When Yorkshire businessman Tony Abbott set off on a 500-mile round trip to watch his beloved football team Tottenham Hotspur play at White Hart Lane, he was on a high. But the journey back was a different story.
According to 41-year-old Tony it was the longest trip of his life and one that still affects him today.
That’s because, the self-made boss of direct marketing company Reactiv, based in Elland, near Halifax, watched Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapse on the pitch.
“I have never been in a place where 30,000 sports fans have had just one thing on their mind ‘please survive’. The journey home with my dad, my son and his friend, was the quietest and coldest place imaginable. Was he dead, was he alive? We just didn’t know,” says Tony who lives in Stainland, Halifax.
Fabrice, 24, suffered a cardiac arrest during the FA Cup quarter-final tie with Tottenham, which was abandoned. He claims he owes his life to the quick actions of the medical team who never gave up on him.
He was given 15 defibrillator shocks before his heartstarted beating again, 78 minutes after it stopped, at the London Chest Hospital, where he spent four weeks in intensive care.
He has now retired from football.
Now dad-of-two Tony is on a mission to turn what happened to Fabrice Muamba into something positive and tomorrow launches a new charity called Heartbeat of Sport at a ball at The Venue, Bowers Mill, Barkisland, Halifax.
The charity already has the support of numerous well-known athletes including Paralympic double gold medal winner Hannah Cockroft from Halifax. She has cerebral palsy after suffering two cardiac arrests at birth, which damaged two different parts of her brain.
“Fabrice’s cardiac arrest had a massive impact on me and it fired me up to do something to help stop this happening to others,” says Tony.
“I want to raise the profile of the life-threatening heart condition, Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) which claims the lives of 250 people a day in the UK alone.”
Sudden Cardiac Arrest is when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating.
It affects people of all ages and fitness levels and if not treated within minutes can be fatal.
Only eight percent of people who suffer SCA survive, worldwide.
However with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and using the right equipment, such as automated external defibrillators (AEDs) a victim’s chance of survival can triple.
Heartbeat of Sport’s goal is to educate and empower people to act during an emergency.
It plans to work closely with both amateur and professional sports clubs and sporting organisations, on a local level first and then in time, nationally.
“We want to educate people about the courses and equipment available and basically make sure someone knows what to do if anyone has a cardiac arrest,” continues Tony.
“I don’t want to see any more lives lost because clubs are in the dark about the condition.”
As as well as being a football fan, Tony is a rugby league supporter.
He is a director of Halifax RLFC and Reactiv are the club’s main sponsors.
He is putting a six-figure sum into the club’s coffers next season which is thought to be the biggest deal in the Co-operative Championships. Reactiv also sponsors Halifax boxer, Liam Walsh.
Halifax rugby player Antony Tonks is patron of the new charity and will work closely with Tony and a board of trustees.
They are already planning a coast-to-coast bike ride and a follow-up ball next year.
Tomorrow’s ball will be attended by around 250 people and has been organised by Tony and Wright Angle Marketing, based at Bowers Mill, Barkisland.
It includes live entertainment, a DJ and a charity auction.
Prizes in the auction include Hannah Cockroft signed Paralympic merchandise and a signed framed picture of boxer Ricky Hatton.
One of the highlights of the ball is the release of a song for the charity called Believe. It has been written by a local band, The French 75’s and will soon be available to download from iTunes.
All the money raised from the record is going to the charity.
Tony, originally from London, set up Reactiv in 2007. The fast-growing multi-million pound business now employs more than 200 staff and recently moved its contact centre to new premises on the Lowfields Business Park, Elland, because it outgrew the Gas Works Lane headquarters. It is creating 90 new jobs at the call centre over the next two months and plans to take on more staff early next year.
Tony recently hit the headlines after being named Britain’s best boss.
He invited his staff to their annual summer jolly and surprised 24 of them by making their dreams come true.
Before the party they had filled out a “wish list” thinking it was a team-building exercise.
But Tony asked a panel of workers to help him decide which wishes to grant. Tony spent around £20,000 of his own money on gifts for his staff .
Along with requests for helicopter lessons, UGG boots, make-up, a 3D TV and driving fast cars round a track, was a plea from Adele Green of Holmfield, Halifax, whose eldest son, Joe, 14, has an incurable heart condition.
She and her husband, Matthew, dreamed of taking Joe and their four other children to Disney World in Florida while he was still healthy enough.
The family is now supporting the launch of the Heartbeat of Sport charity. They will be attending tomorrow night’s ball along with other members of staff.
Thanks to Tony they had their trip-of-a-lifetime holiday this summer.
Joe has a congenital defect that stops blood flowing smoothly around the body.
Because his heart has to work harder, he gets short of breath, tired, and has diabetes.
“I always say when the company does well, so do my workers, from the cleaners to the directors.
“I wanted to show my colleagues that dreams come true. It just takes hard work.”
Anyone who would like more details about the charity or would like to attend the ball can visit www.heartbeat ofsport.org or ring 0844 8330700.