The distressing scenes of Fabrice Muamba‘s collapse during an FA Cup tie between Tottenham and Bolton this weekend were some of the most harrowing in the history of English football. Muamba however, is sadly one of far too many young professionals to have suffered the fate of undetected heart defects in recent years.
Incidents such as Muamba’s see the world of football unite behind a common cause and rightly so. The list of casualties of this type is not excessive, but nonetheless distressing. These incidents provide a sudden perspective on life for young professional football players, whose feelings of invincibility created by wealth, adulation and media hype vanish instantaneously.
Clive Clarke, who suffered a cardiac arrest at half-time while playing for Leicester City in the Carling Cup in 2007, was forced to retire from professional football after surviving his traumatic experience. Clarke is now a patron of the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), and is a keen advocate of professionals receiving screening tests every three months as he told the BBC in February 2011; “I think it needs to be set in stone, every three months the guys get regular checks. I do think it needs to be part of the regular life of a footballer now – they get regular check-ups because I don’t think they do.”
CRY is one of the foremost charities to promote cardiac screening tests, not just in sport, but in all young people. They aim to promote awareness of Young Sudden Cardiac Death (YSCD) and Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS), which affects around twelve young people a week in the UK. For many years the charity have supported mandatory screenings in all sport and while the Premier League provide some screening for young players, CRY have further encouraged clubs to voluntarily put their young players through more rigorous screening tests, with the likes of Manchester City taking up this opportunity.
Clarke was one of the fortunate casualties, as was Muamba, who has been given a chance of survival by the amazing work of the emergency medical staff at White Hart Lane. Emergency services have, staggeringly, only been on hand at Premier League football grounds since 2007, after Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech fractured his skull and was forced to wait for around thirty minutes in the dressing room for the ambulance to arrive.
While some survive, many high profile footballers have suffered fatal attacks while on active duty. Daniel Jarque, the young captain of Espanyol, suffered a deadly heart attack at the team hotel in 2009 after a routine pre-season training session, creating devastating ripples in Spain only two years after Sevilla defender Antonio Puerta collapsed on the pitch, before subsequently dying in hospital three days later. Other high profile cases include that of Marc Vivien-Foe, who collapsed in 2003 while on international duty for Cameroon and Phil O’Donnell, the Motherwell captain who died of a cardiac arrest in 2007 while playing in the Scottish Cup.
There is no doubt that each of these cases is traumatic and devastating, yet Muamba’s may just be the catalyst to bring about the implementation of regular cardiac screening. The high-profile nature of the incident – having been broadcast live in front of millions on ESPN – has triggered a massive outpour of sympathetic messages on Twitter and could provide the CRY cause with the momentum it needs. More intensive and comprehensive measures that can be taken to prevent such incidents reoccurring must be seriously and diligently considered by the FA and the Premier League. Football – and lives – depend on it.