Euro 2020: When football witnesses a life and death situation

ANYONE watching the Denmark versus Finland group game, in the stadium or on TV, probably came away vowing never to listen to anyone who claims football is more important than life or death. 

It’s hard, even four or five days later, to erase the images of Christian Eriksen struggling for life and the reaction of his team-mates, distraught and tearful as they shielded their friend from prying eyes. Whatever happens in the rest of the tournament, the abiding memory of Euro 2020 will surely be Christian Eriksen.

Watching somebody’s life or death moment is harrowing, it also encroaches on a very private moment that really shouldn’t be shared with the rest of the world. Only a couple of months ago, I was involved in an incident where an elderly fellow went crashing to the floor across the road from me as I walked into town. There was a thud, a crack and a cry for help from his wife, as blood ran into the road. I ran across to help and he looked dead – his wife thought so, too. 

However, the emergency services came and 10 minutes later, they were still attempting to revive him. I think he died as I was ushered away by the police. This sad affair stayed with me for the rest of the day, indeed the entire week. Christian Eriksen’s fight for life was one of those moments. People were very shaken up. You didn’t want to look, but you didn’t want to look away as it felt as though we were all with him, rooting for his recovery. 

Happily, oh so very happily, he pulled through and although his playing days may be over, he’s young enough to have a rich, fulfilling career and family life. In subsequent games, it is noticeable that when a player goes down, people are just that little bit more wary. This is likely to be a lasting hangover from this confusing summer.

The fans were marvellous, an example to the fruit-cakes that often prowl the streets when there’s a major competition in progress. I’m biased, of course, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from Danes and Finns. 

For football, it’s another question mark about the safety of the game and the well-being of those that play it. We’ve learned from our mistakes when it comes to crowds, their safety and security, but increasingly, there are concerns about players and how well they are protected from danger.

For some years, the issue about dementia and heading the ball has come to the fore. More and more, we hear of players dying with Alzheimer’s or similar conditions. In days of old, when footballs weighed a lot more than they do today, constant heading of the ball could leave the mark of the laces on your forehead. There’s a lot of research being done, but you do get the feeling tthere’s a reluctance to admit that constantly thudding the head with a leather ball can cause neurological damage. 

You can only assume that Christian Eriksen is/was a very healthy and fit individual. Equally, the tests and precautions that professional players undergo must be considerable. Good health is not something anyone can take for granted, not even finely-tuned sportsmen and sportswomen. But when a body is constantly under stress, there must be risks, both visible and hidden. It is feasible that going forward, club medical teams are going to pay even more attention to the physiology of their players.

What was surprising and somewhat disappointing was UEFA’s reaction. With so much emphasis on mental health in the modern game, did they not think that Denmark (and Finland) might be affected by what they had witnessed? To go ahead with the game, some two hours later, with players still shell-shocked, was foolhardy and unnecessary. Do they never factor in disruption? Does football ever factor in anything going wrong on or off the pitch? I think we know the answer.

Meanwhile, Christian Eriksen continues to recover. We’re pleased.


Photo: ALAMY

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