This was a post I wrote a little while back at my Liverpool blog AnfieldAsylum.com after a player, Fabrice Muamba, collapsed on the field and was essentially seconds from death. Considering last night’s events, you could easily replace his name with “Rich Peverley” in this, including the disclaimer at the top about how overjoyed I am that he appears to be ok. You can also replace “soccer” with “hockey” and I think it still applies perfectly.

A couple of disclaimers here. I conjured up the thoughts for this post in the immediate aftermath of Fabrice Muamba’s collapse at White Hart Lane. It is an event that shook me to my core, as well I’m sure it did to yours. I could not be more delighted that he’s improving at the moment, as most of this was outlined when things looked very bleak indeed. Secondly, I do not mean to offend anyone’s beliefs or thoughts here, this is more meant as a catharsis for myself and all the things you deal with when you see something like this.

When something like this happens, there’s this rush to the foothold of “it shows us what really matters.” The thought being that football and sports and fandom don’t. I’ve never really bought into that. Football to me, and sports, are more than just a distraction to what people think “matter.” It’s an alternate universe. Nick Hornby wrote a chapter about this in “Fever Pitch”, and without going back to read it exactly (for the 50th time) the contention was it’s not exactly just entertainment. Most of the time, we don’t really enjoy watching games. How miserable are you during Liverpool’s matches? I know a lot of the time I’m impossible to be around. Especially in matches against Man United or Chelsea or any big team, there are times when I shake, I can’t sit still, I yell, I throw things. But it’s a totally different set of standards for that life. It’s why Chelsea fans don’t care a jot that their team was a cure for insomnia when Mourinho had them raking in the trophies.

And we create that alternate universe or life because let’s face it, a lot of the things in life that “matter” are a chore a majority of the time. Spouses, kids, jobs, friends, while they all have ultimate rewards, the road there can be annoying, dejecting, frustrating, boring, and a whole host of other things that aren’t pleasant adjectives. I’m sure you know parents of small children, or friends with terrible jobs, or people in bad relationships or marriages, or having fights with family. We tend to gloss over it, but that’s almost as much of life as the good things. If not more.

So football does matter. It’s somewhere we can go to deal with those other things that can be hard to deal with a lot of the time. Football also brings us to places and people we never would have met or been otherwise, as do all sports. And when something as awful as Muamba’s collapse breaks the divide between the two worlds, it’s shattering.

And that whole “show us what truly matters” to me is just a scrapping or clawing for any silver lining or good to come out of something so awful. But there isn’t one. There is no good, there is no silver lining. Because something like that happening to someone like Muamba just doesn’t make any sense.

To me here’s why: I’ve only recently started playing soccer again after a decade long absence, and even at the lowest level possible that I’m at, pickup games with my buddies, I’m amazed at what the sport requires to play well. Simply the physical condition to be able to run, sprint, cut, stop, and do it all over again again for 90 minutes is hard enough. Combine that with the ridiculous level of concentration one needs to keep your touch delicate to keep the ball, keep your head up to see teammates and spaces where the passes need to go, and how to get the ball there, the ability to see those spaces to get yourself into for passes, the anticipation for positioning to defend well, it’s almost hard to fathom.

So when we think of a Premier League footballer, we think of someone at the height of physical fitness as well as mental fortitude. It’s a level of the combination such a low percentage of the world’s population can reach, it almost makes you laugh. And when someone at that level, at the age of 23, is felled by an ailment that we associate with the elderly and out of shape, we can’t reconcile it. It’s shocking, jarring, confusing, and a whole host of other things.

And what’s really painful about it, and why some reach to any sort of solace they can find, is that it illustrates that life just doesn’t make any sense. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Disaster can strike anyone, anywhere. There are a thousand reasons that tomorrow something could strike me and erase me, or worse yet a thousand more that could take away someone as important to me as Fabrice is to his family. There’s no plan, or great work, or at least it doesn’t feel like there is. That’s what awful scenes like those that took place in North London remind us of.

It’s times like these that I’m envious of those who can find happiness in religion or something else, that find comfort in knowing that as jumbled and non-sensical as life can be there is an answer to it all at the end. I’m not saying I’m smarter than those people or they’re dumb, it just doesn’t work for me. At times I wish it did.

The temptation to say football or sports doesn’t matter is because we let something we have no control over influence our emotions. But that happens in the walks of life that supposedly do matter more. Your company could be bought out by a larger company and your job made redundant. Did you have any control over that? Your spouse could be hit by a drunk driver. Did you have any control over that?

Fabrice Muamba just reminds us how fragile it all is in a place where we thought we’d gone to escape that truth. I think that’s why it shakes us so much.

Anyway, I wrote that to try and sort out my feelings about it. It helped, and I hope it might help some of you as well if you’re in the same place.

  • Commit88

    “It’s times like these that I’m envious of those who can find happiness in religion or something else, that find comfort in knowing that as jumbled and non-sensical as life can be there is an answer to it all at the end. I’m not saying I’m smarter than those people or they’re dumb, it just doesn’t work for me. At times I wish it did.”

    I think a lot of people who do believe or have a religion, etc, felt like that beforehand. I know a lot of people who took solace in that after their wife or husband or kid died. Or people who changed their lives completely and realized something else was at work later on. Anyways just my 2 cents. Glad Peverly seems to be ok.

  • Black JEM

    I’m glad he is OK as well – though somewhat baffled as to why the game was halted, but that is another question.
    I too have a problem with the phrase “show us what really matters” because it shows us nothing of the sort. Life is not life and death, its everything inbetween. Peverly’s quest and ultimate success in pro hockey was important to him and those close to him. In the end we all die, that isn’t important or unimportant, it just is. And through our life we have the possibility to have a variety of health statuses we will go through. Perhaps the phrase is just a throw away line as an escape for an increasingly non-religious world. But to each of us what we do is important. Sam – this blog/website is important to you. A serious heath issue doesn’t make it any less important.

    • bizarrohairhelmet

      Lindy Ruff was pretty clear that nobody on his team wanted to play hockey until they knew what was up with Rich. That’s no way to play a game.

      • Preacher

        Given how Ruff talked about it afterward, I’m guessing many on the team thought he had died or was very close to it. That’s a bit off-putting when it’s a teammate collapsing. Not a hockey play, not a Torres-style check, nothing to do with the game at all. He just collapsed. This wasn’t an injury, it was “is he going to live?” Stopping the game made sense at the time.

        • Z-man19

          If they are using a defib on you, you are very close to death. Peverly may be lucky this happened at the rink unless he has a defib at home or they carry one at all times. I concur, stopping the game was absolutely the correct thing to do.

          • bizarrohairhelmet

            Apparently it’s a common thing with the a-fib condition. Get’s the heart back into a normal rhythm, not starting him from flatline. But still serious.

          • Black JEM

            Yes, serious – but soon thereafter not as life threatening as Gonchar’s throat injury.

    • lizmcneill

      He was on the bench when he collapsed, not in the room. The game was halted because most of the Dallas bench jumped onto the ice yelling for the paramedics. He was defibrillated in the tunnel, no way play could have been resumed with that going on feet away.

      • Black JEM

        Yes, he was resuscitated and stable as he left the building as I understand it. So they knew in a matter of moments.

    • roadhog

      Life is a fragile thing, and our culture and emotional investment in our favorite players/teams lead us (fans/consumers) inevitably to believe in some measure that our sports heroes are somehow more than human. For all their failures both in sport and life, these athletes achieve what we physically cannot. Lots of talk around here about gods, the trinity . . . in St. Louis they talk of Superman, and across the world of hockey . . . “The Great One.” Of course these labels are tongue in cheek and exaggerated, but they clearly symbolize our propensity to believe that our sports heroes are more than human. When the fragility of life reveals itself through these heroes, we are taken back and rightfully so. The same way it would be if a co-worker or neighbor collapsed right in front of us, but magnified by the spectacle of sport and unrealistic belief in our heroes. If it was your neighbor, would you continue to rock your block party? If it was your co-worker would you be comfortable working for the remainder of the day? I’m somewhat baffled even in the simplest of terms as to why you are baffled as to why the game was halted. Isn’t your point that athletes are just humans like the rest of us? So if that is the case, would you seriously have kept playing last night? Do you believe in that so strongly that you would have tried to convince the other worried players around you to keep playing?

      • Black JEM

        Yes – and I have. Deaths happen in very uncomfortable places and at times where the show must go on. I get it that the players didn’t feel much like playing. Stores don’t close when it happens there where the closing would have far less impact that putting out 20,000 people. It’s not like there was a criminal shooting or something.

        • roadhog

          But by your rationale, even a criminal shooting just creates inevitable death, so why should that be any different- given said shooter is killed or apprehended. I mean mop up the blood and get on with the game, right? I just really don’t get your insensitivity to what happened. Nor do I hear 20,000 fans in outrage. I’d be willing to bet they’d have given up the rain check for the makeup game just to go home from the game knowing that Peverly was going to be ok, and that he wouldn’t suffer the inevitable death. And by the way, those are Columbus fans not complaining, not Dallas fans. The “show” as you put it is not more important than humanity, compassion, sportsmanship. Good on the league, the Jackets and the Stars and all their players. Good on the people of Columbus. The best of sports was on display, by not finishing the game.

  • YoAdrienne

    I’m just happy he’s okay (or relatively okay). For me, it’s just been somewhat of a shock that something like this could happen to someone who is in such great physical condition. The same goes for Kris Letang having a stroke at such a young age. Not only are they in great shape, but they are constantly monitored by some of the best trainers and medical staff around. I know these sorts of things happen all the time to more “average” people. You just don’t expect to see it happen to pro athletes–even when you know damn well that it can. Shit happens, and nobody is immune to it happening to them.

  • bizarrohairhelmet

    On an internet comment board, it’s pretty easy to be dismissive of issues like this, but for the real people actually experiencing these things, it’s quite a different thing.

    “The Stars, who recalled forwards Colton Sceviour and Chris Mueller from the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars, did leave right wing Alex Chiasson home Monday after the forward experienced anxiety attacks in light of the incident with Peverley, a close friend.”

    That’s a hell of an anxiety attack