Bolton Wanderers were a deeply distraught club last night and, with Fabrice Muamba still critically ill following his collapse on the White Hart Lane pitch on Saturday, are not certain that they want to stay in this season's FA Cup.
Wanderers, whose game at Aston Villa tomorrow night has already been called off, are due to face Tottenham in the re-match next week. The situation regarding the re-scheduled tie is fluid and much depends on whether 23-year-old Muamba does pull around at the London Chest Hospital, an outcome which the football world collectively willed to happen in a huge show of support yesterday.
But the psychological effect of returning to the same stadium, only nine days after such a desperate event, may simply be too much to bear for the players and staff. The Bolton manager, Owen Coyle, could urge his club not to put his team through that. The Football Association will talk to Bolton – possibly as early as today – about the quarter-final tie. In the event of a Bolton withdrawal, Spurs would be given a bye to a Wembley semi-final with Chelsea, but it is unlikely that the Lancashire club would face any kind of penalty if they decide to do so.
More immediately, they face a critical relegation game with local rivals Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. A decision on that game will be taken soon.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association told The Independent last night that counselling was available for any players who wished to make use of it. "Football pales into insignificance at a time like this, and it is vital we concentrate our efforts on Fabrice right now," Coyle said.
Muamba was still fighting for his life last night, with the many uncertainties including the question of whether he has sustained any brain damage having been on the pitch for at least six minutes and then encountering a short time lag in the ambulance on the way to hospital. A joint statement from hospital and club indicated that it was at the Chest Hospital – where the England Under-21 international remains "anaesthetised" – that his heart was restarted. It is when the heart is asked to do its own work, rather than be artificially helped by adrenalin, that more will be known about his capacity to pull through.
Under a brilliant blue sky at the Reebok Stadium yesterday, fans chose the club's remembrance stone at the West Stand as the place to lay tokens of their hope that Muamba would pull through. "Hang in there," "Stay strong" and "God bless you" were among the messages for a player described on one memento as "one of ours." Tottenham and Liverpool scarves, and the shirts of Manchester City and Manchester United were all laid.
Elsewhere, football attempted to maintain a Premier League and FA Cup programme which seemed to have little meaning. Muamba's former Bolton team-mate Gary Cahill displayed the message "Pray 4 Muamba" after opening the scoring in Chelsea's 5-2 FA Cup win over Leicester City. "I wish him all the best and hope he recovers quickly," Cahill said after the game. "It was nice to get the goal, but the game was a blur. It was not the best preparation but it is one of those things, you go out and do the job. My mind was in a different place, but we did the job."
Coyle, the Bolton chairman, Phil Gartside, and the club's right-back Tyrone Mears remained in London with Muamba yesterday. Muamba's fiancee Shauna and his family attended the hospital – as did the Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe. The two players have known each other since childhood.
Coyle offered a deeply personal tribute to Muamba last night. "It is all well and good having a God-given gift and being a great footballer, which Fabrice certainly is, but it is more important to be a good person. Fab is a wonderful lad, with a great sense of humour and a beautiful smile and he is well liked by anyone who has come in contact with him."
On the White Hart Lane turf, six medics treated the player, signed for Wanderers by Gary Megson from Birmingham in 2008, who has made 148 appearances for the club. The hospital said Muamba had received "prolonged resuscitation" at White Hart Lane and en route to the London Chest Hospital, "where his heart eventually started working."
'GOD HELP HIM' REACTION ON MUAMBA
"Important days football, but only one victory really matters. Fabrice Muamba remains critical. #hanginthereyoungman."
"Praying for Fabrice Muamba. My thoughts are with him and his family! Hope he gets better soon!!!"
"Obviously football does pale into insignificance when somebody's health is involved. Whatever sympathies we have we can only half imagine what his family is going through."
"Critically ill and intensive care" I really hope that this nightmare will be soon over and I wish for Fabrice Muamba to recover fully."
"Thoughts with Fabrice Muamba, keep fighting bro."
"I pray to you o Lord that you grant Fabrice Muamba a speedy recov-ery. God help him pull through."
Sir Alex Ferguson
"It puts everything into perspective. What was terrific was that both sets of fans acknowledged there was a problem. The medical staff for both teams were fantastic, they got there immediately. It is a great credit to our game that the safety in the stadiums is fantastic, if it had been elsewhere, who knows?"