our game?

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