Last week, two events shook the Football world and have united absolutely everyone involved in the game. Both events, which should have no place in the game, have brought together all the players, fans and teams from around the world to show their support in these difficult times for two players.
The first is concerning Barcelona’s left-back Eric Abidal. Exactly one year ago, Abidal was diagnosed with a tumor in his liver. He successfully recovered and helped his side lift the Champions League trophy a couple of months later. However, last week FC Barcelona announced that Eric Abidal would have to undergo a liver transplant because of his previous problems.
The second took place at White Hart Lane on Saturday, when during the match between Tottenham and Bolton, Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton midfielder, collapsed on the pitch with a heart attack. The game was abruptly abandoned and both supporters and players were in tears. A player collapsing on the pitch has already happened numerous times in the past, and unfortunately some of the players’ fate has always been less fortunate than Muamba's (thankfully, at the time of writing, he is making a stable recovery).
Following both unfortunate incidents, there have been a lot of messages of support from players, supporters and clubs wishing Eric Abidal and Fabrice Muamba well. A lot has been made of this and the support that both players have been receiving from the Football community has truly been something to behold. Players from clubs all over the world have been showing their support and sporting t-shirts with their names on it.
Since the news regarding Abidal’s transplant broke through, we’ve seen Real Madrid (Barcelona’s arch-rivals and enemies) wearing t-shirts displaying their support for the Barcelona defender. In Muamba’s case, chants with his name have been sung at stadia all around England; his former team-mate Gary Cahill scored for Chelsea and dedicated his goal to him with a “Pray 4 Muamba” t-shirt underneath his kit. Everyone who is connected with Football is wishing both these players a speedy and healthy recovery. As the cliché goes when such things happen in Football, “it puts things into perspective”.
However it's through that perspective that non-Football supporters have been posing questions. For those who don’t watch the game, they’ve been left pondering about why footballers receive so much attention and support, whereas others who suffer in larger numbers and in unjust causes don’t receive similar attention. It’s a valid point for the non-Football people out there, but not for us. Now that these people have seen the pictures, the videos and the widespread support all around the world, they have been asking the question “Why him and not the others?”.
The obvious answers being that it’s because they are footballers, or a “celebrities”, and that such events are well publicized within the media. They claim that Muamba and Abidal’s cases are being broadcasted like tragedies. To the Football world, what has happened over the past week to both players are tragedies in the game and I have an answer to those people who don’t watch the game (and don't get me wrong - I am in no way trying to remove the importance of any tragedies outside of Football or even attempt to compare tragedies). It may not be the easiest to comprehend for some, but they should try. Perhaps this is a subjective point of view and not many Football supporters around the world feel the same.
Football, and everything that surrounds it, is a community. It’s one big messed up family with a lot of flaws, but we love it. We don’t know why, we don’t know how, but every time our beloved teams are playing we’re watching them somewhere, somehow. It’s something we have always found difficult to explain to others and yet we spend so much time trying to. If you’re a Football supporter, I know we speak the same language. If you support the same club as I do, I know we share the same love. But when things like the past week’s events occur, you’ll see the true power of the Football community. One big messed up family uniting to show some support. You’ll see a united force of people who love the game and will show their support to the cause. You’ll see rivalries, communities, teams, religions, players, supporters suddenly come together.
Regardless of which team you support, who you hate, who you love, when one of our own people - a member of the Football community - is seen suffering, we’re all going to give our support to him. Fabrice Muamba is only 23 years old and Eric Abidal is 32, and I’m pretty sure if any other human being of the same age suffered a heart attack, or needed a liver transplant, unfortunately he or she wouldn’t receive the same support that these guys have gotten. The support we’re seeing is a reminder of why we love Football so much. The power of the game - it breaks boundaries. It divides us to a certain level, but unites us when causes bigger than the game come around. Very rarely anywhere else can we see this happen. The power of the game goes beyond what any of us can justify.
The support shown by everyone to Muamba and Abidal from all corners of the world is a timely reminder of one of the great things of this sport. I wish this sort of positivity in the game could be seen more often without a player, or anyone, suffering. The words “Football”, “life-threatening” and “death” should never be synonymous or even mentioned in the same breath, because if anything, this game has always and will always bring us to life.
Fabrice Muamba and Eric Abidal - Get well soon!