The weekend saw Liverpool book themselves a place in the FA Cup Semi-Finals and another visit to “Anfield South” after a 2-1 home win over Stoke City but these successes were overshadowed by events at White Hart Lane.
Just approaching half time and with the score poised at 1-1 between Spurs and their visitors Bolton, 23 year old Fabrice Muamba collapsed and dropped to the turf as his heart gave out requiring medics to perform CPR and battle heroically to keep him alive.
Four days on and with the world of football and beyond locked in prayer for the recovery of the talented youngster, slowly some encouraging signs are starting to surface as he battles back in intensive care, albeit at the start of a very long journey. Words of support continue to flood in from around the globe for Muamba, a recently engaged and proud father. Those words of support are paralleled by words of thanks and praise to the medics, who despite the players heart not beating for two hours still have him fighting for life today.
The conduct of everyone involved at White Hart Lane was way beyond the call of duty as a competitive encounter became an eerie silence. Debate will rage as to how much more can be done for our young athletes when it comes to heart screening and has anywhere near enough been done so far in sport and our schools. Organisations such as CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) continue to raise awareness of Young Sudden Cardiac Death (YSCD) and Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) urging the importance of electrocardiogram (ECG) tests to check for most abnormalities of the heart. They can be followed on Twitter at @CRY_UK.
It is not the first time this season though that sudden death syndrome has reached out to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
On October 2nd 2011 shockwaves rang out through the City of Cambridge and beyond as it was plunged into mourning in not too dissimilar circumstances, as talented local footballer, Tom Smith, collapsed and died after a Sunday League fixture at the age of just 23.
Tom had played 70minutes of a cup tie in which Fulbourn Falcons had beaten Cherry Hinton Lions 5-3. He watched the remainder of the game from the touchline and headed back to the changing rooms after the final whistle, where he had volunteered for one of the joys of Sunday League football, taking the kit home to be washed. On clearing the changing rooms he simply went feint and slumped, despite the efforts of the Air Ambulance team they were tragically unable to save his life. The call came in to say it was not looking good and what seemed to me like only minutes later was the confirmation that he had gone.
You immediately turn to blind optimism that somehow someone has got it all terribly wrong but you also know there is no way that they have. Someone young and physically fit taken from you without a moments notice or prior indication, simply numbing and something that your head and your heart is not willing to accept.
“Smithy” had a true passion for the game, he breathed every element of it, even if that included washing the kit, he could also play a bit which he was happy to remind you of once or twice with his very best smile. He could find a pass, loved a sliding tackle and you would stake your house on him winning anything in the air. He simply just wanted to play football and be around the game.
Despite his ability on the pitch and however much he would have improved on it had he been able to spend more time us, he had a far greater gift in life… people. He touched peoples lives in the way that many can never comprehend, a natural born gift that you just cannot learn. When your path crossed with Tom it was always for the better, no matter how bad your day was you left the conversation with a smile on your face and more often than not quietly laughing to yourself about something he had said. It is hard to fathom the impact it has had on those that saw him day in and day out.
I was fortunate to know Tom for many years, bringing him through Colts football, collecting a League & Cup double along the way and passing him a Player of the Year award in return. We even found time in between to cross Lanzarote on a camel.
Tom was a Spurs fan and the club reached out to his family, offering words of support at a horrific time, they also sent a Legends XI to face his club side Fulbourn Falcons. The likes of Darren Anderton and Mark Falco took to the field at the home of Histon FC to raise thousands of pounds for the East Anglian Air Ambulance team who flew into the game, with the crew who fought so hard to keep him with us. Another family chosen charity, Alzheimers, also benefited from their efforts.
No matter how little or how much you knew Tom, he just seemed like family. So many people saw him as a brother, some of those took the brave and noble steps of carrying him on his final journey. When you come to say goodbye you know your condolences can never be enough, your words will never be the right ones but you hope the lack of both and the pain burning in your eyes will show how much he meant to everyone.
You can only hope that in the terrible sadness that these events bring, we as a society learn to do more wherever we possibly can and that the knowledge you gained and the grief you carried brings about a better place.
While we continue to pray for Muamba’s recovery, Smithy you can rest in peace knowing you’ll never walk alone and the place just isn’t the same without you. No doubt “someone” has got you earmarked for a game at the weekend.
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