The awful suicide of Hannover 'keeper Robert Enke puts the game's importance firmly into perspective. Whether Bill Shankly had his tongue firmly in cheek or not when he famously proclaimed that football was more important than life or death, those words now seem hollow and tunnel-visioned.
Enke's death follows on from those in the recent past of Justin Fashanu and David Clement. My dad told me of the pathetic end of former Chelsea and Newcastle great Hughie Gallacher who, overcome by family problems, also killed himself on a railway line.
Professional sportsmen are as prone to depression and stress as any other human being and their situation is surely exacerbated by being thrust in the public eye, always being under pressure to perform.
Imagine how stressful it'd be if we were in the spotlight everyday and unable to slink away and lick our wounds in private.
There's no hiding place for professional sportsmen who are expected to be supermen and put on a performance irrespective of how they feel. They are as prone to illness, stress and (certainly at the lower ends of the game) to the same types of financial pressures as we lesser mortals. Amazingly enough, English cricketers are almost twice as likely to commit suicide as the average male and have a suicide rate higher than players of any other sport. That's according to respected author David Frith who wrote a book on this very phenomenon.
Frith asserts that cricket puts a strain on nerves that can be as destructive as the post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by war veterans. 'It is the uncertainty, day in and day out, that plays a sinister beat on the cricketer's soul,' he said.
Famous cricket suicides include A.E. Stoddart, the most glamorous cricketer of the 1880s and captain of England from 1894, who shot himself in 1915 after his career ended; Albert Shrewsbury, the finest professional batsman of his day amd in more recent times, former England wicketkeeper David Bairstow.
Mike Brearley commented that "it is not cricket which causes suicide: people kill themselves for reasons that are internal to themselves and their histories.'
For that reason perhaps we should cut our footballers some slack, they're not super human and are as subject to the same foibles, problems and stresses as everybody else. Perhaps we should take that into account when they next miss an open goal or let one through their legs.