Mental health in football: what we don’t consider


The emotionally intense story of Wales manager Gary Speed has been an important issue this season.

What was the most shocking aspect of this tragic story was that nothing about Speed’s demeanour gave away his mental anguish.

The day before his death he appeared on Football Focus, chatting away with presenter Dan Roan. As Roan has since said, there was no indication of what was about to occur.

Despite the best efforts of those around the game (particularly in the work of the Sporting Chance Clinic), physical and mental weakness can still be stigmatised.

The result is that the modern footballer can become a fiercely introspective person.

This amplifies the seeds of self-doubt that might come as part of the football environment.

Susannah Strong, author of The Footballers’ Guidebook, admits that it is “really, really difficult to get any footballer to talk about mental health.”

This attitude is not helped by the footballing community.

If a journalist hears of a weakness, it will be ruthlessly exposed.

When Rangers goalkeeper Andy Goram admitted he had schizophrenia, chants of ‘There’s only two Andy Gorams” came from both home and away fans.

With reception such as this, is it any wonder that players don’t like to talk about their mental welfare?

Attitudes to mental health are changing by the day, however. In Germany in 2009, national goalkeeper Robert Enke took his life, and now mental health issues are treated with paramount importance.

When Schalke 04 coach Ralf Rangnick resigned, citing psychological burnout and depression, the issue was treated head-on, with Rangnick eliciting compassion from all quarters.

Football can be a dangerous environment for the mentally-at-risk, and more needs to be done.

Whilst England has long had a good infrastructure in place for such concerns, they are always kept under the surface.

It is a great sorrow that it took a man’s death for them to come to the forefront.

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