27th November 2011 was the day the world of football, sport, and life in general, stopped and rubbed its eyes to look again at the news of Gary Speed’s suicide.

Speed had a great playing career, had transformed his national team into a promising candidate for Brazil 2014 qualification. His personal life was going well with his wife and kids all living life without many complaints. Most importantly was the fact that Gary, as is the case with most players discussed later in this article, was a genuinely nice family man who gave everything and anything to help out charity or to give something back to the sport that had given him so many opportunities. Personally, as a football fan, I was speechless and felt out of my comfort zone to see on my television that a man whom I saw the day before on the same station, was gone.

Suicide is a horrible way for someone to leave this earth and it is very hard to get your head round why someone would do that. It’s even harder to comprehend when that person has been in the media and spotlight from football for over 20 years. It showed that this problem in football was still prominent and opened up the eyes of the UK to it.

The problem has always been there , but has been disregarded and when Stan Collymore suffered from depression, his boss at the time, John Gregory, said “what’s he got to be depressed about on 20,000k per week?” It was an attitude shared by the masses and football had turned its back on the issue in the same way it had turned its back on racism in the early 80’s. Collymore was one of the first to point out that you get abuse for being depressed as you are seen as a weaker target by opposition fans. It can also double up on itself. For example, if you are captain of a football club, and come out as being depressed, will the club remove you as captain as you are not seen to be stable and how can you be expected to lead a football club when you cannot even lead yourself?

There have been many cases of those in football being depressed and yet nothing is done about it.

In 1957, a footballing hero of mine, Hughie Gallgher commited suicide in Newcastle after battling depression since his retirement in the mid 30s.

In the 90’s Stan Collymore told the world he was suffering from depression, and was ignored.

At the start of the century, Neil Lennon became depressed and thankfully, managed to pull through despite being one of the most loved & one of the most hated footballers in Northern Europe at the time. Lennon has helped a number of Celtic youngsters through these problems as there is not really anywhere to go.

He said “the worst bit is, you don’t want to talk to anyone, and it eats away at you” “Some of the strongest,
most intelligent, driven individuals
 in the history of the world have suffered from depression.
It usually hits people who are pretty driven.
 I’ve been able to deal with it a lot better since I’ve been able to talk about it.”

Robert Enke was one player who was not lucky enough to have had the support available that Neil had. In 2009  the german keeper jumped in front of a train after openly battling depression for 6 years. The goalkeeper of the year was yet another time when football was shocked to learn of how he had died in Hanover in 2009.Thousands of fans flocked to stadiums where he had played and candles, scarves and goalkeeping gloves where placed in his memory as a nation wept at the loss of the man between their sticks.

Babak Rafati, a Bundesliga referee, cut his wrists in his hotel room hours before he was due to officiate Cologne v Mainz. His linesmen had realised the punctual referee was 20mins late and tried to knock on his hotel room door. After minutes of no reply and knowing he had been going through some things, they got the security to break down the door to find Rafati in his bath tub with his wrists cut open. Rafati was taken to hospital and is now in a clinic where he is receiving therapy for his attempted suicide. He said “I have been suffering for about  a year and a half. The intensity grows, and grows even more. I did not want to talk to anyone about it in case it jeopardised my job”, he added, “I would like to return to refereeing after my therapy as I loved my job”.

All of these people above have given me the same reaction when I learn of the problems they went through. Shock and dismay.

When Dean Windass recently said he had tried to hang himself and overdose himself, I was shocked, but angry. Not at Deano, nor at the media for putting it in the limelight. I was angry at football in general for doing nothing over the years, especially with the suicides of Enke & Speed both within 3 years.

FIFA, UEFA, or the FA have done nothing for this. It has been left up to those who have suffered to put in the hard work and come out with advice and help for others. Of course they are the best to advise fellow professionals, but there is a lack of effort from footballs governing bodies. If it was prime ministers and presidents taking their own life and attempting suicides, I’m sure the house of commons or the US senate would step in and act straight away. Or even a less ridiculous example in that Rugby and Cricket have both set up 100% confidential agencies for players to contact whenever they need help and said agency can help these players from doing something tragic.

One of the ex-players who is giving his time to help fellow professionals is Tony Adams. Inspirational Founder and trustee of Sporting Chance, Tony Adams spends his time helping footballers, rugby players, badminton players and basically any sportsmen to get back on a healthy state of mind.  Tony Adams had well documented problems with drugs and alcohol during his playing days and got through those troubled times with support but realised there was a real lack of support and doubts he would have got any support if he wasn’t at one of the worlds biggest football clubs at the time.

That lack of help is emphasized when the NHS are affected by cuts, and the first things they do is take away most of, or even all, of mental health institutes.

So what changes? The way we perceive players? The lack of help from football? Or are we all guilty for not giving a serious issue its due? What ever the case, it is time for change.

By Simon Bienkowski

Follow him on Twitter @simonbien

Advertisements