The world of football and the wider sporting community were united in shock after the mid-match collapse of Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba during the FA Cup clash at Tottenham.
The 23-year-old Bolton midfielder, born in Zaire but resident in Britain from the age of 11, had given no indication that there was anything amiss. Apparently fit, healthy and happy, he used his official Twitter account on Friday to describe the music he was listening to on his way to training, then to explain how Bolton were travelling to London after a ‘good training session’.
His most recent tweet was posted not long before kick-off in the quarter-final, and said: ‘Just reach White Hart Lane. #COYW Let’s have it now.’
Full of hope: Fabrice Muamba was looking forward to facing Spurs
Players, managers, fans and people completely unrelated to the game immediately began to send messages of support to Muamba and his family. Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere, who played with Muamba at Bolton, wrote: ‘Hope Muamba is OK. Thoughts with him.’ Cesc Fabregas said: ‘My thoughts are with Fabrice and his family. Stay strong mate. Our prayers are with you.’
Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand wrote: ‘Come on Fabrice Muamba, praying for you.’
Fearful moment: Players look on as Muamba, a former England Under 21 star, is treated
Michael Owen and Joey Barton were among other England players to tweet their best wishes, while Wayne Rooney wrote: ‘I hope Fabrice Muamba is OK. Praying for him and his family. Still in shock.’
Muamba has played for England at every level from Under 16 to Under 21, having joined Arsenal at the age of 14 then signed professional terms with the Gunners in 2005.
In happier times: Muamba with his partner Shauna
In 2006 he was loaned to Birmingham, making a permanent move in 2008 and moving on to Bolton the following year.
Muamba’s collapse brought back memories of other young and apparently fit footballers who had been stricken on the field of play.
England honours: Muamba in action for England Under 21s
Marc-Vivien Foé, who played for West Ham and Manchester City, collapsed and died at the age of 28 while playing for his national side Cameroon in the Confederations Cup against Colombia in Lyon.
An autopsy showed he had died from undiagnosed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — a disease that thickens the heart muscle and can cause sudden death during periods of strenuous exercise.
Echoes of tragedy: Marc-Vivien Foe in action against Colombia
Muamba’s situation and the immediate, horrified reaction of team-mates and opponents mirrored another recent tragedy — the death of Motherwell and former Scotland midfielder Phil O’Donnell, who collapsed during a match in December 2007.
Tearful Bolton players emerged from the stadium last night about 45 minutes after the game had been abandoned to board the team bus, which was heavily policed in order to prevent media and fans from getting anywhere near.
Shock: Benoit Assou-Ekotto, William Gallas, Owen Coyle and Carlo Cudicini watch as Muamba receives treatment
Tottenham’s Rafael van der Vaart had been seen praying on the pitch after Muamba had fallen to the ground and as medics treated him. The Dutchman was one of the first to alert referee Howard Webb to the serious nature of his opponent’s condition.
As Muamba was taken to hospital by ambulance, his Bolton team-mate Stuart Holden wrote in a tweet: ‘Praying for you Fab. Hope he’s OK. Thoughts with him and his family.’
Anxious moments: White Hart Lane was silent as Muamba received treatment
Middlesbrough defender Justin Hoyte, who came through the Arsenal youth team with Muamba, posted: ‘I seriously hope my best friend in football is OK. Stay strong bro please please stay strong. God is with you remember that.’
Arsenal’s star striker Robin van Persie wrote: ‘I’m so sad about what happened to Fabrice Muamba today. Played with him for a couple of years. What a great guy. Always a smile on his face. Please Fabrice bring that smile back. My thoughts are with you and your lovely family!’
Emergency situation: Howard Webb calls medics onto the pitch
Tottenham midfielder Tom Huddlestone wrote: ‘Thoughts with Fab and his family. Feel sick watching this, puts football and everything else into perspective.’
His colleague Kyle Walker, a team-mate when both were in the England Under-21s, said: ‘Doesn’t matter who you support. Doesn’t matter if you aren’t a football fan. Doesn’t matter if you aren’t religious. Pray for Fabrice Muamba.’
United in prayer: Assou-Ekotto, Cudicini, Gallas and Rafael van der Vaart
Former Spurs manager David Pleat relived the horrific moment when the player collapsed, saying Muamba’s arms were seen to ‘jerk’ which he described as ‘terribly traumatic’ and ‘eerie’.
He added: ‘The only thing that makes us sit up and think tonight is that there are many things more important than football and what’s happened tonight is far more important than football.’
Sombre: A vacant White Hart Lane after the abandoned FA Cup tie
On Muamba’s own Twitter account, he describes himself only as ‘a proud Dad to Joshua Jeremiah Muamba’.