The world stood still the moment my sister called on Saturday to tell me one of the Bolton players was in big trouble and receiving CPR. In that split second I knew whoever it was lying on that White Hart Lane pitch was part of the Bolton Wanderers family and a huge part of our life.
Within minutes Tess Jaaskelainen was on the line. Tess and I are both married to senior pros and have attended virtually every Bolton Wanderers home game since our partners arrived at the club almost 10 years ago. Our thoughts and fears were immediately for Shauna and Josh, the player’s fiancée and 3-year-old son. For the next few hours my phone was on fire with texts and calls from virtually every single Bolton players’ partner, past and present. The Bolton family had started to unite for Fabrice.
Bolton, a town 10 miles north west of Manchester, has a population of 263,700 and is my family’s adopted home. Almost every Boltonian, most notably Vernon Kay, is extremely proud of what Bolton Wanderers FC has achieved since climbing to premier league status in 2001.
The club is a huge part of the community, with players out and about in the town on a weekly basis. The full squad of players at Bolton are all heavily involved in the work that Bolton Wanderers Community Trust carry out in the local area and regularly go along to local schools and youth clubs to find out more about the projects that they deliver, including health work, community cohesion, employability and education. Players regularly visit local hospitals and hospices, attend supporter events, certificate and presentation evenings, meet young budding footballers at junior football clubs and get involved in a wide range of other activities to help play their part in the community life of Bolton.
Fabrice came to Bolton from Birmingham FC in June 2008. When I think of Fab I just see a huge grin with bright sparkling teeth. He is a quiet, unassuming lad who came from a war-torn country at the age of 11 unable to speak any English. Despite this he went on to achieve 10 GCSEs and three A-levels in English, French and Maths. He is a fighter and a fantastic role model for anyone.
When we arrived in Bolton in 2003 I was pregnant with my first child and away from family and friends. From the moment we set foot in the Reebok Stadium we were acknowledged as part of the BWFC family. In those days it was the likes of Mrs Okocha, Mrs Giannakopoulos, Mrs Djorkaeff, and Mrs N’Gotty that showed me the ropes. Mrs Speed and Mrs Diouf joined soon after and both remain firm friends of ours.
I have fantastic memories of Christmas parties, children’s parties, end of season events and barbecues at the Chairman’s house all organised by the club to unite the players and families. When Kevin held the Masquerade Ball for his KiDs of Bolton charity last March, virtually the whole squad and partners came in support. There is also a match day creche at the club to encourage the wives and partners to come to games. The support of family is so vitally important in life, not just in football.
Since Kevin arrived, the squad has always been very friendly and tight-knit. It is a small squad who all work hard for one another and enjoy each others company. Egos don’t last too long at Bolton. The club has had its fair share of bad luck recently with serious injuries to Stuart Holden and Chung-Yong Lee, and of course the untimely death of Gary Speed less than six months ago.
I heard on the news that my husband – and club captain – had gone to the hospital with Fab. When he called me later that evening, his first comments were to praise the amazing medical staff from Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur, including the heroic Tottenham fan that rushed onto the pitch to help Fab.
He also acknowledged both sets of fans and the way they behaved during such an obvious crisis. He was moved and amazed by the support from the world of football, unified by such a tragedy. This horrible incident highlights the good side of human nature and the human spirit.
I am not religious but believe strongly in the power of the collective. Positive thought and the pulling together of the football family makes the world such a better place. Owen Coyle and Phil Gartside have stayed in London and report back to Kevin hourly. As I write there is news of Fab showing signs of improvement. This is what we can do when we all stand together. The solidarity of the football world, where rivalry is prevalent, has truly warmed my heart.
It shows more than ever that it doesn’t matter how much money, talent, or fame you have, life can change in a single moment. Sport stars are built up to be larger than life, infallible, but these guys are simply human. They work hard for their teams and for their families. As my nan would have said: "There, but for the grace of God, Go I."