The moment the Twitter-verse began reporting that Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba was breathing again in a hospital-bound ambulance after his horrific collapse at White Hart Lane was the same moment Davy Arnaud scored the Montreal Impact’s first MLS goal – an entire continent away.
I had to fight back tears.
If there was ever a singular moment that summed up how the global game of soccer/football is experienced by many of us in the 21st Century, it was this handful of seconds.
While watching the Chicago Fire take on the Impact at their home opener in Quebec via a subscription-based online stream, the adjacent chat-room suddenly lit up furiously.
“Is anyone watching Fox Soccer? Fabrice Muamba just collapsed.”
To be honest, I had completely forgotten about the FA Cup tie between Tottenham and Bolton. I quickly toggled over to my twitter account, displayed in another browser window, and saw FOX Soccer Trax spitting out updates:
“45: We are halted. Again, we have been told Bolton’s Muamba may have suffered a heart attack.”
Resisting any voyeuristic impulses (and not being near a television), I chose not to scramble and find an online feed of the game. I kept an eye on Fox Soccer’s twitter account as I continued to watch the Chicago/Fire game.
Desperate tweet after desperate tweet began to emerge, hoping that the fallen player would recover. Tweets described how medics were out on the field trying to resuscitate Muamba for ages, to no avail. Virtual notes of 140 characters or less detailed how Spurs fans chanted Muamba’s name as he was stretchered off the field, still not breathing.
It was US National team player Stuart Holden from whom I first saw a tweet tagged with “#PrayForMuamba.”
I was genuinely moved by the hashtag’s simplicity. Twitter is a strange beast often used to trend banal frivolity. The most ridiculous things get featured on this curio of a social network (a glance at a few trends across the US revealed “#NumbTongue” as one of the more inane topics that had seemingly created a zeitgeist). I clicked through #PrayForMuamba and was met with a bevy of well-wishes from soccer fans worldwide, tweeting time and time again for Muamba’s recovery.
Countless people were, in a single moment, unified by a hashtag. They tweeted as if their digital notes might will this fallen player back to health.
Long minutes went by. Tweets told a narrative. Muamba was rushed to the hospital. He wasn’t breathing as they carried him out of the stadium. His heart stopped four times. His Wikipedia page was already listing him as deceased. And then his Wikipedia page was listing him in critical condition.
He still wasn’t breathing.
And then a long period with no new updates. Just tweet after tweet of support.
The silence slowly abated as a scant few twitter reports came through that Muamba had been revived in the ambulance by the team who had been aiding him.
And then a steady stream of tweets came through that Muamba was breathing again.
And, as I read cautious hope streaming through the twitter feed displayed on one browser window, I watched the other browser window as Davy Arnaud – understandably oblivious to the drama happening an ocean away – chipped a lovely goal over the opposition’s keeper and netted this expansion franchise its first scoring euphoria of the new season – its first season in the league.
The synchronicity of the moment moved me. A world of people were putting the whole football world into perspective. It’s only a game. It’s only a bit of fun. And yet, it was the passionate love of the sport that had all these people watching the same game at the same time in the first place.
If it’s only a game, why are we all praying?
It’s not only a game. It’s a common language. Even in the 21st Century, where technology allowed me to watch Montreal’s fight against Chicago and Muamba’s fight for his life simultaneously, it was the community that mattered.
A world of people united by a rather simple game of kickball.
As one man was fighting for his life, another man was fighting to finish the flow of play.
Both men were playing the same exquisite sport.
Yes. There are more important things in life than football. But, for these singular moments this afternoon, it was football that had us all on the same page, pulling for man most of us had never met.
Tonight, my thoughts and prayers go out to Fabrice Muamba and his family. His friends. His teammates.
My thoughts also go out to all the fans of the sport worldwide who are sad, scared, hoping, loving…