It’s easy to say Football is more than life or death, and while everything is rosy and lovely that may well be true, but every now and then there’s something that makes you think. Makes you feel lucky. As humans we can be strong and resistant but at the click of a finger, we can become fragile. Football is just a part of life, and it’s a part that we all cherish so dearly. We see those who participate as heroes, and villains on occasions, so when they’re vulnerable we feel a sense of vulnerability ourselves. Heroes are perceived to be those who save people, whether they’re wearing a cape, a high-vis jacket or a firefighters’ uniform. Footballers? They’re seen as overpaid monkeys running on a field doing nothing but kick a ball. There’s an element of truth to that, but footballers are humans; no different to us. Below are 5 incredible stories, and it’s these type of harrowing stories that open the eyes of many, many people.
Before being named new Wolves boss, Ståle Solbakken was the manager of 3 other teams but even before that, was a midfielder for 5 different clubs, including English side, Wimbledon. He was something of a goalscoring midfielder for his first two clubs, HamKam and Lillestrom. In 2000 he signed for Danish club Copenhagen. And after just 14 games he had to cut his time there short. In 2001, aged 33, Ståle suffered a heart-attack during training. Club doctor Frank Odgaard immediately rushed to Ståle’s side and without the proper equipment proceeded with a cardiac massage and artificial respiration until an Ambulance arrived. Solbakken was fine just minutes before, then in the blink of an eye he fell unconscious and was clinically dead. No one knew if he’d survive or suffer subsequent brain damage, but thankfully he did survive and he now has a pacemaker fitted. It was due to a previously undetected heart defect that he suffered this. He was lucky to even have the option to announce retirement, let alone go on to manage his two previous sides, HamKam and Copenhagen, German side FC Köln and now currently, Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In March of last year Barcelona confirmed that left-back Abidal was diagnosed with a tumour in his liver, and he underwent surgery 2 days later. Details of this aren’t very well-known as the privacy he requested was respected, but after a win in the Champions League final versus Manchester United, Carlos Puyol, Barcelona’s Captain, offered Abidal the armband and allowed him to life the trophy in front a packed Wembley Stadium. A year after the initial announcement, it was announced that Éric would need a liver transplant because of unresolved problems with the previous operation. He underwent surgery and after being released from Hopsital, doctors said that he could go on to play again, if he wished to. The reaction to this news was heartwarming. Fans from all over the world, despite club allegiances, wished him well and are all ecstatic that he will be able to play again.
Fabrice’s story is well-known. His unfortunate incident was worldwide news and it shocked everyone. Many have said that Fabrice was the fittest player in Bolton’s squad; always running with the most energy. What happened to him shows that feeling healthy should not be taken for granted. During an FA Cup match against Tottenham, he was running from the penalty box when all of a sudden he collapsed. Players, fans, pundits and social media all just stopped as he lay there lifeless. It was touch and go and he was technically dead for 78 minutes. His partner and son, his family, friends, the whole of football were on the brink of losing him. Thankfully, he pulled through and although he has retired, he smiles every day and thanks the miraculous medical team and God for his survival. His recovery brought tears to the eyes of the hardest people and his smile screams happiness, making everyone happy with him.
Salvador’s story is incredible. He was the poster boy of the Mexican domestic league and a key figure in Paraguay, hoping to lead his nation to the 2010 World Cup. A strong, technically gifted, natural finisher. But in 2010, during a row in a Mexican bar, drug lord Jose Balderas Garza shot Cabañas from close range in his head. He was submitted to a craniotomy, but due to the risk involved the bullet was not removed, and remains there to this day. His recovery was extraordinary. He left intensive care in February of the same year, and was hoping to be fit in time for the World Cup; he wasn’t included in the squad. He has short-term memory loss and is still recovering, although just 16 months after the incident he played in a tribute match for him between his nation and club side. He joined Paraguayan side, 12 de Octubre in 2012 and one header of the ball could kill him. Yet he continues to play.
Morosini’s story is the saddest and most traumatic I have read. Not only did he suffer a heart-attack resulting in death, he had to deal with the death of his family. His mother died when he was 15 years old, and his father died just 2 years later, and that was followed by his disabled elderly brother, leaving him with just his disabled elderly sister. On the 14th April Piermario was playing for Livorno and in the 31st minute, he suffered a cardiac arrest, stumbling to the ground before losing consciousness. He was rushed to hospital in an attempt to save him but died before he could reach further help. It was not long after Muamba’s incident so it was not only shocking, but worrying. The sadness that surrounded left a mark on Italian football, and football around the world looked on in horror.
Football is always looked down upon by people who aren’t really into the sport. Even some fans hold a negative opinion of footballers, I do too, but one thing we cannot forget, is they’re all just regular people. Regardless of your opinion on the sport, there is nothing more important than health. It may sound stupid and obvious but as fans we do sometimes forget what we’re watching when we tune into a game. Many footballers have overcome personal tragedies to succeed: Dortmund’s Polish midfielder Jakub Błaszczykowski was just 10-years old when he witnessed his father murder his mother. At any age that is a shocking thing to witness, let alone at 10. He’s gone on to become a footballer for the German champions and has captained his country. He overcome a shocking sight and one I imagine will be etched into his memory forever. And recently Aston Villa’s Stiliyan Petrov was diagnosed with acute leukaemia and is currently in remission.
Ajax’s Lorenzo Ebecilio suffered the death of his father in 2005, and several months afterwards he suffered a heart-attack and required a defibrillator to be surgically implanted. Since that day he has thankfully had no other heart concerns. Nwankwo Kanu also had heart surgery after a serious heart defect was found and his aortic valve was replaced.
Former Arsenal Youngster, Sam Kanu, had to retire from football at a young age due to a knee injury. He set up a local club for young footballers coming from the streets and was employed as an entertainments officer for the London Mayor. And on his way to the shop, a journey he’d have done countless times, he was brutally attacked in a confirmed race related attack. He suffered severe brain damage and required 24 hour care; wheelchair bound and without the use of his voice. It may have been after his career that the attack took place, but the fact remains: he was once a promising footballer, now he’s not even able to do the basics of life.
I could go on and on. John Hartson, Andrés Escobar, Juan Carlos Silva to name 3 more are others that bring home the vulnerability of our existence, and perhaps in Escobar’s case the importance of football to some; the way the sport can be overvalued by the general public. We all love the sport and will do as long as it remains, but there’s more to life than the beautiful game. Footballers in the past have suffered many setbacks and some have revealed depression. The general reaction epitomises the naive perception of the sport: they’re famous and have money, what do they have to be depressed about? It makes me mad that some people genuinely have that opinion. Feelings are natural and no amount of money can replace that. Gary Speed’s tragic death is a poignant reminder.
Football to me is very important. It has lifted my spirits when I’ve been down and my beloved Arsenal have always been there to make me smile. However, the importance of football cannot be equated to the importance of life. So ask yourself: what is the importance of football? Can money and fame help them overcome these shocking tragedies, and many more that have not been mentioned? The psychological battle faced as a person and the successful fights against tragedy are nothing short of supreme human strength and courage. Of course, normal civilians face these battles too, and I suppose that’s my point: they are just normal civilians with a talent participating in the most recognised sport in the world.