Monday, 26 March 2012

Good Grief

I wasn't watching Spurs v Bolton last Saturday because, to be perfectly honest, once my team have gone out of the FA Cup I find it difficult to care a great deal about it. Instead I was lying on my bed dossing around - as per usual - just before I was due to go out and get some dinner. With a few minutes to spare, I thought I would check Twitter on my phone, and that's when I was made aware of what was going on down at White Hart Lane.

Roughly thirty tweets about Fabrice Muamba later and I was scrambling for the remote control, desperately trying to remember what channel the game was on, what channel number ESPN was on. Something had happened, and I wanted to see it. Before we go any further - reflecting on events, I'm struck by how odd that thought process is. I'm the first to chastise people for slowing down at car crashes, but here I was - effectively doing the same thing. Something had happened to Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba, but rather than being content and saying "I don't need to see that" I took the exact opposite view. The funny thing is, I don't even know why I did it. It doesn't make any sense, really, the only real excuse being that something out of the ordinary was happening and to effectively "be there" was the best way to be informed of the situation.

I didn't think Fabrice Muamba was going to survive. In fact, I was sure of it. I didn't say it - either out loud or on Twitter, but I thought it, and I bet one of you lot reading this did too. On Saturday evening there was an agonising wait as nobody knew anything - the only information flying around was that he was being taken to hospital and that they'd tried resuscitating him on the pitch but that hadn't worked. As football fans, we've been here before of course - Marc Vivien-Foe and Miklos Feher being two notable examples - and the vast majority of the time with incidents like this the end result isn't good. After I had had my dinner I put Sky Sports News on and sat in front of the television waiting for the announcement that was surely about to be solemnly read out live on air. Thankfully, it never came. At the time of writing, Fabrice Muamba is still in intensive care but he's showing signs of improvement and the prognosis is good...better than what it was at the time, anyway.

Whatever the long-term effects for Fabrice Muamba after his collapse last Saturday, his plight has inspired a debate about grief, one which for some peculiar reason Manchester United fanzine 'Red Issue' has decided to stick an oar into. Their opinion is based on what they term as "Dianaification" and it's all about the faux grief and the mass hysteria that society tends to jump to immediately after something like this happens. I know what they're saying, and I'm inclined to agree with them - I was in France when Princess Diana was killed, and when I think back I'm always grateful that I was there and away from all the madness/nonsense that was ensuing back here over her death. So I'm sympathetic towards their argument, but that doesn't mean I'm overly impressed with the cover for their latest instalment:

A lot of their ire on this subject is directed towards Twitter, and that's understandable. As a medium, Twitter encourages instantaneous response, as well as encouraging people to write stuff that gets them noticed. Therefore a rather odd game of grief "one-upmanship" can start to take place on there, as people compete to express how sorry they are about the situation that's unfolding rather than waiting to see what happens or simply saying nothing at all and keeping their counsel. Then there's the Twitter bandwagoners. I don't know who settled on #pray4muamba but they got a trending topic out of it, and the other day I saw a celebrity RT an account specially set up to express their sorrow at Muamba's plight. Now to me that's all very odd, and it all backs up the point 'Red Issue' are trying to make. It's a decent one, in my opinion.


I struggle to understand the thinking here. OK, I'm not naive - Red Issue is getting a lot of publicity on the back of this one - but as a Manchester United fan this front cover bewilders me. We could go three points clear at the top of the Premier League tonight, there's ALWAYS something to talk about when United are concerned, and they run with....this?! I don't get it, and I'm left wondering why they need a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. Being anti-faux grief is fine - and I agree - but this smacks of the 15 year old jumping up and shouting something deliberately provocative just to be "edgy" and impress his sniggering mates.

One of the great things about being a human - and one of the worst, for that matter - is the experiencing of emotions. Happy, grumpy, anxious, terrified, upset, elated etc etc - we've all felt those things at one point in our lives. Grief is another. We can't suddenly stop people from feeling it - whether the people they're grieving over are related and personal to them or not - and I wouldn't want people to stop feeling it either. I don't know about you but I wouldn't want to live in a world where Dunblane happens and everyone just shrugs their shoulders and ignores it. I thought Jade Goody was a largely terrible person, truth be told, but when she died I felt sad for her family and for her children who will now grow old without having their mother with them. I also felt so desperately sad for Fabrice Muamba and his family last Saturday night when he collapsed and I was sure he wasn't going to make it.

So am I a "grief junkie"? I don't think so. I hope not. It's not my intention to be one, anyway. Nevertheless, I don't like Red Issue's front cover. We don't know Fabrice Muamba, but feelings such as compassion, empathy and love towards our fellow man ain't terrible ones, all things considered. I hope he gets better soon, and I hope Red Issue go back to what they know best - Manchester United.


  1. Nice piece. I agree with the sentiment but like you say, a fanzine sticking its oar in like this seems odd. What's more odd is that there hasn't been a piece like this from other publications more suited to this subject matter.

  2. I can see where they come from to an extent, but I think a lot of what we see with Muamba is genuine shock. I think there's an element of being made aware of one's own mortality (a 'this could easily be me') reaction that takes hold as well when someone in seemingly peak physical condition just collapses out of nowhere. Similarly, I never had a great affection for Gary Speed as a player, but when he died I felt much more sad than I normally would because I thought to myself 'that could easily be me one day' - depression in particular being something that can affect anyone.

    What annoys me more is something that is more confined to Facebook. The instance whereby every time someone famous dies, people wheel out 'why no FB statuses about X soldier who died this week' in a game of moral one-upmanship.