In a very late substitution, this afternoon we have another column that we did for the always excellent and long-reigning number one Sunderland fanzine, A Love Supreme.
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Here, we go back to ALS 211, and Dan Williams takes us on an emotional journey, inspired by the Fabrice Muamba incident, and something much closer to home for him. Join us...
Bill Shankly must have known, even back in 1981, that when he uttered the above phrase, it would live for years as one of the most quotable sentences of all time in football. However, recent events have made me question whether that really is the case, both in the game itself, and in other walks of life.
The story of what happened to Fabrice Muamba during Bolton's FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur has been well documented by almost everyone in the media now, and it benefits us all if we don't have to relive that particular episode on these pages. It was, however, the reaction to what happened that really opened people's eyes to what a global community football really is.
I don't want to comment too much on the outpouring of emotion that Twitter experienced throughout the whole situation. I also don't want to come across as heartless or callous, but I'm not a person that prays for anything in life, I'm simply not religious, so it was never likely that I would start because of a Twitter hashtag. Muamba was in my thoughts of course, and it was a truly unique situation, but there is something slightly unsavoury about people tweeting celebrities and professionals asking for RTs in an apparent attempt to gain followers.
However, I digress, this wasn't intended to be a slight on social networking, it is a celebration of the good and great aspects of the game.
It was heartening to see players from across the planet showing their support for the Bolton man. Andrea Pirlo dedicated a Juventus win to him, while t-shirts of support were worn around the world, and high-profile stars such as Thierry Henry made huge journeys just to spend moments at his bedside. In a time when it is all too easy to write football players off as over-paid, arrogant and self-obsessed, the outpouring of emotion in Muamba's direction did help to restore a little pride to the profession, as well as reminding everyone that, at the end of the day, these people are still just human beings, and not robots without feelings.
What really inspired me to write this piece though was the terrifying ordeal that anyone in Toulouse in France had to go through recently. I personally live only a short drive away from the city, one of the biggest in the country, and was as shocked as anyone when a gunman killed eight people in only a matter of days.
It was a terrifying time to live down here, as he had struck at a school and cash machine, leading people to the conclusion that nowhere was safe. However, for me, football was the thing that really helped through even the scariest of days.
With Sunderland's cup run still in full swing (at least then), discussing football with like-minded fans was the kind of escape necessary to not dwell on what was happening only a few miles away. I'm not trying to trivialise what was happening by saying that football could replace it in my thoughts, but to still be part of the Sunderland community, albeit digitally, was something that was invaluable in such a dark time.
Thankfully, the gunman's reign of terror came to an end on March 22nd, three days before Toulouse FCs' home game with Auxerre in Ligue 1. The game would surely have been under threat had he not been located, but the work of the police meant that the two teams would take to the field.
Before the game, a minute's silence was held for the victims of the shootings.
In almost every game that I've been to where this was the case in the past, there have always been small pockets of noise around a stadium. Whether it be supporters coming into a ground late and not being aware of the situation, or one or two people determined to spoil it for everyone else, there is generally some sound to interrupt the occasion.
Sunday's game at the Stade Municipal was an exception. There was not a single sound following the referee's whistle, while home supporters held up banners featuring the names of those who had lost their lives in such tragic circumstances. No words would have ever been able to replace the emotion that even I, an outsider, felt during that minute, as a stadium filled with football fans desperate to see their teams win on a hot Sunday afternoon showed the ultimate respect for those who suffered loss. Nothing can ever make things like this better, but football fans came together as one and showed an ultimate respect that was overwhelmingly emotional.
In the past, Sunderland can be proud of itself as a club for remembering what is important. The whole stadium sang ‘Stand up for Porterfield' in unison in respect of our goal-scoring hero at the Stadium of Light in 2007, and many years beforehand, made many a West Ham-supporting friend in 1993 when marking the passing of Bobby Moore by playing commentary of the World Cup's final moments during his minute of silence at Roker Park.
It's easy to forget sometimes in modern football that we are all just people at the end of the day. The recent North East derby at the Sportsdirect.com@StJames'Park, or whatever it is called, was a day fuelled by tribalistic hatred that seeped onto the pitch, and there were reports of trouble following Everton's cup win at the Stadium of Light too.
The real tragedy is that it takes something as serious as a player medically dying for an hour, or a crazed gunman killing soldiers and children, for the community that each and every one of us is part of to really come in to its own and shine.
Football really isn't more important than matters of life and death, but when the worst things imaginable in life do happen, then our love of the game can be the one constant that we can all relate to, and although it may not be able to heal, it can certainly go a long way towards helping.
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