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Fabrice Muamba: A true fighter on and off the field

A tribute on Fabrice Muamba who was a true fighter on and off the field.

Fabrice Muamba, after retirement, with his son, Joshua.

News emerged recently of Fabrice Muamba embarking on a career in sports journalism. He is making a foray into the media at the young age of 26, after his career was unfortunately cut short a couple of years back due to a cardiac arrest on the football pitch in a FA Cup game between Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur. Thankfully, he is healthy once again, and he is looking to forge a new life professionally. If anyone could’ve come out unscathed after suffering a setback which compelled him to retire from football for good, it was him.

Fabrice Muamba was born in Kinshasa, the capital of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). His early life was riddled with tribulations, as a result of the civil war that had afflicted Congo and many other parts of Africa in the 1990s. To give you an idea of how bad the situation was, Muamba couldn’t even have a kickabout with his mates. “It stopped us going out to play football, because we were scared we would get killed. One or two of my friends were hurt,” he said.

The Civil war in Congo in the 1990s devastated the country, with an estimated 5.4 million people losing their lives and is sometimes referred to as the “African world war” because it involved nine African nations and twenty armed groups. It was a stroke of luck that the Muamba family wasn’t among those to have lost their lives in the war. The Muamba senior, Marcel, worked as an adviser to the country’s then prime minister and had to flee the country for his life after rebellious forces started closing in on the capital city.

Father Marcel, before flying to London with the intention of seeking political asylum in Britain, took refuge in his brother’s home, Ilunga, who was later killed for protecting him. It was only in December 1999 that Fabrice, aged 11, got to meet his father once again, after Fabrice, along with the rest of the family, moved to London to rejoin his father.

Life in London for Fabrice was a far cry from the shots of gunfires and genocides he encountered in his home country of Congo. He adapted very quickly to the new surroundings in England and was soon seen excelling in his new school in Walthamstow, east London. He was academically adept: despite not knowing English when arriving in the country, he went on to achieve 10 GCSEs and A-levels in English as well as French and Mathematics.

While it is clear that he was a bright student and could have gone down an academic path if he wished to do so, Fabrice’s true calling was football. He showed an inclination towards football from the outset and was being watched by a host of Premier League scouts, before being picked up by Arsenal’s scouts in 2002 to train with their youth team.

He signed for the club’s academy in 2004, but Arsenal’s fantastic first team at the time meant that Muamba found his opportunities limited. As a result, Muamba decided to move on loan to Birmingham City. Despite still only being a teenager, he was an imposing presence in Birmingham’s midfield and was starting to dictate games from midfield. His impressive performances for Birmingham City meant that they couldn’t resist from signing him on a permanent basis. It was at about this time that Muamba made his England Under-21 debut, which he went on to represent 33 times. But another setback followed when Birmingham were relegated from the Premier League. This meant that Muamba, for a player of his quality, was in search of a club plying their trade in the Premier League.

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