10 years on: Fabrice Muamba dead for 78 minutes

Football fans often get carried away by our thirst for the beautiful game, making claims that it is the most important thing in our lives at times. But it’s easy to get wrapped up in hyperbole, writes Rhys Pountain.

White Hart Lane, the stadium to which thousands of fans watched on as Fabrice Muamba’s life flash before his eyes. As the stadium fell silent and medical staff cowered around him, the match was abandoned. Muamba’s heart stopped beating for 78 minutes.

It was on March 17, 2012, Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest in the 41st minute of a televised FA Cup quarter final clash between Premier League strugglers, Bolton Wanderers and highflyers Tottenham Hotspur. 

Fabrice was face down and gasping for air. But he was barely moving. Cameras panned away from his body and focused on players from either side, who looked on in disbelief. 

Fabrice Muamba is turned onto his back to try and open his airways – Credit AFP/Getty Images

Teammate Nigel Reo-Coker revealed that he broke down when he walked into the hospital room. He said: “To see him lying there with all the tubes and everything, it was tough.”

Spurs doctor, Shabaaz Mughal, flipped a lifeless Muamba onto his back and began chest compressions. After hitting the ground, it took 67 seconds for the midfielder to receive CPR. Seconds later, doctors had already placed a defibrillator on his chest to try and restart his heart. 

Studies have shown that deploying a defibrillator within three to five minutes of collapse can produce survival rates as high as 50-70%. 

Two on the pitch, one in the tunnel and 12 in the ambulance – that was the number of defibrillation shocks that the 33-year-old received. 

“If he was anywhere else Fabrice Muamba wouldn’t be here today,” said TalkSport2 host, Paul Coyte. 

An automated external defibrillator is a handheld machine that is used when a person goes into cardiac arrest. The machine sends out an electrical shock to stop the current flow of electricity with the aim to get it to restart in a normal rhythm.

Bill Shankly’s famous quote of football being more serious than life and death is easy to get carried away in hyperbole when talking about the sport you love. However, this traumatic event reminded everybody that, for all the hype, football is essentially just a game played for our entertainment. 

Fabrice Muamba’s book ‘I’m Still Standing’. (Photo by Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage)

The Congo born star has since released an autobiography ‘I’m Still Standing’ to which we spoke to the ghostwriter, Chris Brereton.

He said: “Football’s a great game, it’s a world game but then these traumatic incidents just bring it home. 

“It’s more important that all 22 players go home to their loved ones afterwards.”

He added: “Fabrice was amazing. He was really good. He would be the first person to tell you he got to where he was as a footballer, primarily because of his self-discipline, eagerness, and hunger to work hard.

“If I said to Fabrice to be ready at nine o’clock every morning, then he would be ready at 8.50am. He was absolutely on his game.”

Brereton was working in Bangkok at the time of the event before being offered a job with Reach Sports, to which he was asked to write his first ever book after just two days of working for the publisher. That book, ‘I’m Still Standing’. 

He said: “I remember my managing director, Steve Hanrahan walking over to me with a grin on his face asking, have you ever written a book? To which I replied ‘no’… before he said, have you ever written one in six weeks? And we all just laughed.

“I’m under no illusions and I think I was picked because I had nothing else on, I just happened to be the first writer of that week that Steve happened to lift his head and saw. 

“It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked. My naivety as a ghost writer helped me out because I had never written a book before in my life. But was an incredible honour. You’re writing somebody’s life story. That is an incredible amount of responsibility on somebody’s shoulders. It still feels faintly surreal 10 years later.”

Since the Fabrice Muamba incident, few serious medical emergencies have occurred in football until the last couple of years. The big one, Christian Eriksen. This near-tragedy at Euro 2020 provided a major shock in the sporting world.

The Danish players were visibly distraught as they formed a ring around their talisman, Christian Eriksen – Credit: GettyImages

Unfortunately, recent events have shown that medical incidents like Eriksen, may be more common than we thought. Along with Eriksen, Wigan Athletic striker Charlie Wyke suffered a cardiac arrest during a training session back in November and saw his life saved by the same doctor who treated Fabrice Muamba, Jon Tobin.

A big reaction broke following the disaster at the Euros when the Premier League announced in June that it would fund the provision of 2,000 Automated External Defibrillators at grassroots football clubs and facilities, in the hope of saving the lives of people experiencing sudden cardiac arrest in July.

Off the pitch, results have shown that there is approximately one cardiac arrest for every 400,000 fans, which is also the same amount of estimated Premier League fans.

Therefore, it is predicted that every weekend, there will be a medical emergency in the crowd at a Premier League game. On a positive note, those results also show that 96 per cent of spectators who are attended to and transferred to hospital, recover to a stable condition.