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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


Magic and Loss in Soccer

Written by on November 28, 2011 | 5 Comments »
Posted in General

It was a fantastic couple of days of soccer on the pitch last weekend with thrilling games, controversial decisions and last gasp defensive heroics. 

The English Premier League was littered with great matches such as Newcastle’s herculean defensive effort at Old Trafford and Manchester City’s equally desperate attempt to hold on at Anfield. 

Shock defeats for Barcelona and Bayern Munich also added to the drama, and reminded us that one of the great joys of the game is the capacity to thrill us with the sting of the unpredictable. 

Off the field though the unpredictable, sadly, is often much less palatable.

Wales coach Gary Speed was found dead in his home at the ridiculously young age of 42, and soccer in Togo endured another in a seemingly endless line of tragedies when 6 people were killed as a coach carrying officials and players caught fire after plunging into a ravine. 

Both events (but particularly the death of Speed) immediately led to a bout of soul searching amongst those involved in the game at all levels. 

There were two other events this weekend however that showed, perhaps to a shocking degree, how little we learn from our past mistakes. 

Just over a week ago it was reported that German referee Babak Rafati had attempted suicide before he was due to take charge of a Bundesliga game and a subsequent statement by his lawyer said that; 

“growing pressure to perform for him as a referee and the media pressure linked to that – in combination with the constant fear of making mistakes – became a bigger and bigger burden”

There was universal sympathy immediately expressed for Rafati and everybody agreed that the pressure heaped on to referees in the modern games had become intolerable. 

This weekend Newcastle United were awarded a penalty against Manchester United, and though the decision was undoubtedly wrong the vitriol and, in some cases, glee with which many in the media chastised both the referee and his assistant went beyond legitimate comment and more closely resembled the mentality of the herd looking for blood. 

In fact there are those that won’t be happy until they hear that at least one of their targets is prevented from working next week.

Also this week former player Stan Collymore wrote movingly about his own battle with depression, and the media were once again quick to express their admiration for his courage and many stated the wish that they had been more understanding of his problems during his playing days instead of simply indulging in knee-jerk reactions to his wildness. 

This weekend Mario Balotelli was rather harshly sent off against Liverpool and many in the media were quick to label him as an “idiot” and happy to use words such as “crazy’ and “mad” when discussing the Italian forward. 

There is no suggestion of course that either Balotelli or the officials at Old Trafford will be adversely affected by how their performance is being discussed on television and in newspapers, but if those who comment on the game couldn’t restrain themselves in this week of all weeks then what hope is there for the next professional who finds himself desperately looking for help within the game?

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5 responses to “Magic and Loss in Soccer”

  1. Soccerlogical says:

    Great shame about Gary Speed, but then again it’s a shame when any human being takes his own life… isn’t it?

    Just to put “high profile suicides” in perspective.. “Over one million PEOPLE die by suicide every year”. World Health Org.

    PS And yet another intellectual quote by “Hair Model” Beckham on the EPL race:

    “I don’t think Manchester City have a chance,”

  2. Gary Johnson says:

    We have had a German Keeper commit suicide as well earlier in the year due to depression. It is too easy to say that these people are rich (well maybe not the referee) and famous, how dare they be depressed. Fear of failure does not recognize income nor fame.

  3. Joao says:

    Depression is a disease that makes no discrimination between who is rich, poor,
    successful, athletic, etc. It affects a lot more people than we can imagine. You could know someone your entire life and not know that they suffer from this debilitating disease. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain and in our society I feel
    it is attached with so much stigma, especially with athletes who are seen as larger than life by some. I truly hope with this death we can begin to help those who have depression, and prevent these deaths throughout the world. It was only two years ago when Robert Enke committed suicide, and although it caused shock throughout the footballing world, it was not taken seriously enough in my opinion.
    Condolences to his family and to his former teammates and friends, to see Shay Given cry as Aston Villa was about to play was the emotional picture of the weekend.
    RIP Gary Speed

  4. Ed Gomes says:

    The German keeper that commited suicide was Robert Enke. I knew him well as a player since he had very good years at Benfica. He was much loved there.
    His wife said that he just couldn’t get over the death of his young daughter in 2006.
    Some people around Hannover 96 said that he had been “unstable” leading up to the suicide, while publicly he seemed fine.
    I’m not sure if anyone offered to help and he just turned them away. What is known is that a great loss happened.

    I don’t know much about Speed, but by alll accounts he was well loved. I offer his family my prayers.

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