Another weekend passes and another notable sportsman has problems with his heart. Unlike Fabrice Muamba, however, four-time world champion Jocky Wilson did not recover and passed away at the age of 62. Perhaps it was the decline in popularity of darts compared with Premier league football that persuaded Radio Five not to cancel Sport Relief over the weekend and appropriately limit interviewees and callers to a few former colleagues from Jocky’s World.
Was I alone in finding the reaction to Muamba’s awful cardiac accident on the football pitch the weekend before so disproportionate? Led by Radio Five, the media embarked on a frenzy devoting almost the whole evenings programming to some aspect of this admittedly tragic event. It seemed everyman and his dog were wheeled out if they had even a remote connection to Bolton, Muamba, heart problems, sport, the world…etc
I didn’t feel so disconnected to the rest of the world this Sunday when I read two pieces in The Sunday Times which articulated my thoughts and feelings about this so much more eloquently. Firstly Hugh McIlvanney in the Sport Section:
Recognising that “Common Humanity caused millions to be moved by the story of how ministartions on the pitch kept the playerin tenous touch with survival” before noting that “The warm feeling was tainted for some of us when the excesses of reaction to Muamba’s experience were contemplated and especially in football and the media. We were in the midst of another manifestation of our society’s endless appetite for choreographed lamenting, the phenomenon embedded in our culture by the excruciating exhibitionism that marked the mourning for Princess Diana”
In the general comment section, Minette Marrin was similarly moved to write:
“When Muamba suffered his cardiac arrest on the pitch last weekend it was quite understandable that everyone around him, his fans as well as his family, should have been overwhelmed with shock. Millions of people like me who had never heard of him before then felt sorry and wished him well. But something quite different and much less honest took over, as it does more and more these days.
A mawkish sentimentality appeared, just as it did after the death of Diana. Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers arranged a pre-match minute’s applause for Muamba, even though he was not dead but, mercifully, alive and getting better.
Real Madrid players wore get-well-soon messages on their shirts and Gary Cahill of Chelsea dedicated a goal he scored to Muamba, his former team-mate, and revealed a T-shirt with the slogan “Pray 4 Muamba”, which was no doubt intentionally picked up by television cameras. Meanwhile saccharine messages buzzed around the blogosphere about how the response to Muamba’s illness had brought out the best in football and made people proud of the sport. With due respect to Muamba and his family, this is largely nonsense.
When Diana died, a man in a crowd said her death had meant more to him than the death of his own wife. After the Norwegian slaughter an American columnist claimed, quite absurdly, that “we are all Norwegians now”. These misguided comments are clear pointers to what people seem to want from moments of high public drama. They want to be part of it, not just to share in it.
They want to identify with it, both emotionally and socially — both weeping and wearing the T-shirt, so to speak, no matter how little contact they had with the fallen hero or heroine, the tragic victim or the murdered child. Presumably this must be because this bad thing somehow makes them feel good.
It would take a social anthropologist to explain why. One could guess that it has something to do with the emotional poverty of our ordinary lives, our unmet needs for ceremonies and tribal allegiances. It could have something to do with our increasing need for celebrity and the hope that a little of the stardust of someone famous with whom we identify closely will fall upon us. It might be just a constant and growing need for attention, which is what such public dramas confer widely on those who exploit them for that purpose.”
I feel sorrow for those affected: friends, colleagues, family and fans of Fabrice Muamba but that’s it. I don’t want to hear anymore from anyone three times removed , whose only connection with Muamba is that they share the same planet. We feel connected because we are all part of the “Football Family” ? Isn’t that a favourite phrase of Sepp Blatter?