Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughFootball and depression - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Football and depression - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Football and depression

It’s fair to say that 99% of football fans would trade their day job for the glitz and glamour of the world’s most popular sport. The money, the fame, the worldwide recognition from every quarter of the globe is exactly what fans dream of it the modern day. Picking up a weekly pay packet that most fans would struggle to pick up over a five-year period would be enough to sway any supporter to trade in their day job.

With such a superb lifestyle coupled with the financial security for life, it’s a safe bet that any footballer would be happy reaping the rewards of the beautiful game. But, underneath all the glory, footballers are only human and, therefore, still suffer the ups and downs that every person on this planet feels.

The news broke around midday on Sunday (27th November) about Gary Speed passing away at the age of 42. Having been found in the early hours of the morning by police, reportedly hanging in his house, it was hard to get away from the devastating news about his sad passing. This was a player that many people in the 20’s/30’s had grown up watching and admiring, making over 500 Premier League appearances.

I don’t support any of the teams he played for but just by watching him over the years, fans got the impression he came across as a well-educated, down to earth and sincere gentleman, both on and off the pitch. Well respected throughout the footballing, evidenced by the tributes pouring in following the saddening news, it also highlighted a world renowned problem that is still rife and can affect anyone at any time.

Depression is a serious illness that can strike any human throughout their life. I’m not saying that Speed ended his because of depression, far from it in fact. But, it is still a potentially life-destroying problem that can strike anybody. I have been on the wrong end of depression many times and I have, admittedly, come close to ending everything.

It is a harrowing thought looking back it in, but at the time, it felt like the only thing I could do. Many believe that, living the life of a footballer and the money and fame that comes with it, depression would be the last thing that would play on their minds. But, footballers are only human like you, like me and like everyone on this planet.

You only have to look back on the tragic death of former German international goalkeeper Robert Enke in 2009. It had been reported that the 2008/09 Bundesliga goalkeeper of the year had been suffering from the disease since 2003 and, up until the point of his death, had struggled with the problem since 2006.

Furthermore, Chris Schelstraete, a Belgian assistant referee, had attempted to commit suicide on Saturday (26th November) shortly before the second division match between Tubize and FC Brussels kicked off, while a week before that, Babak Rafati, an official in the German Bundesliga, had also tried to end his life just minutes prior to the Cologne – Mainz fixture.

Fortunately, both men survived while the two matches were subsequently postponed. But it highlights the sheer scale of depression and what it can do if left untreated. So what if the aforementioned quartet were highly respected in their professions and set for life even after all was said and done, for all we know they could have been suffering deep-down with the illness.

TalkSPORT’s Stan Collymore is another former professional who has suffered with depression, before the former Aston Villa and Liverpool striker commented on his past experiences with the illness through Twitter. It was on Saturday, in fact, that he admitted to feeling his lowest for some time and, credit to the former front-man, noted down his experiences as a way of helping others when they feel that nothing is worth living for anymore.

It goes to show that even if a footballer, either current or even former, has everything good going for them both on and off the field; they could still be suffering from the illness. Many across the media have been assuring fans that Speed looked fine on Saturday ahead of his appearance on football focus, laughing and chatting with the likes of Dan Walker and Alan Shearer but how does any one of us know how he was feeling away from his friends or the cameras?

How knows what Speed was coping with away from the cameras and none of us will ever know. But, it goes to show how depression can affect anyone at any time, regardless of profession. The pressure that comes with the game, both as a player and a manager, can perhaps be too much sometimes for any individual to comprehend.

Whether it was depression that got the better of Speed is anyone’s guess but while many are speculating as to the reason for his suicide, many more still suffer from the illness. The power of which it has to take a stranglehold of anybody’s life is terrifying and can lead to self-harm or worse.

For those that believe that footballers have it easy with the money associated with the game do have a point but only to a certain extent. You can have all the money in the world, be the world’s greatest footballer and be admired and envied by millions but still feel like you’ve hit rock bottom.

When all is said and done however, my thoughts go out to Gary Speed, his family and friends and the fans of the teams he played for. A true gentleman off the pitch, as he was on it and one man to be considered a Premier League legend.

R.I.P Gary Speed (1969 – 2011)

Ben McAleer

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