You don’t watch a footballer in action and think: ‘I wonder if he is suffering.’ You might yell… ‘Pull your finger out!’ But we can be forgiven for not realising a high profile player is suffering from a mental illness.
I recall how Stan Collymore was mocked by a former manager, John Gregory. I have no case to make for how Collymore conducted himself in his personal life, or very public relationships. But the scorn Gregory and others heaped on him when he stated he was suffering from depression was so typical of the attitude towards mental health at that time.
Radio phone-in shows trying to shed light on such illnesses were victim to travelling salesmen pulling their cars over on the hard shoulder and belching out instructions to the sufferers: “Pull yourself together”… “Man up”… “Snap out of it.”
Footballers are only human beings. No, really. I know some of them act as though they are a superior race to us mere mortals, but when illness comes calling it doesn’t care how famous, talented or wealthy you are. Especially when that illness is clinical depression.
Robert Enke was a top goalkeeper for Germany, Borussia Monchengladbach, Benfica and Barcelona. But depression followed him around the world. He lived in that ‘fog’ so many sufferers speak of. His family, especially his wife, supported and cajoled him. But it was not enough.
In November 2009 he could deal with it no longer. He stepped in front of a passing train.
By then he’d been working with a journalist and friend, Ronald Reng. They were writing a book together. But Reng did not know what Enke was going through.
A Life Too Short: the tragedy of Robert Enke, rightly won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award in 2011. It is a must read book for anyone who likes football, or cares about mental illness and how it is portrayed in the media and wider world.
Here I talk to the author about the life and death of Robert Enke.