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When the game no longer matters

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A player collapses and everything gets turned on its head

It was 16 years ago now that I was at Waverley Park for a Round 10 night game between Essendon and St Kilda. The game was quite uneventful, with the Bombers holding a pretty comfortable 20 point lead late in the third quarter.

All things being equal, even without the great James Hird, we’d take out the W and live to fight another day.

And then something happened that hasn’t occurred before and probably won’t again.

The lights flickered.

The crowd murmured.

And the lights went out.

And stayed out.

You think you know…

I distinctly remember standing and cheering at this unbelievable event. You think that when you go to a footy game,  you’ve seen it all.

And to a degree, you have. You know all the rituals – getting to the game early, where you like to sit, reading the paper or footy record, grabbing your pie, watching the ebbs and flows of the game. You don’t know the result but for the most part, you do know what to expect.

So an unexpected blackout was cause for celebration.

But only for a moment.

It didn’t take long for the tone of the crowd to change.

Cheering and celebration turned to impatient murmurings, which turned to a field invasion, which turned to fires being lit on the field, which turned to point posts being uprooted.

I grabbed my friend and quickly headed for the exit.

(Sidenote – this was my friend’s first ever football game and as the chaos descended, had a ‘This must happen all the time!’ happy yet perplexed look on their face.)

A life threatening situation

On the weekend, a very serious scenario unfolded.

In a FA Cup match against Tottenham, Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba went down behind play. There was no foul play and no opposition player slinking away guiltily.

Something was wrong.

Play was stopped as some of the best medical personnel in the country rushed to his aid.

It was a heart attack.

And then the defibrillators came out.

Thank God.

I sat my annual First Aid refresher last week. The stats relating to defibs are off the charts. You have less than a 10% chance of reviving someone who falls unconscious from a heart attack. You add a defib to the mix and your success rate rises to over 70%.

Can someone tell me why these aren’t in every school?! Oh yeah, cost. Sorry, I forgot. No worries – you just put 80 people through 3 hours of training while you um and ahh over the $1,000 or so which would make our kids 700% safer. Makes sense, really…

Back at the game, the medicos worked on Muamba for 10 minutes before stretchering him off, unconscious and in a serious condition.

Tottenham player Jermain Defoe cries as Muamba is attended to…

They thought they knew

English soccer fans know the ins and outs of their game better than most. You think AFL fans are obsessed!? These guys take things to a whole new level. They also have entrenched rituals, with non-stop songs and chants and specific taunts of opposition teams and players.

Australian fans will never forget the atmosphere throughout the game when we defeated Uruguay on penalties to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. It was incredible. English crowds are like this every week!

So, the response from the Tottenham crowd was telling.

Scepticism hastily became genuine concern as they saw the shocked responses from players from both teams. Opposition players were hugging, some in tears, some openly praying.

Rafael van der Vaart praying for Muamba as the scene unfolds behind him.

For many of them, the memory of Marc Vivien-Foe, the Cameroon midfielder who died on the pitch in 2003, was still too vivid.

Silence prevailed.

To be in a large crowd that is completely noiseless is eerie. I have been to a number of Anzac Day games between Essendon and Collingwood. The ‘minute’ of silence to honour the fallen before the game begins can be disconcerting.

Everything becomes more pronounced; the flapping of the chairs as everyone stands, the cries from the birds…

I do admit that I spend most of it hoping that no one is idiotic enough to yell out ‘Go Pies’ etc. Hey, it’s happened…

‘Seen it all before’

For soccer fans at the stadium who had ‘seen it all before’, the thrill of competition and ‘dislike’ for opposition players and fans immediately dissipated. The unnerving silence was broken in the most inspiring of ways.

A chant for Muamba broke out.

Fans of both teams raised their voices as one as the Zaire midfielder whose heart would apparently not be re-started for another 90 minutes, was carried lifeless from the pitch.

The game was called off. For a sport and a country in which such an act could inspire a riot, they were, not surprisingly, compliant.

The game no longer mattered

Sport’s place in all things was given a jarring dose of perspective on the weekend.

A person’s life was and is at stake, and a section of the sporting world had an opportunity to put its best foot forward.

Of course it did so with genuine care, concern and love.

I wish it wouldn’t happen like this, but there’s something special when a community comes together with such passion.

On your feet, Fabrice. We’re all with you.

Gary Cahill after scoring for Chelsea...

(Bloggers’ note – the latest is that Muamba is ‘showing signs of improvement’, but is not safe yet. If you’re the praying type, well, you know what to do…)

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About petek8

Pete Evans has just finished going 12 months without watching any sport. The journey stemmed from a sense that the balance was out-of-whack with my time and my priorities. Everything seemed to revolve around creating enough time and space to fit in the last game, games, recap shows or space to surf the net for the latest numbers and analysis. The cycle never ends - one season leads into another, seasons overlap if you follow various sports and the media's insatiable appetite for a new 'story' means that even the greatest of achievements aren't heralded for more than 3 days. So I stepped away from the machine for awhile and intentionally engaging with the journey by writing about it.

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