For a world gone awry, this was a tentative but a huge step back to normality. The spectators were once again in the stands, the Euro 2020- a year late, was the biggest high profile international tournament since the pandemic. The excitement was just starting to build, but day 2 took us right back to our learning over the last many months- that life is fragile.
The clock was ticking to the end of the first half of the Denmark vs Finland match and a player was down- not unusual on a football field and definitely normal if Ronaldo or Neymar are playing, but this was different.
Near the touchline, Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen went face down so quickly that it took moments to realise there had been no contact with the ball. ‘What just happened?’ stunned players, supporters at the Copenhagen stadium and fans at home all collectively fell silent just 24 hours after the tournament started as they tried to make sense of what was unfolding in front of their eyes. It was brutal.
A game of quick reflexes
Football is all about quick reflexes, but the Danish team proved that on the rare occasion it was needed even off sport, they still had it. Their captain was even faster- showing us that leadership is not just on the field and that the number 4 jersey will not be forgotten easily. Simon Kjaer asked his shocked teammates to shield Eriksen who was lying motionless on the field away from curious eyes.
Visibly distressed, the players made a circle of red around Eriksen- an image that is now embedded in football fans- while holding on to each other, some hiding their tears in their jerseys others just not meeting the eyes. If ever teamwork needs to be defined, this is it.
Kjaer stayed focused, simultaneously giving the player CPR after making sure that the former Spurs player was not in a position to swallow his tongue. His quick reaction has possibly helped saved Eriksen’s life, as medics- in the forefront for the last year and a half once again showed with their prompt response how they remain the underrated heroes. Experts say, it is not easy to save a life in this condition away from the support system of a hospital.
There are many images from the match that will remain indelible. Finland fans nearby giving their national flag for Eriksen to be covered from prying eyes as the medics worked on him with defibrillation, showed us how football is universal.
And this is how the 29-year-old player was wheeled out, by many accounts Eriksen was conscious when he fell but moments later had a cardiac arrest.
If the Danish teammates were in tears as the captain consoled Eriksen’s distraught wife, the players from Finland who were making their debut at the Euro were not far behind. Not a leaf or a supporter moved in the stadium even when it was announced that the match had been suspended. Instead, the fans collectively kept chanting Christian Eriksen’s name.
Football last night was not just a game.
Awake and stable
When the news flashed that Eriksen was ‘awake’ and stable, it was almost as though the goal of the tournament had been scored. It was. Later when Finland actually scored a goal- the first by the country in an international match, there were no celebrations. You give respect, you get respect- everyone was in this together.
The match restarted only reportedly after a FaceTime call by Eriksen to his team asking them to finish it for him. The Finland team applauded as Kjaer led his sober team back on the field but their heart wasn’t in it even if the legs gave a semblance of keeping up.
They lost a penalty and the match, but they were already the winners. Danish Football officials say the team was emotionally wrecked after Eriksen’s collapse and continue to receive ‘crisis assistance.’
What happened in Copenhagen had reactions across the football fraternity. In St Petersburg, his Inter Milan teammate Romelu Lukaku cried before the Belgium- Russia match and then scored a goal, the motivation perhaps to dedicate it to Eriksen whose name he shouted emotionally into the cameras.
From the quick medical assistance to the referee stopping the game within seconds, many things worked on Saturday to save Eriksen’s life. But there was also one big jarring point- the cameras. Even as his teammates tried to shield him, broadcasters zoomed in, showing footage of efforts being made to revive the player, with his distressed wife nearby.
Immense intrusion of dignity
This when fans in the stadium looked away out of respect even though they had visibility. On the BBC, Gary Linekar apologised for this immense intrusion of dignity but did add that they were helpless as it was the Uefa feed. The TRP race has a lot to answer for and the channel always had the option to cut out to the studio.
Here we were in the midst of a scene that had shaken more than the sporting world, and this is not how it should have played out.
In 2012, Fabrice Muamba also suffered a cardiac arrest during an FA Cup match. His heart stopped for 78 minutes and although he recovered, as per medical advice he retired from the game.
For now, Eriksen is undergoing further tests- to know what really happened in those minutes and experts say the reason why, may define if the Danish player will play professional football again or not.
When asked how he was feeling after his loss to Djokovic in the French Open semi-final recently, Nadal answered, “it was just a game.” On a night to remember we learnt that life lesson again- there were emotions and humanity, it was more than just for the love of a game. And it felt right to be a football fan.