Thursday, March 22, 2012

Football's Great Tragedy

This blog will no doubt prove controversial and at the outset we would like to stress that we wish Fabrice Muamba nothing but a full recovery, what happened to him was terrible and we wish him all the best.

That should suffice should it not? Well not if you are a professional sporstman or sports scribe. Since Muamba collapsed on the pitch on Saturday the level of hyperbole and sheer nonsense emminating from players and press has been ludicrous.

There has been talk of Bolton not participating in the FA Cup again this season, of being too traumitised to return to White Hart Lane. There was even the question (not perpetuated by the club we would add) of whether they would complete their Premiership fixtures such was the tragedy that had afflicted the club and the trauma to their players - what tosh. Real cynics would even possibly dare to suggest that Owen Coyle is attempting to deflect from the poor results from this team this season, perish the thought.

Bolton's game last night (a full five days since the events in question) was postponed on grounds of the trauma suffered by the players. This alone is a perfect example of the pampered and wholly artificial world that is the life of the professional footballer. Are they really so much more sensitive and delicate than the masses? Everyone else gets back to work, why shouldn't they?

There have been many instances over the years of commuters as an example dealing with fellow passengers who have been taken seriously ill. Could anyone imagine calling their boss the following day and saying they cannot come to work because they are too traumitised to return to a train carriage?
In the UK, compassionate leave is negotiable with your employer and is designated as the time required to make the necessary funeral arrangements for an immediate family member. In Singapore, compassionate leave is merely encouraged and suggested to be around 2-3 days at the most. Professional footballers it seems cannot play a game (not exactly an employ that most people would find a hardship) a full five days later because a colleague (not even a remote family member) has been taken badly ill even but is already awake and talking again.

Again, we must stress that we wish Muamba nothing but the best. But why is his predicament so much worse than that which befalls a fan or any other member of society? Are Bolton arguing that ambulance services for their fans also stricken ill should be improved?

Of course not as they are those fans are not millionaires with access to the very best medical equipment and therefore it is irrelevant. Should a citizen fall ill at home they would have to wait like everyone else, no difribulators within five minutes.

Only in the past few days, the father of a Kilmarnock player collapsed at the side of the pitch and a teenager collapsed playing in an amateur rugby game, has anyone even noticed this, never mind speak about it?
Personalising the issue temporarily (with due apology), only last year a dear colleague of this blog's writer was taken suddenly and terminally ill. In the six days that nature requried to take its' course, working life carried on and was interspersed with twice daily trips to the hospital culminating in being there at the final passing. This we would stress was for a close friend, known to the writer for years.

It is not only football of course that suffers from this type of issue. We were told how incredibly brave Darren Clarke (great guy that he is we would add) was for hitting golf balls whilst cheered on by thousands in the Ryder Cup only months after his wife had passed away.

It was also said that Tiger Woods was incredibly brave playing again cheered on by thousands only months after his father had died. What price the refuse collecter whos' wife dies on Saturday and is back at work on Monday?

There are of course times where serious injury or even death go hand in hand with the sport. F1 is a great example where the drivers take safety incredibly seriously yet they retain an entirely pragmatic approach to accidents. After the last deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, the racing went on and safety improved. Michael Schumacher's brother Ralf endured a horrific crash in Indianapolis, his elder brother drove on.

Boxing is a sport that has always courted contoversy yet the fighters understand the dangers and again strive for safety yet accept that tragedy can occur. Even the likes of Chris Eubank, forever tormented by the Michael Watson tragedy carried on although he was never quite the same again.

Obviously these are different examples as we are talking about injuries sustained by participation in the sport rather than an illness but one could argue that cardiac arrest could be a result of extreme physical exertion on a football pitch. Serious injuries do occur in football, just ask Peter Schmeichel with regard to David Busst in 1996.

No one is arguing that medical practises should not be improved for footballers but they are already far in advance of what the vast majority have access to as well as the automatic private health care that follows. Practises should be improved for all, not just the priviliged few and the footballing community would be well served to remember that and not alienate those who pay their inflated wages even further.

Muamba's plight is a sad one but given that only a handful of people outside of Bolton held the man with any regard - some (but not all) in White Hart Lane would have happily seen him break his leg prior on Saturday - it is really necessary for it to be front page news for a week in the press?

A footballer being taken ill does not turn them overnight into a cross between Nelson Mandela and Pele and it seems to be with Muamba. The BBC radio interviewer last night actually asked Harry Redknapp if Saturday's events were the reason for Spurs not beating Stoke? What nonsense, Redknapp at least dismissed that possibility out of hand.

Many sportsmen and in particular professional footballers are pampered to the extreme and exist in a bubble where they believe that they are superior to the man in the street. This now appears to be transcending to footballers believing their lives and even emotions are now more valuable than others.

For the likes of The Sun, it sells newspapers and for many footballers it offers the opportunity to show themselves as sensitive modern men, the reality however is Muamba will soon be forgotten and the normal service of Bentleys, nightclubs and sleeping with their brother's wives will soon be resumed. Genuine grief is played out in private, not via rent a quotes to the national tabloids. - No Nonsense.