On 10 November 2009 the German national goalkeeper, Robert Enke, stepped in front of a passing train. He was thirty-two years old and a devoted husband and father.

Enke had played for a string of Europe’s top clubs, including Barcelona and Jose Mourinho’s Benfica and was destined to become his country’s first choice in goal for years to come. But beneath the veneer of success, Enke battled with crippling depression.

Award-winning writer Ronald Reng pieces together the puzzle of his friend’s life, shedding valuable light on the crushing pressures endured by professional sportsmen and on life at the top Clubs. At its heart, Enke’s tragedy is a universal story of a man struggling against his demons.

William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner 2011

Read our review here: Book Review: A Life Too Short – The Tragedy of Robert (footballbookreviews.com)

(Publisher: Yellow Jersey. Reprint edition – May 2012. Paperback: 400 pages)

Book Review: A Life Too Short – The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng, (translated into English by Shaun Whiteside)

The disastrous performance by Loris Karius for Liverpool in the Champions League Final against Real Madrid is just another reminder of the vulnerable role of the goalkeeper, someone who is always walking a tightrope between would-be hero and scapegoat for any failure. The worst thing is that the goalkeeper himself believes this. No such self-doubt seems to exist with attackers like Cristiano Ronaldo. All the glory is his, any failure is somebody else’s fault – every single time.

With this summer’s World Cup in Russia raising the sport’s profile ever higher, it is worth reflecting on the Winner of the 2011 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award because it is probably the most poignant reminder that, for all the general excellence of the modern footballer, it is still a game played by humans, not computer-generated robots. Led by the media, we demand everything from them, conveniently forgetting that they are real people often with brittle egos.

Robert Enke is perhaps the best modern example of the pressure all this puts on a person and his suicide in 2009 rocked the football world. He was a talented, German international goalkeeper who attracted the admiration and interest of both Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho but his increasing anxiety and depression drove him to kill himself aged 32 when a place at the World Cup in South Africa appeared to be beckoning.

A book about the man was inevitable after the sad event but, ironically, the author Ronald Reng had been by chosen by Enke himself years before to pen the goalkeeper’s biography and they had become friends. Therefore he had a large amount of material at his disposal as well as access to those closest to Enke.

This very closeness has both advantages and disadvantages and the book itself is actually something of an oddity. It is well-written by Reng and, presumably, the translation by Shaun Whiteside is good but an added irony lies in the fact that its special interest comes from his ‘life story’ being actually his death story. The reader is aware at all turns that it is about a man whose depressive nature finally drove him to suicide. Therefore, the very detailed accounts of his ups and downs both on and off the football pitch tend to become rather tedious, as if they are helping to skirt around what the book should be centred on. Also, it asks a great deal of the reader’s patience as there is an inclination throughout to try spotting the fault lines in Enke’s life, the things that might have led to his depression. Was it being a temperamental and insecure goalkeeper that drove him over the edge? Was it his poorly daughter’s short life and death? Should he have quit football years before and found another, more stable career? Questions present themselves but are seldom directly addressed as there is always a sense that Reng is putting off as long as possible the build up to the final catastrophe.

The many insights into his character and depression which Reng gives us are gained to a lesser degree from his family and colleagues, to a much greater degree from a few intimates but it is mainly his wife, Teresa, who understandably provides the closest perspective. If the world runs on a belief in luck, as those within the narrative seem to feel, it is hard for people with less talent than he had to see how ‘unlucky’ he was. But happiness with him is always fleeting, pushing back the ever-threatening blackness. A major accomplishment of this book is to show how we should not have envied his life even without that final desperate act.

The story only becomes gripping in the final pages, once it is evident Enke had decided to end it all and had adopted a degree of calm resignation that contrasts strongly with the rising panic of those closest to him. We can only speculate how helpful watching ‘Titanic’ two nights before he died was to his peace of mind and how wise it was for his wife to take him to an exhibition of preserved corpses the day before he stepped in front of an express train. Reng chronicles these but makes no direct link. Enke left a wife, a recently adopted daughter, seven dogs and a bewildered nation as the pressure of performing, and potentially making mistakes, in front of a global audience became too terrible for him to contemplate any more.

The beautiful game, we remember, is not played by fantasy footballers but by people.


Graeme Garvey


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Book Review: The Sad Story of Billy Callender by James (Jim) Wright

“…it has always been said that goalkeepers are a breed apart – often extrovert but also prone to brooding introversion…”

Sadly this statement has come to carry significance in tragic circumstances on two occasions in recent years. Back in November 2009, Robert Enke, goalkeeper for Hannover 96 and a German international and just 32 years old, committed suicide by standing in front of a train at a level crossing in Eilvese on the outskirts of Hannover. After his death, his widow, Teresa, revealed that Enke had suffered from depression for six years and had struggled to come to terms with the death of their daughter, Lara in 2006. Enke’s story was captured in the 2011 William Hill Sports Book of the Year, titled, A Life Too Short by Ronald Reng. The tragedy touched the public in Germany and further afield. As a result, the German Football Association, the German Football League and Hannover 96 pledged to finance a Robert Enke Foundation, which would in future help with mental health issues of players.

Here in England in December 2010, 24 year old Rushden & Diamonds goalkeeper, Dale Roberts committed suicide. At the inquest details emerged that Roberts has killed himself after struggling to come to terms with an injury and national media speculation about his fiancee’s alleged affair with team-mate Paul Terry. Subsequently, his parents set up The Dale Roberts Memorial fund to help worthy causes including providing Christmas presents to children in a local hospital and helping youngsters off the streets and into football.

What struck me about whilst researching this article was firstly how readily available information is about the circumstances of these deaths, secondly that the suicides are seen as tragic and that lastly, the players memory is honoured through memorial funds and foundations, so that some good comes out of these sad events.

However, it has not always been thus. In The Sad Story of Billy Callender by James (Jim) Wright, the story of a goalkeeper who took his life in July 1932 is told. The adopted Billy Callender (real name Coulson) was originally from Prudhoe in Northumberland and worked briefly at the local colliery. Callender played for West Wylam Primitive Methodist Church, then Prudhoe Castle FC. Whilst here he was spotted and signed by Crystal Palace in October 1923, making his first team debut against South Shields in a 1-0 win on 22 March 1924. It wasn’t until the transfer of Jack Alderson to Sheffield United that Callender established himself in the first team at the start of the 1925-25 season in the Third Division (South). He was regarded as one of the “…most effective stoppers in the Football League…” and was selected to play for the Football League against The Army in 1926. In total, Callender played 225 matches for Crystal Palace and as an excellent servant to the club had a benefit match against the Combined Universities in April 1931. However, tragedy struck Callender when in May 1932, his long-term sweetheart and fiancée died from poliomyelitis. Callender travelled to his native North-East to visit family before returning to London in July 1932 for the start of the new season. On Monday 25 July Callender went to Selhurst Park “…to collect his registration papers and to confirm his health and fitness…” He didn’t report for training or the practice match arranged for the Tuesday, but he was found later that day hanged at the ground. At the inquest a verdict was returned that, “…Callender had taken his own life while of unsound mind…”, whilst the Croydon Advertiser wrote that Callender was “…inconsolable…” after the death of Ella.

Author Jim Wright makes some excellent observations towards the end of this book regarding attitudes at the time to suicide, “…death was seen essentially as a private matter – not an issue for too much public expression of grief…suicide was a taboo subject – indeed any attempt to take one’s own life, effective or otherwise, was deemed a criminal offence until as recently as 1961…” This sits at odds with how modern day society reacts (thankfully) to suicide. The author has carried out some wonderful research in writing this tribute to Billy Callender and to Ella, but acknowledges that so much information is just lost to the passages of time and which leave questions unanswered about Callender’s child-hood, his real parents, his brother and any therefore the ability to trace any possible descendants. However this doesn’t detract from this publication and Jim Wright should be proud that he has kept the memory of Billy Callender alive.


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