The world of football was rocked on Tuesday as the devastating news of the death of German national keeper Robert Enke emerged.
The 32-year-old committed suicide at around 6 pm at a level crossing just north of Hanover. The tragedy prompted the German Football Association to call off Saturday’s friendly with Chile.
Enke was employed by Hanover 96 and was a key member of the German national team. In recent years he earned eight caps, and the prospect of a successful World Cup in South Africa next summer was on the horizon.
The ‘keeper had been suffering from a bacterial stomach virus in recent weeks and had not featured in the Bundesliga until Hanover’s clash with Hamburg on Sunday.
The story comes as a crushing blow to his family, friends, and club.
Reflecting upon the past couple of years, it is a perturbing tale of depression where Enke was unable to overcome a personal tragedy, sequentially leading to his sorrowful suicide.
According to Hanover president Martin Kind, the goalkeeper had been "unstable" prior to his death. The death of his two-year-old daughter in 2006 greatly traumatised the player to the point where he regularly attended psychiatric therapy, according to his friends.
Lara had died in 2006 due to a rare heart condition, much to the anguish of Enke and his wife Theresa. Friends also revealed that the Hanover hero visited his daughter’s grave daily.
In May, the couple had adopted a baby girl, but it failed to help Enke out of the depression he was suffering from.
The 32-year-old had trained on the day of his suicide before driving in his Mercedes to the local railway station. He made his way to the level crossing, which was only a short distance from his daughter’s grave.
The alarm was first raised when Enke’s agent was unable to contact the German international over the phone. He informed the police before the ‘keeper’s body was found at around 6 pm.
According to reports from the German police, the train had been travelling at 100 mph. The two drivers had seen a man on the tracks but failed to apply the brakes in time due to its speed.
Theresa Enke can take small comfort from the overwhelming reaction of the football world to the loss of a great ‘keeper.
Previously, Enke had won over the fans at Borussia Monchengladbach, Benfica, Barcelona, Fenerbache, and Tenerife.
German legend Franz Beckenbauer spoke fondly of his countryman: “I feel an unending sadness. We have lost a great footballer and a great guy.
His sentiments were reinforced by Oliver Bierhoff, the German national team manager, who added: “Words fail us at his loss. The entire team, everyone, is in deep shock.”
Schalke striker Kevin Kuranyi told Bild newspaper: “Robert was such a great bloke. I don’t know how I will tell my wife. She is very good friends with Robert’s wife. I feel for his family.”
Speaking to the same paper, German captain and Chelsea ace Michael Ballack spoke of his shock, saying he was "lost for words."
Enke’s club fans held a eulogy outside Hanover’s AWD Arena, laying a multitude of flowers and candles at the gates of the stadium in a heartfelt gesture to the player they described as a “one-off” and “an exceptional footballer.”
Just observing clips of his exploits for Hanover on YouTube proves the raw talent he possessed and what a loss his death is to German and global football.
Sadly, this isn’t the first suicide that football has had to endure. A brief look back at the history of the beautiful game reveals that there have been 10 to 15 cases of footballers resorting to suicide.
One renowned British case is that of Justin Fashanu, who committed suicide after allegations of assault on a 17-year-old in the United States.
Football has also seen the some its former heroes jumping in front of speeding trains.
In 1957, retired footballer Hughie Gallacher threw himself under a passing train after allegedly assaulting his son. The court case and press coverage proved too much for the former Newcastle United player.
A more recent case is that of Sergio Lopez.
The 39-year-old played for Barcelona, Real Mallorca, and Real Zargoza, enjoying a relatively successful career in Spain until he was forced to retire at the age of 28.
The subsequent breakdown of his marriage, followed by the end of his playing days, led to depression and ultimately to the Spaniard leaving himself at the mercy of a train.
The premature death of Robert Enke will leave its mark on football. He will be remembered as a great shot-stopper and a true professional.
Robert Enke—rest in peace.