We should not need tragedies such as Gary Speed or Robert Enke to show us that depression in football is a very serious problem. While many would argue that depression is an epidemic of society and that no one individual institution is more affected than another, the problem is so vast and unique to each person that it cannot be simply dealt with in general terms. Each institution has a responsibility to provide assistance to any of those suffering from the horrific disease.
On the 27th of November 2011, the footballing world learned of the tragic and untimely death of the former Wales manager Gary Speed, at just 42. The news was announced shortly before the Swansea vs Aston Villa match, and football suddenly became irrelevant. Such a huge figure in the game and a seemingly happy individual, it came as a shock to the footballing world and beyond. The un-discriminatory nature of the disease is why it is so difficult to treat but Speeds death in tragic circumstances showed us the ability of the footballing world to come together in support of eachother. However, such traits should be exemplified more often and not only in such circumstances.
Suicide is not the only crisis that is caused by depression. We have seen the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Kenny Samson turn to alcohol and soon the astronomical wages earned as a professional footballer evaporate very quickly. The glamorous life of footballer can be difficult after retirement. Most footballer’s have not done a college degree and some may not even have completed second level and this can lead to a struggle for employment after their footballing career is over. While alcoholism often slips under the radar when compared to issues such as suicide, its effects on its victim are tragic. In the case of Paul Gascoigne, his problems started before retirement and the media backlash that ensued and the negative attention he received would have worsened matters. Despite his attempts to improve his condition, his problems have ultimately persisted. It is sad to see such a talented footballer be driven toward such measures and the debilitating effect on his body are becoming more obvious to see. Football has to take more responsibly for people such as Paul Gascoigne.
In the modern age, most Premiership footballers use Twitter and meeting the fans on the bus on the way to the game is now unheard of in the 21st century. Such meetings have been replaced with social media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram. While these hold certain advantages such as the fact that fans can keep up with their favorite players, it allows fans to vent their frustrations towards individuals and their anger can often come out in abusive and deeply personal ways. Current Everton and former Manchester United midfielder Darren Gibson joined Twitter only to be greeted with a torrent of abuse from disgruntled fans. His stay on the site did not last long. It is easy to go the route of ‘he can cope with it, he earns 40 thousand a week’ but it is important to remember that no matter how much money a person earns, they are still human beings. Those that are responsible for such abuse have little regard for the effect their words have on their victim and while often their frustration is understandable, there is no excuse for the personal and brutal abuse of individuals not matter whether they are playing to the standard craved by the fans or not.
Football is not renowned for its sensitivity and compassion but in an era where it is a multi-billion industry, it must show its more understanding side. Depression can affect anybody, even those that are apparently ‘living the dream’. Depression is everywhere and football is no exception. Much emphasis is placed and results and performances but we must look past these when it comes to depression. Nobody should be expected to be tough when they do not feel though and nobody should have to fight alone. Football has to remember that it is a community and we must be united in our fight against this terrible disease.