Howard Webb warns players who fake injury on pitch after Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba cardiac arrest

By Dean Wilkins

Howard Webb is warning players about faking injuries on field after Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest.

England’s top official, who refereed the FA Cup tie between Wanderers and Spurs in March when Muamaba collapsed, said the incident had had a lasting impact on him.

Webb warned the players who feign injuries make officials reluctant to stop games as they are unsure if they are ‘crying wolf’.

Webb said: “I turned and saw Fabrice Muamba lying face down on the floor with no-one else nearby – this was clearly a major concern and clearly something more than a normal injury.

“The fact that he wasn’t rolling around screaming in agony, the way he went down with no contact, meant immediately it was serious. And it was not only me, the players recognised it. You see William Gallas’ reaction, an opposing player, immediately waving to the bench to come on.

“If the game had not been stopped within 20 or 30 seconds, that might have made a difference to his chances of recovery.

“One of our obligations as a referee is to try and observe fair play and keep the game flowing when we can. But, if players cry wolf too many times, then there is a possibility that maybe we will not react in the way we need to do based on what we saw there.

“If we come under criticism for stopping the games too many times for doctors or physios to enter the field of play then referees might be inclined not to stop the game.

“I’m not saying it’s a particularly big problem but I have seen games stopped where players weren’t as seriously injured as they would have you believe and that is an issue when you are dealing with something as serious as this.”

Webb said that the horrifying event has had a lasting effect on him.

“The sensation I got was that the crowd was pushing with [Bolton’s doctor] Jonathan Tobin and his colleagues to get Fabrice Muamba’s heart going,” he said.

“It was amazing, absolutely astonishing. It was just the most unbelievable crowd reaction I have ever experienced in football and thinking about it now makes me feel emotional.

“It just puts things into perspective. The game is important, the result is important and it does affect people’s livelihoods, we are reminded of that on a regular basis – but without life there is no football at all.”

Webb said it was agonising waiting for the news and described Muamba’s recovery as a miracle.

“There was a numb sensation about what you’d witnessed, what you’ve seen,” he said. “We thought it was a slim hope that he would pull through.

“No news was good news as I was going back up the motorway, toward to the north of England, back home. I was listening to the bulletins.

“The next morning, still no news and we thought ‘Wow, this is maybe a good sign’.

“That he has made the recovery he has now is an unbelievable miracle.”

FIFA revealed that 84 footballers have suffered cardiac arrests while playing during the last five years, according to a recent study.

And FIFA’s medical committee chairman Michel D’Hooghe said the incident at White Hart Lane proved there is need for a defibrillator to be available at all games.

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