While the press revels in the judgement that allows them to carry on with kiss and tell stories about footballers (provided they are England captain it would seem) I would like to focus not on Rio Ferdinand but on Robert Enke.
He was the German goalkeeper who killed himself after a long battle with depression, panic attacks and anxiety, much of it seemingly rooted in fear of failure.
His story is now told in a book written with the co-operation of Enke’s family, by a close friend Ronald Reng, and even if you don’t love football as much as I do, it really is worth a read.
When I wrote my first novel, All In The Mind, which is about mental illness, one of the comments which meant the most to me was from friend and colleague Charlie Falconer, who said it really helped him understand what depression must be like. For people who don’t get depression, why should they understand? But until most of us do understand, it is unlikely depression will get the attention and understanding it merits.
So books like ‘A Life Too Short,‘ (Yellow Jersey Press), which set out in real detail Enke’s life and death, and his battle with the demons raging inside his mind and body, will hopefully help more people see that depression is not a fad, not a lifestyle choice, not even a question of being fed up from time to time, but an illness that can have the most horrific consequences.
I mentioned his fear of failure. But football is a macho world, and there is also the fear of his team-mates and colleagues thinking him weak. And when he and his wife Teresa lose a child, and go on to adopt, there is the fear the authorities won’t let them keep their new daughter if they know about his illness. All this helps reinforce the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.
It is a very moving story, well told, not least because we see so much from his wife’s perspective as well. There is one poignant passage where she makes him promise her that he will never kill himself. It is all the more powerful because of course we know the ending. He clearly adored his wife and yet even that, and the hurt he knew he would cause, could not in the end stop him from taking his life. If anything should stop and make us think about the power of depression, that should.
## coincidentally, this came in on my blog this morning …
Alastair, thought you might be interested in this, from the FC United of Manchester fans website:
The North West Mental Health Football League promotes football for people dealing with mental health issues in their lives.
Up to a third of us experience some level of mental health problems. Football is not only great exercise but is a way of overcoming the stigma that can result.
A six-a-side tournament is taking place on Thursday 22nd of September from 12 noon to 3pm with teams from Greater Manchester the North West and further afield. The venue is Power League near the Trafford Centre.
FC United are supporting this tournament and one of our players will be
presenting the trophy. Anyone is welcome to attend.
For more details email:
ps, well done Shamrock Rovers fans last night. I have rarely seen or heard such fantastic 90 minute support