BOLTON WANDERERS were a deeply distraught club last night and, with Fabrice Muamba still critically ill following his collapse on the White Hart Lane pitch on Saturday, are by no means certain that they wish to maintain their involvement in this season's FA Cup.
Wanderers, whose game at Aston Villa tomorrow night has already been called off, are due to face Tottenham again in the rematch next week.
The situation regarding the re-scheduled tie is fluid and much depends on whether 23-year-old Muamba comes through at the London Chest Hospital -- an outcome which the football world collectively willed to happen in a huge show of support yesterday.
However, the psychological effect of returning to the same stadium, only nine days after such a desperate event, may simply be too much to bear.
Manager Owen Coyle may urge his club not to put his players through that.
The English FA will talk to Bolton early this week -- possibly as early as today -- about the quarter-final tie.
In the event of a Bolton withdrawal, Spurs would be given a bye into a Wembley semi-final with Chelsea as a result.
It is unlikely that Bolton would face any kind of penalty if they opt to withdraw. More immediately, they face a critical relegation fight with local rivals Blackburn Rovers next Saturday. A decision on that game will be taken soon.
Muamba was still fighting for his life last night, with the many uncertainties including the question of whether he has sustained any brain damage.
Although it was reported locally in Bolton that Muamba's heart had stopped for two hours on Saturday, there has been no confirmation of this, although a joint statement released by the club and hospital confirmed that his heart was restarted after he had left White Hart Lane.
The statement added that the England U-21 international remained "anaesthetised" and it is when the heart is asked to do its own work, rather than be artificially helped by adrenalin, that more will be known about his capacity to pull through.
Bolton manager Coyle revealed that the next 24 hours would be "crucial" for Muamba, with doctors more likely to be in a position to assess his reliance on medication following prolonged treatment.
Coyle, who remained at Muamba's bedside with club chairman Phil Gartside for lengthy periods yesterday, insisted that the postponement of the Villa game was a necessity.
"The players wouldn't be in any fit state to play the game," Coyle said.
"Football pales into insignificance at a time like this, and it is vital we concentrate our efforts on Fabrice right now.
"The support that has been offered has been nothing short of outstanding. It is such a difficult and emotional time for Fabrice's family and our thoughts and prayers are with them.
"It is important we stay strong. Bolton Wanderers is a family club and the response over the last day or so completely ties up with that."
Tributes to Muamba have been widespread, with many team-mates and rival players tweeting their thoughts, and Coyle revealed that the England U-21 midfielder's character off the pitch tallies with the sentiments being offered.
Coyle said: "It is all well and good having a God-given gift and being a great footballer, which Fabrice certainly is, but it is more important to be a good person.
"Fab is a wonderful lad, with a great sense of humour and a beautiful smile and he is well liked by anyone who has come in contact with him.
"Everybody is praying for Fabrice, which is very important, and that has been a real source of strength to the family. We certainly hope he comes through this.
"Our concern is Fabrice and Fabrice only and that's what all our energy is going into -- hopefully a happy outcome."
Gartside added: "The support that we had from Tottenham and our own fans was fantastic -- the staff, the fans, the players and the officials at the game. It was unbelievable."
Muamba emigrated to Britain from the DR Congo at the age of 11 with his mother Gertrude and arrived in east London equipped with just four words of English: "Hello, how are you?"
This journey into the unknown had been a better option than staying in Africa, where his father's political allegiance to President Mobutu had put his family in danger.
Muamba joined the Arsenal academy in 2002 and was given a great deal of support by Arsene Wenger as he struggled to settle in.
He recalled in a recent interview how he confessed to Wenger that he was worried about catching the right train to the training ground and about how to use an Oyster card.
Boosted by Wenger's encouragement, Muamba stuck at it and, apart from developing as a footballer, he thrived academically.
"I don't really speak about my life that much," said Muamba in the summer.
"If you ask me, I'll tell you. If you don't ask me, I'll just carry on. That's how it is. Whenever I talk about it, people seem to ask me what is the truth? People just see the cars and stuff. I'm sure other African players have been through similar."
For Muamba, the boy who came to London on a cold December night, his is the great immigrant success story. Waiting while he fights for his life will be unbearable for his family, his friends and his team-mates.
Yet they should know that in his own way, he has already blazed a trail that so many will be grateful to follow. (© Independent News Service)