It had started just like any other Tottenham match. The sloppy start, which had allowed Bolton to take an early lead, followed almost immediately by Kyle Walker levelling from a Gareth Bale cross, leading to sardonic chants of 'Gareth Bale, he plays on the left', in reference to his recent positioning on the right.
That all changed on 41 minutes. Bale skewed a cross wide and, as the eyes of the crowd returned to the centre of the pitch, I could make out, in the corner of my eye, this tall figure slump to the ground just inside the Spurs half. Not a usual sight, and it was immediately clear something was not right. Fabrice Muamba lay alone, face down for about 10 seconds, frozen except for his slightly twitching legs. Rafa van der Vaart and Luka Modric, along with other players in the immediate vicinity, began to urgently called for help from the touchline. Muamba was quickly surrounded by medics from both clubs, along with ambulance men. A stretcher was readied but it was soon apparent that this was something far more severe, with the player's reactions the main indication. Jermain Defoe knelt with a consoling arm around Darren Pratley's shoulders, as Benoit Assou-Ekotto and William Gallas, along with Bolton manager Owen Coyle, stood motionless, staring at the horrors unfolding in front of them. Dedryck Boyata and Adam Bogdan stooped near the penalty area, before Howard Webb called the players off early for half-time.
From my vantage point at the bottom of the South Stand, 40 yards from the incident, it was all we were able to do to just hope against hope that Muamba pulled through. A ghastly silence fell around the ground, suddenly the impending possibility of a trip to Wembley seemed irrelevant.
Various emotions swirled round, people unable to take in what they were witnessing. The small pocket of Bolton supporters high in the corner of the stands began chanting his name, before home fans all around the ground joined in. Supporters young and old, male and female, began to shout out, clenching their fists. “Come on!” “Fight it!” “You can make it”. It was as if a goal had just been scored. If only it was as trite as that.
As the seconds turned to minutes, the concerns deepened. That image of medics pumping Muamba's chest, visibly and repeatedly pushing down on his prone torso, a human being fighting for his life at a football match, will forever be seared on my mind, unlike anything I have seen in 250-odd visits to White Hart Lane. As he was eventually lifted on to a stretcher and carted off the field we stood, stock still, in the stands, helpless and awaiting updates. Most of us were already saying the match could not possibly continue, with the players in such emotional states and it was no surprise when the stadium announcer informed us the match was off. The fans just turned and drifted out of the stadium into the chill North London evening in an eerie hush, a surreal feeling quite unlike anything I had ever experienced at a game. As I queued up, earlier than expected, for the train home afterwards, a female supporter in front of me said "I want Bolton to go through now, after that," Despite my lilywhite persuasions, it was hard to disagree.
James Mariner is a Tottenham Hotspur season-ticket holderReuse content