Immediately after the abandonment the overriding emotion was one of shock. The crowds slowly leaving White Hart Lane were much thicker than normal, the natural thinning out that happens towards the end of games hadn’t happened of course and whilst most were attempting to make their way quickly to the exits, some had lost touch with co-spectators and were attempting to regain contact, some were just standing around seeming not to know what to do and others were at the bar, making sure that their pre-paid half time pints didn’t go to waste. To a man and woman though, all were subdued and stunned. None quibbled at the decision to call off the game – the announcement was met by applause when it came. Very rarely has Howard Webb had such consensus on his side at White Hart Lane.
As we approached half time with Spurs’ attempting to try and assert some control and overcome the deficiencies and hesitancy of an unfamiliar and untried defence, Muamba’s sudden collapse was followed by a period of almost slow motion action as first the players, then the officials, physios, red cross and other medics attended to the player. It probably wasn’t that long and doubtless couldn’t have happened any quicker but given that it was obvious from the moment he went down that this was something out of the ordinary, it seemed an age before he was surrounded by those best qualified to care for him.
My seat was halfway up the north stand, those in the lower south and east stands had a better view of the treatment being applied and their anxiety, as they periodically cheered and roared on the actions of the medical staff – an extraordinary sight and sound – spread throughout the rest of the ground. Those with the most empathy, the Bolton players, were of course powerless to help and any close enough to see what was going on became visibly distressed as they realised the seriousness of the situation. One, I don’t know which, who had seen enough was upset enough to go and sit by the hoardings under the Spurs fans, his personal misery was captured in close up by a number of photographers who crouched down in front of him and took pictures. Miyaichi and one of his teammates turned away from the huddle over the patient simultaneously, both with their hands to their heads, both presumably sickened at the thought of a friend possibly dying in front of them.
A figure appeared from out of the East stand and hared at full speed towards the group attending to the fallen midfielder. From my range it looked like he was the one who engaged in an animated spell of CPR and it was his actions that truly brought home to those watching from the stands how desperate Muamba’s plight was becoming.
Eventually the player was stretchered off. His name had been sung first by the Bolton fans and then by both sets of supporters, the contest and rivalry forgotten and dwarfed by the tragedy unfolding before them.
As Muamba was carried from the field Assou-Ekotto was one of the closest of the Spurs players and needed to be coaxed to follow him off, Gallas was on his haunches with his hands to his face and he too had to be encouraged to leave the field of play. Walker was watching from a distance, stood stock still, apparently unwilling and unable to move any closer until the tunnel area was clear.
It was an afternoon that all there will no doubt remember forever and one I’ve not seen the like of in more years of football watching than I’m prepared to admit to. It’s one I hope never to see again.
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