News that midfielder Fabrice Muamba is set to be in attendance for tonight’s Premier League clash between Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur is a huge morale boost for the game of football.
It’s rare for a single incident to bring everyone in the game together, but the former England U21 international’s on-field collapse during an FA Cup tie between the two sides at White Hart Lane on March 17th certainly achieved that.
Muamba’s heart stopped beating for 78 minutes as medical staff attempted to revive the 24-year-old, who was born in Zaire but represented the Three Lions at a variety of youth levels.
After almost a month at the London Chest Hospital, the former Birmingham central midfielder was discharged, amazing medical professionals with the speed and nature of his recovery.
And, as fate would have it, his return to a football stadium is scheduled for tonight’s game, when the two teams who were playing on the night Muamba collapsed meet again.
“It’s fitting the match is between these two clubs and that Fabrice is able to come along,” Owen Coyle is quoted as saying in the Manchester Evening News.
“We are absolutely delighted we will be able to welcome Fabrice and his family back to the Reebok, and we are all looking forward to seeing him.
“I know Fabrice is very keen to show his appreciation to both sets of fans for their support.”
Muamba’s cardiac arrest brought football from the back pages to the front, which is nothing new in the world of modern-day celebrity that seems to go hand-in-hand with the demands of top professionals.
But this was different. Muamba’s situation was a fight-for-life, and the British public showed their complete support irrespective of what team they supported. Allegiance became secondary.
And it wasn’t just in the UK that support was shown for the player either, with Barcelona and Real Madrid players wearing shirts with well wishes in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
Whilst Muamba survived, it’s worth remembering that former Italian U21 international Piermario Morosini wasn’t so fortunate on the 14th April, when he collapsed on the pitch and died during a match between Livorno and Pescara.
The 25-year-old also suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch, but could not be revived. His death left a mark on Italian football, and emphasised how fortunate Muamba was to survive his ordeal in north London.
But survive he did, to the extent where a full recovery could well be possible. We might just see Muamba back out on the pitch one day in the future.
"Knowing Fabrice and how much of a battler he is, it wouldn't surprise me if he comes back," said the former Burnley chief last month.
It’s a step-by-step situation though, and returning to a football ground will be a major part of the rehabilitation process if Muamba is to play football once again in the future.
That he will provide a major boost to the Trotters in their fight for survival in the Premier League is a side issue, although one Tottenham Hotspur will be keen to work against as the player pays tribute to both sets of supporters before tonight’s Premier League match.
Irrespective of the result, tonight will be an emotional affair in Lancashire, and the Reebok Stadium would be a great place to be if your spirit needs lifting by the pure fight for life shown by Muamba, who has earned his place in the nation’s heart.