When Fabrice Muamba fell to the White Hart Lane pitch there were a few who perhaps felt it resonate more than most. A young man struck down without warning, bringing unwelcome thoughts of the passing of a friend, and a reminder that death is not a curse on only the elderly or sick. In an increasingly cynical age, when grief is treated as a weakness and the internet is overburdened by angry ignorance intent on disgusting the decent, when any expression of grief as likely to meet condescension as condolences, those minutes and the following days also reminded us that death is not something to be treated with disdain. Life is not a divine right and should be treated as the precious gift it is, and words on a screen can become so much more than a 140 character message.
I’m really sorry to be the bearer of bad news here, but I woke up to a message from Edd’s friend Kenny (he’s been to a few games so some of you may have met him) which said:
I’m not sure if you’ve heard already and I’m really sad to pass on this message like this, but Edd died today (20th) I know he had a lot Spurs friends would be really good if you could inform them all
Those are the words that told a group of Spurs fans that one of their own was gone. On the 21st of June 2010 we learned that, on the previous afternoon, Eddshrinker had a heart attack and had died instantly. It was his 28th birthday. We would later learn that he suffered from an undiscovered heart condition, one that would never have been found unless specifically looking for it and something that could not have realistically been prevented.
Nothing can prepare you for that moment. I’ve lost family members but predominantly to old age or disease. This was incomparable. Surreal, confusing and overwhelming. It takes over your world and your thoughts and you cling on to the hope that it is all a terrible mistake. And another feeling sits amongst the bafflement: the sense that this grief isn’t yours to have. I had met the man on a handful of occasions, yet my sadness was that of someone who had lost a great friend. I had come to know him through a Spurs forum, upon which the vast majority of my exchanges with him had taken place. A private den created for conversations amongst decent folk, the numbers were limited through choice and created a happy community. But, the truth of the matter is, for many of us Edd was what some would disparagingly call an “internet friend”, with all the sneering implications that such a phrase entails. Yet while several of the members had met him many, many times, there was no hierachy of grief; just a universal sense of tragedy. And perhaps that online distance helped maintain the disbelief that this had happened. I know from speaking to others that it didn’t become ‘real’ until the day of the funeral, that definitive moment when hope must be abandoned in favour of painful reality.
That day I met people who, up until that moment, had been words on a screen. Any potential awkwardness was erased by our shared state, any sense of fraudulent grief dissipated by Edd’s incredible family. The service itself was not just the moving affair that one would expect, but rightfully celebratory. For me, two moments will always stand firm in my memory. The first was the story of the night we qualified for the Champions League, when Edd – having spent that anxious evening amongst friends and forummers – arrived home and sat at the foot of his flatmate’s bed, declaring that this was the happiest day of his life. This made the second moment all the more poignant: the playing of the Champions League music that he had waited so long to hear echoing around the Lane. A piece of music that had been nothing to us but a taunt, showing us what we couldn’t reach until only weeks beforehand, now a constant reminder of a lost friend. A season-ticket holder, Spurs were in his blood yet the magic that was to come – the sheer absurdity of Young Boys to the incredulity at Bale’s hat-trick – was something that he wouldn’t get to play a part in. He would no longer take his seat in the south upper and rejoice at our cathedral of glory, never again reel as our defence wobbles and cracks. He would never get to sit proud as that anthemic tune rang out, sending shivers down the spines of 30,000 beaming yids. It was not just our loss: Spurs had lost his presence, his belief, and his relentless support. But, listening to that soaring piece, sadness at his passing combined with happiness at the thought of his joy when that essential victory was sealed.
In the days and weeks that followed his death, we pulled together. Memories were shared, of conversations and moments in time that were now made priceless and irreplaceable. Other people’s memories become entwined with your own; the image of Edd reassuring that Danny Rose would do well during a pre-scum game conversation, and the shared recognition when Rose lashed in; a clip of Edd – an incredibly talented musician – playing Nobody Does It Better, the song now implanted alongside him in my mind; his enjoyment of Only Connect (possibly motivated by something of a fondness for Victoria Coren). It was notable that so many of these stories highlighted his positivity and happy nature; there was no revision of history occurring, just a true reflection of a genuine gentleman. It is difficult to convey what an impact he had without appearing to be overly generous or tastefully editing the facts. But I would have no hesitation in suggesting that, were they to read this, many of his friends would feel that this is an under-appreciation of his truly gregarious and kindly nature as opposed to the repainting of a flawed picture.
Our shared loss became a unifier; we weren’t just brought together by Spurs, but by our pain at the death of a friend. Words on a screen have leapt into reality, and when one of us struggles he is supported by the rest.
His family contacted the club in the hope of having something printed in the programme, and while the club was restricted in terms of what they could and couldn’t do, it was heartwarming to hear that Harry had sent a letter of condolence; the club he loved paying respect to a great supporter and greater man. And among the forum ideas were put forward, ways of this unique group to remember and celebrate their fallen friend, a man who had stood shoulder to shoulder amongst them on the Spurs frontline, always ready to roar their support of the club that they love, the club that beats within all our hearts. The idea had already been mooted that we needed a travelling flag, something to accompany the wanderers that followed Spurs across Europe, and it was agreed that Edd had to be made a part of that nomadic tapestry. The flag is a simple one, bearing a cross upon a white background, THFC, and his name. Those of us at home have seen that flag displayed at far away grounds and have felt the swell of pride that comes with it. If Edd can no longer attend then the flag must do so in his stead. It is as well-travelled as a gap year student, but a lot less offensive. No matter what the game nor the scoreline, the sight of that flag always makes me smile.
And once a year our varied collective gets together on a summer day in that seemingly-endless lull between close season and the return of football, and we do our best to play a game of eleven a-side. The first meeting took place in a London park, a ragtag-looking bunch in printed t-shirts battling for a specially-produced trophy. Second time round and things were a lot more organised. Kits were acquired, the name of our friend displayed proudly on the chest, and the ankle-snapping lumpiness of the park replaced by a full-sized astro pitch. And in the year between, friendships were made and strengthened. Our shared loss became a unifier; we weren’t just brought together by Spurs, but by our pain at the death of a friend.
The annual match is now interspersed with regular games, meetings that are focussed on friendship as much as football. Words on a screen have leapt into reality, and when one of us struggles he is supported by the rest. Our number may have been reduced by one, but our unit is stronger than ever before and although Muamba’s collapse proved traumatic for some, Edd would have been proud of those who stepped up to provide comfort to those in need. As a result of the saddest day that many of us have known, and our collective friendship with a truly great man, a bunch of internet weirdos have developed into a circle of friends and an unbreakable bond. It is fair to say that this is the best tribute we could have possibly paid him as it is a reflection of the kindness he extended to so many. Never one to exclude new faces and always quick to extend the hand of friendship, Edd’s nature has infected us all and leaves a lasting legacy.
Eddshrinker will cheer with us forever. Rest in peace big man.