Muamba's ordeal has put game in perspective

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2012, 12:00am


Fortunately there seems to be more encouraging news from the London Chest Hospital where Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba is making a strong recovery after collapsing during last weekend's FA Cup tie at Tottenham Hotspur.

The incident was a stark reminder of the mortality of all of us, including super athletes. It also forged an unlikely bond between the fans of Bolton and Tottenham, who have been united in their concern this week for the former England Under-21 star.

Hailed as a hero was Dr Andrew Deaner, the cardiologist and Spurs supporter who raced onto the pitch from the stands to help Muamba, whose heart stopped beating for 78 minutes before being revived in hospital.

Among those deeply moved in the crowd at White Hart Lane was former Tottenham and England defender Gary Mabbutt, who could draw parallels between Muamba's brush with death and the reality of his own playing days. Mabbutt doesn't have a rare heart defect but was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the start of his 19-year professional career.

He was initially advised to give up the sport because of the chance of a life-ending collapse on the field, but chose to continue while balancing four daily insulin injections and six blood tests around matches, training and travel.

For Mabbutt, the importance of fulfilling his destiny outweighed the risks. But he says that each case is different when it comes to elite athletes who choose to take medical issues onto the playing field.

'I had to be very disciplined to make sure that I did not let my condition affect my career,' Mabbutt said. 'Considering I was still playing in the Premiership when I was 37 years of age, I do not think it hindered me.'

Mabbutt defied the odds to make more than 600 league appearances, including 482 games during 16 seasons at Spurs where he became club captain and won the 1984 Uefa Cup and 1991 FA Cup. In 1982, he became the first diabetic to represent his nation in soccer, earning 16 England caps over a decade.

The threat of a collapse - falling into a hypoglycaemic coma caused by low blood sugar - was always there, but while Mabbutt suffered them many times on the training pitch, it never happened during matches.

'I had numerous 'hypos' in training but none that caused me to fall into a coma,' Mabbutt said. 'When I started shaking and being unable to stand up, the physio would come over and administer intravenous glucose and I was fine to continue training five minutes later.

'I did blood tests just before kick-off, at half-time and at the end of the game to make sure my blood sugars were not going to drop. The physios all carried intravenous glucose just in case.'

Mabbutt said that medical facilities available at top-flight matches had continued to improve since his retirement in 1998 and ultimately came to Muamba's rescue. 'The risks of problems occurring on the pitch are minimal, but as we saw last Saturday, we are now prepared for these things to happen,' he said.

'Everything was in place to make sure that Muamba got the best possible medical attention, which clearly saved his life. The awareness of medical problems is now very high on the agenda and the safety of the players in the Premier League is paramount.'

Financial necessity means that the picture isn't as rosy at the lower end of the English game, where the physical exertion is the same and the risks no less. The Mabbutt and Muamba stories may have turned quite out differently if they had unfolded at the lower echelons of the game. 'Football showed last Saturday that it is prepared to handle even the most severe of situations at the highest level, but this must be available to all players,' Mabbutt said. 'Outside the Premiership, a lot of work still has to be done to improve the medical facilities available.'

The fact that doctors are now being asked about the possibility of Muamba making a comeback shows just how miraculous his recovery has been. If he does pull through, as the medical experts are now optimistically predicting, no doubt he will have to weigh up the risks of resuming his career.

After a nerve-wracking week waiting for updates on the Zaire-born midfielder's recovery, Mabbutt had the words of a legendary Liverpool manager ringing through his head.

'Bill Shankly once said, 'Football is not a matter of life and death, it is much more important than that,'' Mabbutt said.

'What happened last Saturday proved that Bill Shankly was so, so wrong. With all the footballing family praying for him, we are keeping our fingers crossed for Fabrice Muamba to make a full recovery.'


Insulin injections former Spurs captain and diabetic Gary Mabbutt used to have daily during his playing career