“Bad about that Muamba lad isn’t it?” he goes.
“You what?” I say.
“Muamba. Fabrice Muamba. Bolton player. Collapsed. Cardiac arrest, you know?”
“I know who you mean.”
“Bad isn’t it?” he says again.
“I only watched the first twenty minutes of the game and switched it off so when I went on BBC Sport the next morning it was the first I heard of it.”
“He should be alright though shouldn’t he?” I ask.
“I think so, the latest is that he can recognise people and can talk and stuff,” he says.
Then the duck goes quiet, like he’s thinking about something and he comes out with:
“I was just thinking, when something bad happens to an athlete or a sportsman everyone seems to kind of…put their allegiances to one side and just…I don’t know…agree.”
“What do you mean exactly?”
“Well I mean, like with Muamba, I was doing the rounds on the internet…”
“…you’ve got internet access?” I cut in.
“Yeah the wi-fi covers the whole house. Anyway I was doing the rounds on the internet, checking out the forums and the chat rooms and stuff and it struck me that everyone has just kind of come together. Fair enough Bolton don’t exactly inspire much in the way of love or hatred but still, there’s this outpouring of affection for the lad.”
“So? That’s nice isn’t it?” I say searching for the soap under the water.
“Yeah it is. I’m not saying it’s anything other than nice, but one thing that does bother me is; you just know that in a week or two, those same football fans will forget all about this armistice and go at each other’s throats again.”
“But that’s sport isn’t it? ‘Fan’ is just short for fanatical.”
“I know but why can’t they just remember the way they acted towards each other during this brief period of clarity? Why does there need to be this venom, this unrelenting torrent of vitriol? And why does it take Fabrice Muamba to have a heart attack to bring about a ceasefire?”
He dunks his head under the murky water, naturally, like a real duck, shakes his whole body and stares off into the distance. He seems irritated.
“Look,” I say, “don’t get yourself down about it. It’s just the way it is with football supporters.”
“But it’s ridiculous. I’ve heard so many people say stuff like; ‘Oh football is tribal in this country’ and ‘Oh football’s a matter of life and death’ but here’s the thing; it isn’t tribal and it isn’t a matter of life and death.”
“Perhaps not,” I mutter, scrubbing the back of my shoulders with a loofah on a stick.
“There’s no perhaps about it Andrew. People should be nicer. People should try harder to remember to be nice.”
“I know what you’re saying but you’re expectations are too high. People are emotional about their sport.”
“But when things like this happen, people prove they can do it, that they’re capable of thinking and behaving rationally towards one another. They’re just being lazy the rest of the time.” He swims a slow circle and continues: “Ayrton Senna dies right, and people are all like; ‘Oh Ayrton, such a great driver, such a character’ but when he’s alive they’re all; ‘Bloody Senna, what a cheat, too aggressive’. Here’s a question for you,” he says, “Who is Monica Seles?”
“Wasn’t she that tennis lass who got stabbed on court?” The corner of his wide beaks curls up in a wry smile and he says:
“Monica Seles is a nine-time Grand Slam winner. Her titles include the 1990 French Open which she won at the age of sixteen making her the youngest ever champion. She was ranked number one in the world for two years and has been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.”
“So?” I say as I massage some leave-on conditioner into my scalp.
“But you only knew who she was because she was stabbed once.”
“What’s your point?”
“Why do people remember the tragic, ugly and unsavoury aspects of sport rather than the good?”
“Weak excuse. Don’t roll out the human nature argument.”
“So what is the reason for it?”
“I don’t know. I’m just saying it’s not that. Remember Marc-Vivien Foé?”
“Yes, he died on the pitch after collapsing like Muamba.”
“Right, during the semi final of the 2003 Confederations Cup against Colombia. What else do you know about him?”
“Okay but you couldn’t go further than that right?”
“Probably not no.”
“It’s sad isn’t it? I mean even if he makes a full recovery and plays another 15 seasons in the Premier League, Muamba will now always be ‘the guy who collapsed on the pitch’.”
“I guess it is a bit sad.” I say in agreement.
The duck goes stiff and doesn’t say anything more and I know the conversation is over.
Written by Andrew Hatch
Written by Andrew Hatch