The footballing world was shocked and stunned into silence seeing a seemingly fit young footballer collapse on the pitch last weekend. It brought back awful memories from when I was 17 and watching Southend versus Mansfield and referee Mike North collapsed and died from a heart attack on the pitch. After the initial jeer and "she fell over!", everyone realised quite quickly that actually there was something very serious going and a hushed silence fell over the ground, like it did at White Hart Lane. We left the ground knowing we had seen something really awful happen, and the news on the radio in the car on the way home confirmed that he had died.
Fabrice Muamba is a popular 23 year old, engaged and with a young child. To see him collapse and have a serious heart attack on the pitch, surrounded fans who had come to be entertained and cheer their team on to victory was sobering.
Twitter was full of tributes and well wishes from all other the world, and the has tag #PrayForMuamba trended for a large part of the weekend. Fans, clubs, fellow players and the public at large were overcome by the upsetting scenes and wanted to add their thoughts and prayers to the cause.
Muamba, unlike Mike North, did survive. His heart didn't beat on its own for several hours, and perhaps he was saved by the rule change that Jose Mourinho and Chelsea instigated after serious injuries to their players that an ambulance had to be at the ground?
However the fascinating aspect of the story, as Muamba starts the long road to recovery, is the prominence of prayer in the healing process.
A BBC blog wrote:
Have you prayed for Fabrice Muamba today? His family are exhorting the country to believe in the power of prayer, and I suspect many millions of Britons, whether they have faith or not, will have felt moved to offer a silent appeal to an invisible power asking that the young footballer pull through.
The front page of today's Sun newspaper is devoted to the headline "God is in Control" below the subheading "Praying for Muamba". "In God's Hands" says the Daily Star. Chelsea defender Gary Cahill pulled off his shirt after scoring yesterday to reveal a vest encouraging supporters to "Pray 4 Muamba", his former team-mate.
Whatever you might think about its links to a supernatural being, intercessory prayer is a straightforward way for an individual to focus the mind on their capacity to think nice thoughts. Anyone can close their eyes and make a wish that bad things do not happen. Right now, Britain is praying that Fabrice Muamba makes a speedy and full recovery.
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17429779
Andrew Brown from the Guardian, suggests that prayer is actually something that comes very naturally to many footballers, but that it is seemingly counter-cultural:
This isn't marginalised religion. In fact it is such a public demonstration of faith and prayer that it's hard to reconcile it with our normal worldview. So what's going on? Is it as simple as there are no atheists in intensive care?
"They pray from instinct, like the rest of us, unless we think we know better," said the Rev Owen Beamont, the chaplain to Millwall football club, when I asked him.
One of the craziest bishops I ever knew once said to me, with relish: "There are no atheists in cancer wards." But that has not been my experience. I rang a couple of priest friends to ask if this kind of outburst of reverence was normal. None seemed to think it was inevitable. One of them said that she had, of course, come across cases of the opposite, in which deeply religious people seemed to lose their interest in God as death approached. "I have to see one woman who is so busy dying she doesn't have any time for anything else." This wasn't a loss of faith, she said. It was just a loss of interest. Perhaps the question of God becomes entirely theoretical when you know what the outcome will be. The time for prayer is before, or after the fact: in either case, when everything is uncertain, as it is now with Muamba.
Read more: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2012/mar/19/fabrice-muamba-football-prayer-natural?newsfeed=true
So what can we make from this reaction to Muamba's heart-attack? Footballers are more like us than we imagine? That when things get tough, people still return to God? Is prayer a great healer, as Muamba's family are suggesting?
Get well soon Muamba.