The Soccer Suicides

Gary Speed at left, with fan, less than 24 hours before he killed himself
Gary Speed at left, with fan, less than 24 hours before he killed himself
Robert Enke w/ daughter
Robert Enke w/ daughter
Justin Fashanu
Justin Fashanu

Shadows Creep Across 'The Beautiful Game'

To ninety-nine percent of this planet, soccer is life. It transcends mere sport as a celebration of life, equally accessible to rich and poor, possessing the lure of unbridled bliss. Certainly, it provides an escape from the daunting travails of life. In college, a friend from Brazil once referred to the human existence as “futbol & other living organisms.” I liked that. This interwoven notion of soccer as an integral part of the fabric of life, therefore makes soccer deaths all the more striking and obscene. Especially when those deaths are self-inflicted.

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Gary Speed, the coach of the national soccer team of Wales, was found hanged in his opulent home in November, 2011. Speed, age 42, had recently led Wales back to international respectability, with impressive victories over the likes of Bulgaria, Switzerland, and Norway, handing the latter a recent 4-1 thrashing. Speed was a highly thought of former player in the English Premier League who embodied effort, guile, and sportsmanship. His death mystified the soccer world, which is still looking for an explanation to this tragedy. (Aside from professional success, Speed’s marriage and family life were apparently thriving. No ghosts have emerged from his closet. The sad mystery behind his suicide has only intensified since.)

Robert Enke, 32-year-old goalie for the German national team, threw himself in front of a high-speed oncoming commuter train in Hanover, Germany, in late 2009. Enke’s reality, as it emerged after his death, was as harrowing as his suicide was dramatic. He and his wife had suffered the loss of a two-year old daughter, Lara, to a heart illness in 2003. Enke visited the child’s grave daily up to the day he took his own life. The couple had adopted another child in the interim, an infant named Leila. Enke had been in the throes of a debilitating depression since the death of his daughter, and felt a crushing dread that his condition would be discovered, ending his soccer career. Furthermore, his wife revealed that Enke lived in a constant fear that Leila would be taken away by authorities because of his depression. Enke apologized in his suicide note to the mental health staff who had treated him for faking progress. His wife, Teresa, and his German national teammates were stunned. The team canceled their ensuing match versus Chile out of respect for their fallen goaltender.

Justin Fashanu took his own life ate age 37 in 1998. He was the first black player in England to earn a million pounds per season. More notably, he was the first British professional soccer player to come out as gay, and remains the only professional athlete in the UK to have ever done so, perhaps because of the way his ordeal played out.

Fashanu had so many demons it’s hard to know which one did him in, but ultimately he was charged with drugging and raping a minor, a 17-year-old boy, in Maryland. Fashanu was born of Nigerian immigrant parents in London. They relegated him to an orphanage. Fashanu’s million pound fortune was based largely on one incredible, yet flukish, goal that he hammered for Norwich City past Liverpool at age 19. The team that then paid him a fortune, Nottingham Forest, was coached by one Brain Clough, a homophobe who didn’t suffer under-performing million pound strikers well, especially homosexual ones. Fashanu scored only three goals in 32 games for Nottingham Forest, and Clough browbeat his striker openly for his penchant to frequent gay bars. Sold by Nottingham Forrest, Fashanu was out of big-time soccer three years later, his right knee wrecked by injuries, and he spent years thereafter chasing a phantom career. By 1998, he was trying to land a coaching job with a third rate team in Maryland when he was charged with the crimes described previously. To avoid a trial, Fashanu returned to England and hanged himself in the garage of a home he rented with an electrical cord.

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These are depressing vignettes to be certain. How could suicide be anything else? And while these deaths run counter to soccer’s life-affirming nature, suicide itself remains a fascinating and sensitive subject. [Side note: In writing the piece above, I had entered believing I would feel the greatest empathy for Fashanu and the least for Enke. After writing, the opposite proved to be true.]

Gary Speed’s death, however, provoked an interesting response from Joey Barton, captain of Queens Park Rangers, a London club in the English Premier League. Barton labeled Speed as selfish for his act, an accusation which engendered much condemnation of Barton, mainly from Welsh fans. Barton was either an insensitive clod or had the balls to say what many others were thinking, depending upon one’s point of view.

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Epilogue

My friend tells me she’s entertaining notions of suicide. She’s amazing: creative, intellectual, in possession of a razor-sharp wit, and physically stunning. Multitudes of smart, charming people want a slice of her time and attention. But I don’t tell her any of that or use the “think of all the people you’ll devastate if you do” approach. Instead, I suggest to her that anyone bright, perceptive, and honest is likely to have found some solace in the notion of suicide at some point. In a mentally healthy state, it’s a pleasant refuge, soon enough discarded for its downsides. People – “normal people” - consider suicide, I think, because it’s the last outpost of self-control in a world where virtually all other important factors are controlled by someone else: employment, global economies, relationships, future events, etc. . . . . . . .

Two male acquaintances killed themselves in the final months of 2009. Both were related to the economy – couldn’t find jobs in their chosen profession; one after working for decades in his field and one after graduating with a Master’s degree in 2007. At the respective funerals, I saw some of the “Joey Barton types,” deriding what they perceived as selfishness. I thought, “You can’t judge. You haven’t walked in their shoes.” Your view may differ greatly and I neither want to, nor can, change that.

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Freezing cold tonight: January in the northern hemisphere. A dusting of snow covered the ground here and the sunset faded all too quickly, While casting no stones at others: Life’s short enough, yet it truly is hard. I’d never want to make my kids cry. Or my friends. Besides, I’ve never been to Brazil...yet.

Comments 10 comments

hlynnstephens profile image

hlynnstephens 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

I am no expert on this, but I thing most of us have thought about suicide at one time or another. I think most people have a breaking point that can be reached, and if due to deep depression, temporary insanity, alcohol, or drugs we can not reason past that point and find a way though or a way out of the situation then an attempt at suicide is possible. I do not agree with suicide, and I find the loss of another live due to suicide to be tragically sad.


keithmitchell5 profile image

keithmitchell5 4 years ago from Indianapolis Author

Thanks for comments and I respect them. I come at it a different way - I don't see suicide itself as something to agree or disagree with, it just is. Certainly, one can and hopefully will do what they can to aid those in need. Yet I say that living in a large US city where mental health counseling for the suicidal isn't free and isn't readily available. (Yes, suicide 'hotlines' but no actual free mental health counseling.) It's in the story: I've been around people @ funerals, etc., who judged the person who committed suicide (and I am not saying you are overtly doing that, perhaps you are.) I just didn't see it as theirs to judge, and I don't mean that in a religious sense. It's obviously a sensitive, personal subject and I neither want to nor can change anyone else's opinion; I simply wanted to state mine. Thanks for reading - I am going to rewrite, re-edit the piece and repost. Some new developments spurred new thoughts. Appreciate your comments and readership.


Laura McKinney profile image

Laura McKinney 4 years ago

So it goes...thanks for writing and being the human being you are! I am grateful to know you. They were all very sad; Enke also hit me the hardest.

I like the quote that comes from Kurt Vonnegut's son. I'm paraphrasing. "We are all here to help each get through this life, whatever that is."

Hobbsie


keithmitchell5 profile image

keithmitchell5 4 years ago from Indianapolis Author

Thanks Hobbsie, I am going to re-edit this still, rewrite some. (Guess I said that above.) It doesn't hit the nail on the head for me yet. I appreciate the VOC, in any event.

...Thoughts of one Anthony Lobdell cross my mind this evening.


Laura McKinney profile image

Laura McKinney 4 years ago

...thoughts of Anthony Lobdell landed in my mind today. My heart aches and is joyful for the pain because it means he graced my life.


4 years ago

All of this is coming from just one lowly opinion: The ability to take our own lives, and even to contemplate taking our own lives, is part of the free will that has been granted to us. Yes, personally I would never do it. It would hurt those I leave behind too much. However, that’s not to say I’ve never thought about it, and that most adults, and even teens and some older children, have as well. Life is challenging, but that’s life. What I find to be the worst though is the way many of these people were treated during (and even after) life. We hurt each other too much. By the way, I hear Brazil is beautiful; hopefully you will make it there one day.


keithmitchell5 profile image

keithmitchell5 4 years ago from Indianapolis Author

2014, pal! Next World Cup....gonna try. My friend from London just came back from Brazil and said it was great but extremely expensive. Hope to find out...that it isn't.


CCahill profile image

CCahill 4 years ago from England

Wow i never even heard about this Justin Fashanu player... Black AND Gay in 20th century Football, poor bastard never stood a chance... Any relation to John Fashanu of Wimbledon?

Enke.. truelly sad, must have been horrible for him

Gary Speed, i really struggle with this one, he looks so happy, he was on Football focus that day as well, so i just can't understand what would drive him to suicide.

Great Hub, Shared via Hubpages + Voted up


Ben Cawley profile image

Ben Cawley 4 years ago from Halifax, England.

Great hub, really interesting and so much truth. I truly do believe that many people do feel a lack of control and that is a good point well made. Even when we are relatively successful there is a tendency for people to feel less well off than someone above them. I don't think the media helps in this respect either. Sometimes we forget the most important things, our family and friends. Great hub, well done.


keithmitchell5 profile image

keithmitchell5 3 years ago from Indianapolis Author

CC & Ben - extreme thanks to you both. I can't tell how much I appreciate the readership, support, and your views here. Mr Cahill: John Fashanu was his brother and yeah, being black and gay then...seems he had many demons to deal with. That incredible goal too almost served as 'enemy' of potential that seemed to mock him or that he just pissed away. The Gary Speed episode hasn't become any more clear. It is just such a murky, sad, complex subject. Thanks again, guys and sorry for the delayed response.

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