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19 Mar 2012

Fabrice Muamba was anaesthetised for a further 24 hours on Sunday in intensive care in the heart attack centre at the London chest hospital, where the Bolton Wanderers midfielder continues to fight for his life.

The 23-year-old is in a critical condition after suffering a cardiac arrest during the first half of Saturday's abandoned FA Cup quarter-final at Tottenham Hotspur. In a joint statement released by Bolton and the hospital just after 11am on Sunday, it emerged that although paramedics tried to resuscitate Muamba at the ground and in the ambulance, they were unable to get his heart to start beating by itself until he reached the hospital in Bethnal Green, almost two hours after he collapsed at White Hart Lane.

Ever since that moment the football world has been united in hope that Muamba will pull through. Muamba's family visited the hospital on Sunday morning along with Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, Phil Gartside, the club's chairman, and several players, including Tottenham's Jermain Defoe and Arsenal's Johan Djourou. Fans have laid flowers at the Reebok Stadium and outside the hospital.

"From our end, and on behalf of the family, we want to say a big thanks to everyone," Coyle said. "We have been inundated by good messages, everyone praying for Fabrice which is very important. It has been a real source of strength for the family. That has pulled everyone together. We certainly hope he comes through this. If he pulls through it would be marvellous, it really would."

The Premier League quickly agreed to Bolton's request to postpone Tuesday night's Premier League match against Aston Villa at Villa Park and it is unclear when the FA Cup quarter-final will be replayed. Bolton's next fixture is due to be the relegation battle at home to local rivals Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, although no decision will be made on whether that game will go ahead until later in the week.

For the moment all thoughts are with Muamba and his family. Across Sunday's four Premier League and FA Cup matches, there was applause for the former Arsenal and Birmingham player and his name was chanted. At Wolves and Newcastle the players applauded before kick-off and members of Real Madrid's squad wore T-shirts wishing Muamba well before their game against Málaga. At Stamford Bridge Gary Cahill, a former Bolton defender, revealed a T-shirt with the message "Pray 4 Muamba" after scoring in Chelsea's FA Cup quarter-final win over Leicester. "It was nice to get the goal but the game was a bit of a blur for me after having seen what happened yesterday and I just hope he is OK," Cahill said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Ryan Bertrand, Cahill's Chelsea team-mate who played alongside Muamba for the England Under-21 side. "It was a massive shock sitting there, just gazing all day [on Saturday]," Bertrand said. "I can't really think what his family are feeling at this time. It was good Gaz getting the goal today and showing a little message how much we support him. You have to still go out and play but I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't in my head right up to kick-off. Even pre-match today was pretty tough to get through just thinking about it. Hopefully things will turn for the better.

"You don't expect a professional footballer to have heart problems. It's totally unexplained. It could happen to anyone at any given time. It makes you think about life in general and appreciate every day you wake up. [Fabrice is] a fantastic player and a pleasure to play with. He's a workhorse. Off the pitch he's second to none as a person. I just keep remembering his smile. He'd light up a room just walking into it with his massive grin."

Saturday's incident has led to a renewed debate about the regularity with which players are screened for heart defects. It is unclear when Muamba was last tested but the Football Association has confirmed that the former England youth and Under-21 international would have been screened at least once under its supervision.

Along with the overwhelming support for Muamba, there has also been praise for the way that the medical staff and the fans responded on Saturday. Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman, said: "We are immensely proud and grateful to the medical teams at both clubs, their response was immediate and professional. Our thanks also to both sets of fans for their support and behaviour. Too often we read the negatives about football and yet last night, at a time of intense emergency and uncertainty, we saw the true humanity and empathy of the footballing family."

Howard Webb, the referee on Saturday and has been applauded for his prompt action, was due to be the fourth official at Molineux on Sunday but withdraw on the advice of a psychologist who works for Professional Game Match Officials Limited.

In an unsavoury incident totally out of keeping with the support that Muamba has received, a 21-year-old man from south Wales has been arrested after allegedly making racist remarks on Twitter relating to the Bolton player.


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