From the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine
A LIFE TOO SHORT
The tragedy of Robert Enke
By Ronald Reng
German national goalkeeper Robert Enke was just 32 when he stepped in front of a passing train in November 2009. Award winning writer and friend Ronald Reng attempts to understand why.
1. What motivated you to write this book?
Robert was a friend and I carried with me that longing that through the book something of him could remain. I also hoped that my research would make it easier to understand what had happened to him. And there was that silent wish that, maybe, just maybe, reading about his case could help other people suffering from depression.
2. What sort of man, and sportsman, was Robert Enke?
Very sensitive; in the best and in the worst sense. He could be extraordinarily empathetic with other people, like when he phoned up Sven Ulreich, a young Bundesliga goalkeeper with Stuttgart, who he did not really know, but who he had seen on TV suffering after a mistake. On the other hand lots of times he could not come to terms with his own mistakes. He locked himself in for a week after he gave away a soft goal at the age of 17.
3. Why might being a ‘goalkeeper’s goalkeeper’ have counted against Enke?
His goalkeeper’s style was understated; he was looking for the perfect positioning rather than for the spectacular save. So, particularly in Germany, the land of big show-man goalies like Oliver Kahn or Jens Lehmann, the wider audience did not cherish his class. Robert sometimes felt he had the whole nation against him in his quest for Germany’s number one spot.
4. Why would Toni Madrigal, the man who scored three times against Enke, when Spanish Third Division side FC Novelda beat Barcelona in the Spanish Cup, believe that ‘one evening marks the keepers life’?
A goalkeeper can make breath-taking saves, but in the end he is always measured by his mistakes. What do you remember when someone mentions David Seaman? Nayim from the halfway line, I suppose. From the night, Barcelona lost to small-town club Novelda, Robert Enke was the goalkeeper, who lost it in Barca’s biggest Cup embarrassment. He blamed himself so much for it that he drifted into his first clinical depression.
5. Was it just the extreme experiences of high-performance sport that affected Robert Enke?
Football was quite often the trigger for his depressive mood. But would he never have suffered from the illness if he had worked as a journalist, a clerk or a hotel manager? We can’t answer that question seriously, but my fear after all my research into his life is: he would have been hit by depression anyway. It seems he was prone to the illness.
6. Why did Robert and his wife Teresa wait to make his friends aware he suffered from depression?
Most people suffering from depression are ashamed of their illness. That shame is actually part of the symptoms. They feel that urge to hide. In Robert’s particular case he was aware that going public would mean losing his role as Germany’s number one goalkeeper. He felt to open up on his condition would throw him into a big black uncertainty: Would he ever be accepted as a professional footballer again?
7. What lessons should football clubs draw from your book?
Since Robert’s death their clubs have helped several German footballers that have suffered from mental problems or even tried to kill themselves because of their depressions. Markus Miller announced last autumn that the black dog haunted him. He was then given as much time as he needed for the appropriate treatment by his club, and was back in the team three month later without any suspicion or malice. Miller is a goalkeeper - at Robert’s old club, Hannover 96.