LET’S get a few things clear before I begin, because some people are going to take this the wrong way. Experience tells me that they always do.
I do not know Fabrice Muamba, but by all accounts he is an exemplary young man.
The circumstances of his sudden collapse in the middle of a high profile game of football on Saturday afternoon were shocking, sobering, saddening.
Everyone involved – other players, the referee, the crowd, the first aid teams – acted with creditable presence of mind, restraint and respect.
And it goes without saying that I sincerely hope that the Bolton and England star recovers to full health.
But... here’s the but. When I first became aware of his plight, what was my first reaction?
There was a bit of sober reflection, a realisation that life is fragile, some metaphorical finger crossing on his behalf, and, I’ll admit, some silent hope that nothing similar ever visits itself on me and mine.
But it certainly wasn’t to go straight on a social networking site and tell the world how upset I was.
Nor did I believe that it would be productive or appropriate for me to urge others to pray for the stricken midfielder.
You may have seen that one boneheaded Twitter user has been arrested for the offensive remarks he made about the incident. It’s wrong to describe what he wrote as racially offensive – his appalling outpouring of bile was offensive to anyone who considers themselves to be a human being, whatever their background or skin shade.
But I felt almost as queasy about the sudden pious pleas emanating from young millionaires who haven’t previously shown themselves to be of a religious persuasion, and many of whom would have been unlikely to have been in attendance at their local church the following morning.
There they were, though, the more computer-savvy of the football fraternity, urgently calling on the rest of us to offer our pleas for divine intercession to heaven.
The fans followed suit, quickly followed by those with only a passing interest in the game, who most probably had never heard of Fabrice Muamba but wanted to be seen to be saying something.
I’m sure they had the best intentions, but if all of the people who quickly jumped aboard the ‘pray for him’ bandwagon are such profound believers in the power of prayer, wouldn’t they have been better advised to get on their knees and start praying, rather than expressing how upset they were in 140 characters or fewer?
It may just be me, but if a priest or other qualified person urges me to pray, I’ll certainly think about it.
I might not believe there’s anyone up there to listen, but you never know, they’re the experts and it can’t do any harm.
But Twitter users would be better advised to restrict themselves to posting pictures of cats in sinks and tasteless jokes about celebrities, rather than muscling in on serious territory where they don’t really belong.