Fabrice Muamba & Liam Kelly Remind Us That Football Is JUST a Game

Ratan Postwalla@@ratanpostwallaCorrespondent IIMarch 19, 2012

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: Liverpool fans hold a sign in support of Fabrice Muamba of Bolton Wanderers during the FA Cup with Budweiser Sixth Round match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield on March 18, 2012 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

“Stand up, if you hate Tottenham...”

It's a most popular refrain at The Emirates Stadium and at Highbury before that. And most of the time, I must admit, I would stand up.

But it always made me wonder whether we, as football fans, do take our sport way too seriously. Whether we are so wrapped up in hatred—of our opposition, of referees, of rival fans and occasionally, of our own players—that the beauty and meaning of the game just pass us by.

I was at Upton Park once to watch West Ham take on Arsenal. Due to an unavailability of tickets for the away end, I sat with the home fans. I was warned by my Hammers' season ticket-holding friend to keep my emotions under control, because the home crowd might not approve.

He needn’t have forewarned me.

Within five minutes, I wanted to get out of there, because all I saw around me was alcohol, anger and abuse. I found myself wondering, “Do they really enjoy being here? Why watch sport if the only emotions it stirs within you are anger and hatred?”

I don’t get down to watching too many movies. And when people ask me why, I always say that my love for sport doesn’t give me enough time. Not that I dislike cinema—in fact, I have a great love for all things thespian. But sport, for me, is numero uno. By a long way.

The beauty about sport for me is that it’s real—unlike cinema—and yet, contrary to every other “reality” in our lives, there is no significant downside. Yes, your team can lose, your favourite player can retire, a club can be relegated. But there’s always the next game to look forward to. There’s always going to be a victory somewhere down the road which will make us feel on top of the world again. There’s never going to be a real “tragedy.”

Is there any other “reality” in life about which we can look forward with similar optimism?

Speaking of tragedies, yes, there will be the odd disaster that we can do nothing about. Munich, 1958. The Zambian national team’s own air tragedy of 1993. Marc-Vivien Foe. Daniel Jarque.

But there are so many others that are so avoidable. Heysel, 1985. Hillsborough, 1989. West Ham vs. Milwall. Leeds United in Istanbul, 2000. Andres Escobar. And most recently, the riots in Egypt.

Fabrice Muamba brought joy to everyone who watched him play. As a product of the Arsenal youth system, I guess I was drawn toward him more than the average football fan. He is young, super fit and at the top of his game. With the world at his feet. Who knows where the next few days will take him. We can only hope and pray.

Liam Kelly was a name I hadn’t heard of until yesterday. What a tragic story this is. Minutes after winning the Scottish League Cup with his team, Kilmarnock—over giants Celtic, no less—he received the news that his father had died of a heart attack while watching from the Hampden Park stands. Left me speechless.

So yes, there can be bad news that is nobody’s fault. But such incidents are few and far between. Most of the trouble is provoked by fans, the press and, sometimes, by players.

No one needs that. Sport, and football in particular, can heal the world. Let’s put aside our differences, keep our rivalries respectable, maintain a basic spirit of sportsmanship and display a bare minimum standard of decency when we support our teams.

Let’s make the game beautiful again.


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