Saturday was one of those days that will stay with me forever. Then again, I hope it stays with us all. There are some moments that make you look at the world with different eyes. But sometimes in these moments there is a magical power because people connect, people see the human in each other and people feel another person’s pain — or at least take the time to think about it.
I wish Fabrice a very quick and full recovery, not because he is a good guy, a young man, a fellow professional or a brother but because he is a human and it will be wonderful for him to see for himself the good that has come from this very sad and frightening event in his life.
When I saw him lying on the pitch at White Hart Lane, I was scared. Scared for him, scared for his family, his friends and all those people who know him and who care about him.
I was also scared because he was just like me. He is young, supposedly fit — an athlete — who a few seconds ago was running up and down the same pitch as me. I had flashbacks of what had happened to my countryman, the late Marc-Vivien Foe.
You want to stop these thoughts but the pictures keep coming into your head and I must say I was scared. Scared as I wondered how it could all just end like that for a young man? I could see the same questions in the eyes of my team-mates, the Bolton players, our bosses and their colleagues. And I learnt a new word as I tried to make sense of it late on Saturday: surreal.
When I tried to describe it all, my friend said to me “surreal”. And it was. As I stood there on the pitch looking at Fabrice and hearing the fans of both teams singing his name, I was in a surreal moment.
But I witnessed the magic of the moment. I saw a group of people, professionals, who were not caught up in the moment but were only focused. The medics who took care of him along with the medical guys from Spurs and Bolton were focused on Fabrice (above).
They were not distracted by anything, not even the sort of thoughts that I had in my head. Instead they worked, calmly and professionally, doing the things that had to be done. I am not an expert but seeing what I saw, I know we still have Fabrice with us because of the work of these guys.
But this was only one of the things that have made this difficult moment so powerful and magical. All around me people were praying. People were focused only on Fabrice. When the referee spoke with the two managers about abandoning the game, there was no hesitation. When it was announced to the fans that the game would not continue, there were no complaints.
People who had travelled from far and near were all focused on the wellbeing of Fabrice and nothing else mattered. They silently made their ways out of the stadium. When we sat in the dressing room afterwards we spoke only of Fabrice. When I switched on my phone, the messages I received and the profiles and statuses on people’s BlackBerrys and on Twitter were about Fabrice.
A lot of people didn’t know him but that did not stop them from extending good wishes to him and his family. It didn’t stop thousands of people at the stadiums across Europe yesterday from wishing him a speedy recovery, clapping and praying for him.
I have seen messages from people from the very far corners of the world all wishing Fabrice well. I have seen people who care very little for football talk about Fabrice. This is the true beauty and power of football. It connects people in a way that is hard to describe. It is this that I feel is the magic of the moment. I pray Fabrice recovers fully to see the magic that he is a part of. He must recover so I can thank him for reminding us that we must always be prepared to put things into perspective.
Nobody argued when the referee called off the game. The life of Fabrice was more important. It didn’t and doesn’t matter if he is tall, short, young, old, black, white, good or bad. All that matters is that we all simply see the human in him.
Through a very challenging and scary episode Fabrice has connected us as a football family and he is further connecting us as human beings. His pain and that of his family and loved ones could be a blessing but the true blessing would be if he told the story himself when he walks out of hospital.
By Benoît Assou-Ekotto