In light of Jonathan Trott’s retirement from international cricket, we look back into the archives. GARY LEMKE shared his views on the player back in January 2014.
Depression among sportsmen isn’t restricted to English cricketers and when Jonathan Trott aborted his Ashes tour to return home, he was only the latest high-profile victim of the illness. For every Trott there are a hundred nameless and faceless others suffering in silence.
They called it a ‘stress-related’ condition that forced Trott to fly home the day after Australia had turned up the heat in winning the first Test in Brisbane. Why the need to sugar-coat the illness? It’s deep-rooted depression and it’s life-threatening if not treated.
Of course, the media quickly called on Marcus Trescothick, another England cricketer who suffered from depression, for his comments. Because Trescothick has become the dial-a-quote man to go to in instances like this. He even wrote a book about it, revealing the true extent of it with a rawness rarely seen.
The former opening batsman fought the inner demons for years without people knowing what he was going through during his 76 Test matches.
He returned early from India in February 2006 and was found lying on the floor in his mother’s house, shaking and terrified and contemplating suicide. On another occasion, too afraid to board a plane at Heathrow, he was located in an electronics shop in the airport, trembling and cowering in the corner.
‘You still get it at odd times, when you think something is going to happen,’ he told the Guardian in 2011. ‘You’re always only one step away from it and that’s why you need to maintain the good things in your life.
‘It happens in strange ways. Last week my phone rang and I felt it then. It’s like something comes over you. You pick up the phone and someone says, “I’ve got something to say …” And you just …’
Depression among sportsmen is more common than you think but it’s also a rather taboo subject. Much like fellow team members might know who the only gay on the bus is, they don’t talk about it openly. Much of modern society remains trapped in the dark ages. Perhaps it’s because the illness is not easily or fully understood.
At the time, having watched Trott being dismissed twice in Brisbane to a pre-planned short ball barrage down the leg side, I was among those who reckoned it was atrocious batting, more becoming of a Sunday social cricketer than someone who averages 46.45 after 49 Tests. Now we know why. In his head he was being dragged down a mineshaft with no light. The world was a dark place.
In November 2009, the German goalkeeper Robert Enke was only 32 when he attended training as usual at Bundesliga club Hannover 96. Afterwards, he drove his Mercedes 4X4 to a railway crossing, left his wallet and keys on the passenger seat along with some loose change and did not lock the car.
Minutes later, he flung himself in front of an oncoming Hamburg to Bremen express train travelling at 160mph.
‘He didn’t want to come out [about the illness] because of fear,’ Enke’s widow told the media. ‘It is fear of what people will think when you have a child and the father suffers from depression.’
In August 1988 the former Charlton, Queens Park Rangers striker and Western Province cricketer Stuart Leary threw himself off Table Mountain.
It is said he drove his Citi Golf from Claremont to the suicide spot but on the way he had a gym session at Kelvin Grove. ‘He went to gym as usual,’ said a former work companion. ‘Stuart was a very meticulous person; they found him with a one-way ticket for the cable car and his medication in his pocket.’
Former Springbok goalkeeper Trevor Gething is another tragic victim. He pulled the trigger to end his life at the age of 49, while at his place of work. Gething is possibly the finest keeper South Africa has produced. ‘In the air he was brilliant. He had one of the most beautiful pairs of hands I’d ever seen; they were massive because he was a panel beater. But he was insecure in goal, believed he had cancer and after receiving any little scratch on the pitch was off to the doctor,’ said Rocco Smith, also a goalkeeper of the time.
For five years Gething was a frequent patient in psychiatric wards and doctors said they could control his illness but not cure it. At work he would lock himself in the toilet and stay there for hours.
And the list goes on. Many sportsmen turn to drugs and alcohol to find a way of clawing out of the hole. It simply gets deeper, though – as footballer Paul Gascoigne and snooker’s Ronnie O’Sullivan discovered. Others seek treatment and are able to keep a lid on the illness – Trescothick an example – although one never beats it. Others, tragically, can’t find a way out of the darkness and end all the suffering.
One of the great cricket writers of this era, Peter Roebuck, a regular contributor to this magazine, took his own life when he leapt from the sixth-floor window of a Newlands hotel when police came knocking in 2011 to quiz him over unsubstantiated sexual allegations.
It was the day after South Africa had embarrassed Australia – bowling them out for 47 after being skittled for 96 in a frenzied four-hour passage – and I spoke with Roebuck the day before he died.
He sounded perfectly ‘normal’ and certainly didn’t appear to have the intention of taking his own life. Then again, what does someone on the brink of suicide sound like? There is no template.
Let’s hope Trott gets the support he obviously requires, but it’s a long road back. There’s no quick fix. And he’s a lucky one. Spare a thought for those among us who aren’t so lucky.
This column first appeared in the January 2014 issue of the Business Day Sport Monthly.