A huge roar of “Come on!” reverberates around White Hart Lane. It is an FA Cup quarter-final with the winner heading to Wembley. But there is no football going on. Instead a chant of Fabrice Muamba is sang from fans of both sides.
The Bolton midfielder collapsed after 41 minutes of the match. Muamba fell to the ground nowhere near the ball. Like a tree trunk he just dropped. Rafael van der Vaart, the Spurs midfielder, was the first to frantically urge medics to attend to the player. A defibrillator was used on the pitch. CPR was performed in front of the sell-out crowd. Pictures of the incident and the reaction of fans quickly spread around the world.
In effect, Muamba was dead for 78 minutes. But the effective CPR on the pitch, as well as the prompt medical support of the London ambulance service, saved the life of the former England under-21 midfielder. In the weeks that followed, defibrillator and heart condition were two of the most used words in the football. It was an issue that was now at the forefront of sport’s fans minds across the world.
Just a month later, however, the world was not watching. Pescara took on Livorno. It was fourth up against 16th in the Italian second tier. Even those who were in attendance at the Stadio Adriatico initially failed to notice what had happened.
It was horribly familiar. Pieromario Morosini fell to the ground away from the action. He did, unlike Muamba, attempt to get up. He managed climb up to his knees before collapsing again. He was fighting for his life. What followed next proved costly.
A car had been left unattended, blocking the entrance to the pitch for the ambulance. Morosini’s path to the nearby Santo Spirito hospital was thus delayed. Although, like in the Muamba case, a fan in the crowd, who happened to be a doctor, rushed to provide immediate medical care, it was not enough. Morosini was declared dead at the hospital, 90 minutes after he collapsed. He was just 25-years-old.
As the tragic news broke, the Italian Football Federation cancelled all remaining professional games that weekend. The players at San Siro ahead of Milan vs Genoa were warming up when the decision was made. For someone so full of life and an athlete at the top of his game to die playing football, it was incomprehensible. Among the Calcio community, Morosini was much loved.
Like many promising players in the Italian game, Morosini had learnt his trade at the famed Atalanta youth academy, Centro Sportivo Bortolotti. He was at Udinese from 2005, playing for numerous sides and representing the Azzurri at under-17 to under-21 level.
Giampaolo Pozzo, the Udinese owner, described him as the “model professional”. His social media accounts were a testament to his good and fun-loving nature. He was often pictured with his dog, or his girlfriend Anna Vavassori, a volleyball player from Bergamo, whom he was planing to spend his future with. This was all in spite of the personal tragedies that had beset him during his adolescence.
His mother died when he was just 15-years-old. Two years later, his father passed away. In between both his parents dying, his disabled brother committed suicide. Morosini’s life had been turned upside down while he was still a teenager. He was left with his sister, who was also severely disabled and needed constant care. But despite the heartache, Morosini was determined to be happy and make his family proud.
“I often asked myself why all this happened to me but that just made it hurt more,” he said. “Life must goes on. These are things that give you the drive to do everything you can. I want to be a great footballer for them, more than anything, because I know how happy they would be.”
Morosini’s death was the first of its type in Italy since 1977. Renato Curi was playing for Perugia when he collapsed and died. In the decades since, the Italian Football Federation were proud to proclaim that players, such as former Inter forward Nwankwo Kanu, had been screened and been obliged to take a break from football to undergo heart surgery following the results of the enforced tests.
The questions, therefore, in the immediate aftermath of Morosini’s death were centred on the emergency response. Why was the path of the ambulance blocked? Should there have been a cardiologist at the ground? Was the defibrillator available quickly enough? The answers were provided over fours years after the event.
In September 2016, the three doctors who treated Morosini, were given suspended prison sentences of up to a year after being found guilty of manslaughter. Emergency Doctor Vito Molfese, Livorno Club Doctor Manlio Porcellini and Pescara Club Doctor were accused of failing to comply with medical protocol. None of them used a defibrillator despite there being two at the side of the pitch and a third in the ambulance. As the prosecutors said: “We will never know whether Morosini would still be alive now. But it is not acceptable that those who had a duty to act did not do so appropriately.”
Just months before this verdict, Fabrice Muamba had made his first return to a football pitch. He scored in a charity match at Bolton fours years after his enforced retirement. Since then, Muamba has gone on to become one of the most respected men in the British game. He has spoken at length about his ordeal and is an ambassador for the Professional Footballers’ Association. He has also become a qualified coach, journalist and best-selling author. The remarkable recovery of Muamba and his incredible life post-football brings into sharpe focus the loss of Morosini.
Questions will always remain as to whether more could have been done. They need to be asked to help prevent another tragic loss of life occurring on the football field. But they will never re-write what happened on 14th April 2012. A date that should be considered one of the darkest days in Calcio history.
Morosini will always be remembered for his smile and bubbly personality. He was a warm and bright young man who tragically died doing what he loved and trying to make his family proud. For that, his memory and his legacy are indelible.
Piermario Morosini riposa in pace
Words by Richard Hinman: @RichardHinman