Football managers are paid to influence matters on the pitch, but Owen Coyle was reduced to the role of helpless spectator, as medics tried to resuscitate Fabrice Muamba.
On March 17 2012, Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed during an FA Cup quarter-final tie against Tottenham Hotspur. At the age of 23-years-old, the former Arsenal forward had suffered a cardiac arrest that stopped his heart beating for 78 minutes – almost a whole football match.
The footballing universe came together, from the likes of Lionel Messi, all came together, praying Muamba would come through the awful tale. More than ten years after the terrifying incident at White Hart Lane, Coyle, who is now manager of Scottish Championship side Queens Park, provided an incredible insight into Muamba’s “miraculous” recovery.
Read More: Fabrice Muamba returning to football 10 years on from cardiac arrest on pitch
“That was surreal, because obviously, it’s a thing that you think would never happen,” Coyle began on the Undr the Cosh podcast. “It’s a thing that you don’t have any training for.
“First and foremost, the important thing was that Fabrice was going to be okay. The game at White Hart Lane, Fabrice was just running into the box and I remember the physio saying, ‘you know Fabrice has collapsed’.
“You know when you have those moments where players get injured and opposition fans will give them pelters, that was totally different. The Tottenham fans kind of realised ‘oh that’s something serious’.
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“The good fortune is that Dr Andrew Deaner, who was a specialist in his field, was a Tottenham Hotspur season ticket holder in the stands. Because he knew the chief steward, he was able to get access to the field straight away, because he recognised that it was serious.”
Officially, Deaner was off duty, but the very best medics and doctors are never off duty. "I am a Spurs fan and I was there with my brothers,” Deaner said in an interview with the BBC. “We were watching and then the game stopped. I noticed that Fabrice Muamba had collapsed and I saw people running on and starting CPR.
“As soon as I saw that, I turned to my brothers and said 'I should help' and they agreed. I managed to persuade one of the stewards, who we know because we sit in the same place, to take me down.”
For six long and painful minutes, Dr Deaner and other club doctors and ambulance personnel desperately tried to revive Muamba on the pitch. Players, teammates and opposition, either watched on, helpless and terrified, while others consoled crying teammates and stared aimlessly, almost as if in a trance. Accompanied by Coyle and Bolton captain Kevin Davies, Muamba was rushed to the Heart Attack Centre at The London Chest hospital.
A joint statement released from Muamba’s club and the hospital said he was in a critical condition. However, just like his industrious, classy performances on the pitch, Muamba was fought with miraculous determination.
“His family was there, his friends were there, and it was incredible,” Coyle added. “In the morning, when they started, bit by bit, he was getting better and his wife was obviously going to see him.
“She was saying ‘oh he’s been able to touch my hands, and then he was able to speak’.” Muamba’s story extended way beyond these British aisles. It did not matter what football league you switched onto, T-shirts, emblazoned with the messages ‘Pray for Muamba’ or ‘Fabrice, we are with you’ were seen all over the planet.
The likes of Lionel Messi, and the rest of his illustrious Barcelona team, carried the message, as did Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest of the Real Madrid team. Fans made homemade signs, willing him on in the proceeding days. Every passing day, Muamba’s condition was improving.
“Because it was a worldwide story, we were doing around four press conferences every day, but what we were doing was, we were doing them an hour behind the last bit of news we had, just to give us a buffer, in case anything happened in between,” Coyle added.
“I remember his Dad coming in and saying ‘Owen, do you want to come and see him?’ and it was around 11 o’clock that night. I said ‘no, no I’ll leave him, the family is with him’. He was like, ‘oh no, please, it’d be good for you to go in.
“What happened was, I had just had a press conference and the press officer said ‘here, use my tie, change your tie, because you are wearing the same tie all the time’ for your last press conference. I put this on, which was a different tie from the players and staff, it was like the club and director’s tie. I came in, and his long term memory was just coming back, and he was like ‘oh gaffer great to see you’.
“I was thinking ‘my God, after all this boy has been through,’ I said ‘great to see you Fabrice, how are you’ and he says ‘yeah, yeah all good, obviously that stuff [the board] is helping’. We were just chatting away and he says ‘oh gaffer, is that a new tie?’
“I was astonished. I was kind of choked back. I said ‘oh this is a director’s tie’ and he said, ‘ahh I haven’t really seen that one before’. I told myself ‘oh my God’. To come from where he has been and then bit by bit he was getting better.”
That night in White Hart Lane would prove to be the final match Muamba ever played. He made an emotional return to Bolton in the FA Cup replay against Tottenham, in spine tingling scenes at the, now named, University of Bolton Stadium. “Fabrice Muamba” was chanted by home and away fans in unison, who also held up a crowd mosaic emblazoned with his name.
Muamba has since helped spearhead campaigns seeking to introduce defibrillators in more areas in public life. His noble quest to make defibrillators as common as fire extinguishers is still being undertaken today, While his football career may have ended prematurely, the now more common sight of a defibrillator at football stadiums, amateur divisions, shopping centres, and many more, is a clear sign that his legacy remains entrenched in the sport and country he loves.
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