Football must learn from Muamba incident
When the news about Gary Speed’s death broke, football fell into a stunned silence. The reaction was one of similar shock when ex-Arsenal player Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch at White Hart Lane during Bolton’s FA Cup tie with Tottenham. He had gone into cardiac arrest, and it took medics two hours to get his heart beating again. Miraculously, he seems to be on the path to recovery, although it is perhaps best not to start dismissing the possibility of his condition deteriorating.
After the cause of Speed’s death became known, speculation was unfortunately rife. The main rumour about why he took his own life was that he had been suffering from depression, and after Stan Collymore’s recent comments about his own battle with the mental illness (and that’s what it is; an illness) there was a reaction from the world of football.
Even in the 21st century, people still dismiss depression. Those who do not suffer from it don’t seem to understand that it isn’t a state of mind, but a chemical imbalance of the brain – it’s not something you can just “snap out of”.
Thankfully, the issues football faced with mental illness seemed to remove some of the social stigma around it. In fact, ten professional footballers sought help for depression themselves after Speed’s death, with the PFA sending out advice on the illness to 4,000 footballers. Dean Windass also found the courage to speak of his own experiences with depression, raising awareness further, which was another encouraging sign about the stigma being slowly phased out of society.
While there is of course no stigma around heart issues, the horrific story of Fabrice Muamba must teach football that nobody is immune to cardiac problems. Muamba was said to be one of the fittest players at Bolton, which has frightened his fellow professionals as they fear they might suffer a similar fate. Action must be taken to ensure all footballers should be screened for heart problems in order to avoid any further incidents. Football can simply not brush this aside and ignore it – some say ignorance is bliss, but it certainly isn’t when it catches up with you.
There are some things you can avoid by keeping fit, eating the right things and staying away from harmful substances. Genetic heart conditions, for example, are not one of them. There are some things that can strike anybody down, as we saw at White Hart Lane on Saturday. We’ve seen similar things with Antonio Puerta, Dani Jarque and Marc-Vivien Foé, who all unfortunately passed having collapsed while playing football.
Rubén de la Red of Real Madrid almost suffered the same thing, but was rather lucky to escape alive, and it seems as if Muamba will follow the same path. De la Red was forced into retirement, and it seems likely that Muamba’s career will also be cut short, but that is quite simply irrelevant – what matters is that he survives this terrible ordeal. And whether he does or not, football must take precautions to ensure this doesn’t happen again. It’s time to sit up and take notice, and do something about the several footballers struck down by heart problems.