Gone, but not forgotten. The memory of Robert Enke – the former Hannover goalkeeper who committed suicide on 10 November 2009 – lives on in family, friends and fans alike and serves to remind us of the very human side of sporting pressure and mental health.
Enke was not only renowned throughout Germany following various seasons spent with Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hannover – he also earned fame in Europe, playing with Benfica and Tenerife, between spells at Barcelona and Fenerbahçe. Encke was a star on the international stage too and along with winning eight senior caps with Die Mannschaft, was part of the Germany squad that finished as runners-up at UEFA EURO 2008.
He would have celebrated his 40th birthday last August but for the tragic events of that November day, the culmination of years spent suffering with depression and anxiety and the death of his two-year-old daughter from a heart defect in 2006. In comments relayed by Der Spiegel and featuring in The Guardian, Robert’s father, Dirk Enke, explained how his son struggled to cope with pressure from an early age, when he was often paired with older players.
“There were always crises back then because he was scared that he would not be able to keep up with the older ones," Dirk said. "He did not have faith in himself. He was trapped within his own ambition." In his book, ‘The Tragedy of Robert Enke,’ journalist Robert Reng pointed to the goalkeeper’s personal and brief on-field struggles at Barcelona that manifested themselves in what he says was a first severe bout of depression in 2003.
Although Enke re-emerged from the darkness for a time, injuries led to a relapse late in 2008, just over a year before he took his own life.
The former Hannover No1’s passing led to the establishment of the Robert Enke foundation, which deals primarily with players’ mental health and was brought about by Robert’s wife Teresa, the German Football Association, Hannover 96 and the DFL. "A lot has happened in the way that people deal with this illness; people are more open with it," Teresa explained recently.
Last October, via the Robert Enke Foundation, Teresa launched the EnkeApp. The app serves as both a source of information and also contains an emergency button for suicidal people that, when activated, alerts local authorities using GPS tracking.
“I hope that this topic is no longer stigmatised and is more out in the open,” Teresa continued in an interview with Kicker, before later telling the BBC, “Depression is no longer a taboo topic. Most people are now brave enough to talk about it - to say, 'I'm sick and I need help.' Sport will always be important but you should always see the human being behind the sports person.
“[Robert’s passing] has very much changed things [in the area of mental health]; it would be nice if he could hear that,” she concluded.
- Robert Enke: 1977-2009, RIP.