Bolton Wanderers footballer remains in critical condition after suffering cardiac arrest during FA Cup match
Football fans and players expressed their sympathy at stadiums across the country on Sunday for the Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba, who remains in a critical condition in hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest during an FA Cup quarter-final on Saturday.
The 23-year-old collapsed just before half-time in the game between atTottenham Hotspur and Bolton and, following unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him on the pitch, was taken to the London Chest hospital.
Muamba, who has a one-year-old son, Joshua, and a fiancee, Shauna, is a man who has already overcome many ordeals in a young life that began far away from the glitz of the Premier League, in Kinshasa in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1988.
In a Guardian interview in June, he said he was planning to return to the country incognito to see the few family members that still live there under aliases and to explore the possibility of setting up a foundation that would give other youngsters a way out.
“I’m not the most talented footballer but I know what I can do,” he said at the time. “What I have experienced is what keeps me going and gets me out of whatever difficulty I face. I just set myself up to give it my best shot.”
But a trip of that sort would have posed serious risks for Muamba. His father, Marcel, worked as an adviser to the country’s then prime minister and had to flee for his life after the regime of Mobutu Sese Seku was toppled by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, the father of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s current president, Laurent Kabila.
Before reaching England, Marcel first took refuge in the home of his brother, Ilunga, who was later murdered for sheltering him, and it was not until 1999 that Fabrice, then aged 11, was able to move to London with his mother, Gertrude, to rejoin their father.
But despite his strange new surroundings – the cold weather and incomprehensible language – young Muamba adapted quickly and was soon doing well at his new school in Waltham Forest, east London. And his footballing ability quickly brought him to the attention of Premier League scouts, with Arsenal snapping him up for their much-vaunted academy.
Since then Muamba has risen through the ranks of England’s footballing system, speaking often about his joy at “feeling part of England” and of his dream to represent his adopted country at senior level.
That journey began after he made his senior team debut in a Carling Cup tie against Sunderland when he was 17. That was in 2005, when Arsenal last had a team that was winning trophies. Muamba then went out on loan for a season to Birmingham City, where he won the club’s young player of the year award, performing with such aplomb that the club signed him from Arsenal on a full-time basis.
At about this time he also made his debut for the England under-21 team, which he has gone on to represent 33 times, the second-highest number of appearances at that level by any England player. In 2008 Bolton Wanderers paid more than £5m to prise him from Birmingham. Since then he has become one of the club’s most effective players and was voted Bolton’s player of the year in 2010.
Since Saturday his many friends and admirers inside and outside football have expressed their shock and sadness and on Sunday a steady stream of fans and well-wishers visited Bolton’s Reebok stadium to place flowers, shirts and other tributes at the ground. Thousands more have left messages of support on a series of Get Well Soon Fabrice Muamba pages set up on Facebook. Fans paid tribute at matches across the country, applauding the player. Chelsea players wore ‘Pray 4 Muamba’ vests under their shirts in their FA Cup match against Leicester.
A statement from the club and hospital on Sunday morning said Muamba was a critical condition in intensive care. “As is normal, he remains anaesthetised and will be for at least 24 hours,” it added. As friends and supporters waited for further updates, a steady stream of colleagues from the world of football – including the Arsenal defender Johan Djourou and the Spurs striker Jermain Defoe – arrived at the London Chest hospital.
Bolton Wanderers’ manager, Owen Coyle, who has been to visit his player at the hospital, said Muamba’s condition remained “very serious”. “Fabrice’s family have asked me to pass on their thanks for the many, many kind messages of support from not only Bolton fans but also fans from clubs across the country and abroad. All our thoughts and prayers are for Fabrice and his family at this time.” He added: “It’s very serious. There’s no getting away from that. God willing, he makes it through.”