James Lawton: Like United in '58, Bolton must play on

Football is though, as the tragic Fabrice Muamba reminded us, real life played by real people

It is entirely understandable that some players of Bolton Wanderers would prefer to revisit most places on earth rather than White Hart Lane as early as next week. Traumatised by the sight of their team-mate Fabrice Muamba caught in such a random, terrifying tragedy, confronting perhaps for the first time the reality that being young and conspicuously fit does not necessarily proof you against the vagaries of fate, it would be remarkable if their appetite for the abandoned FA Cup tie had not been severely disturbed.

However, it would be wrong for Bolton to withdraw from the tournament. The possibility, we are told, will be discussed in meetings between the Bolton directors, manager Owen Coyle and players and in consultation with the Football Association.

One feeling is that it would be asking too much of Muamba's team-mates to go back to the place which had so recently filled them with horror – and this is certainly consistent enough with the widespread emotional reaction that the young player's plight somehow rendered football in general and this particular Cup tie "meaningless".

Yet at what point would the Wanderers be required to fulfil their professional duties?

Unfortunately, there is no rule of thumb on such generally uncharted areas of human frailty, no time limits – or extensions – for those who find it harder than others to deal with some of life's harshest developments.

This, of course, is the dilemma which from time to time intrudes even into what so many who watch it see as the fantasy world of football, something that can be picked up and put down as you might a favourite television show or the latest hit movie.

Football is though, as the tragic Fabrice reminded us, real life played by real people and the trouble with real life is that sometimes it has to be prosecuted in the worst of times.

Over the last 50 years or so in this country football has provided two classic examples – the Munich tragedy of 1958 and that of Hillsborough in 1989.

On both occasions the players who lived through the ordeals questioned deeply their will to go on, at least without some respite.

Sir Bobby Charlton, lightly injured but profoundly shocked, retreated to his native North-east with no sure sense that he would ever again be able to play football with his old passion. It took an impromptu kick-around with local lads in the alley at the back of his family's terraced home to recreate some of his old feeling for the game – and the inspiration provided by his team-mates Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes, who worked heroically to help fellow survivors and then reported back to duty immediately.

We do not quite know the full extent of the scars they carried on their way to that season's FA Cup final, ironically against Bolton.

Many years later, Charlton reflected on those days when he went back to his roots – and the protection of those he knew best. "I did wonder if it could ever be the same," he said, "after losing all those team-mates with whom I had shared everything. And it never could because there are times in life when you lose your innocence, when you have to look at things from a different angle – and that was what we all faced after Munich. Some dealt with it better than others, but of course everyone was changed."

After Hillsborough, the Liverpool players also fought their way to the Cup final – and won against Everton. It was just five weeks after the loss of 96 spectators, whose situation had been signalled desperately by the goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar running from his goal and crying the alarm.

In the final John Aldridge scored one of Liverpool's three goals. After Hillsborough, he too discussed the fact that he had never been more detached from the game in which he made his living. When he was advised to get on with his job, his replay was sharp and poignant. "That's a lot easier to say," he said, "when you're not going to a funeral every day of the week."

It is something the players of Bolton might say in the terrible wait to know the fate of Fabrice Muamba.

Others will no doubt point out that in other less publicised walks of life, there is for so many the daily obligation to move on with their lives despite the most discouraging events. Awful things happen, they will say, but what can we do if we do not proceed as best we can?

Also to be considered is the integrity of the FA Cup, a tournament which over recent years has taken so many hits to its claim to have an enduring status as a major competition. For Bolton to withdraw because of their players' reluctance to face an admittedly difficult prospect, would not speak highly of the resolution of a club which for so long has taken such proprietorial pride in one of its greatest heroes, the late Lion of Vienna, Nat Lofthouse.

Better, infinitely, for Bolton to show the kind of determination and nerve and maturity produced so abundantly by the young man who lies stricken in hospital. If the Bolton players want a cause, there could be no better one than to fight on – in his name and his image.

Neville sadly falls foul of Premier League hype

Gary Neville has received much praise – and not least here – for his impressive progress as a football analyst of serious intent and bold, professional opinion.

It was thus especially disappointing to read his long and flattering missive on behalf of the Premier League and, of course, perhaps incidentally the league's and his own principal paymaster, Sky Television.

Despite the dismissal from the second tier Europa League of his former club Manchester United and their only title rivals Manchester City, Neville asserts that the Premier League remains the best in the world – a fact thoroughly endorsed, he says, by global TV hits.

No matter that Barcelona and Real Madrid are currently operating on a different planet, that La Liga has won four of the last 10 Champions League finals, Serie A three and the Premier League merely two, and that in two of the last three Barça have not so much beaten United as dismissed them from their presence, Neville massages the statistics as a key part of his argument.

He tells us that the Premier League is currently suffering a mere blip.

Presumably he missed the quality of the football which Athletic Bilbao imposed upon United last week – and the fact that the victors have long had only a distant view of the backs of Real and Barça in the race for La Liga title.

The reason for that first impact, Gary, was that we heard an authentic football voice. It made such a bracing change from all the hype.

Mallett's claims still hard to ignore

Some believe that the Rugby Fooball Union is observing a mere courtesy by interviewing Nick Mallett under the shadow of the achievements of interim coach Stuart Lancaster.

Indeed, there is a theory that any delay in the latter's coronation is nothing less than perverse.

There is, however, an argument for hearing both cases. Lancaster has, no doubt, done a fine job in providing England with the momentum that has carried them away from the ruins of the Martin Johnson administration. But does he have the depth of international experience that will be required to turn an encouraging burst of redemption into the kind of enduring improvement for which the resources of English rugby cry out?

Lancaster enjoys enthusiastic support from his players, but in the circumstances who can be surprised? And maybe we should not forget the wilted nature of the red rose after the last surge of player power. Mallett would bring the aura of a proven coach on the big stage – and a degree of independent thinking. Sooner or later, that could well be the key to everything.

 

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?