The football world was stunned at the weekend with the news of Gary Speed’s death. The death of any man at 42, a husband and father, is always shocking but all the more tragic when it’s as the result of suicide.
Hours earlier, Speed was seen on Football Focus with no apparent signs of anything wrong. Needless to say then, it took very little time before speculation turned into the usual toxic rumours running rife around the internet on any given day of the week. Those rumours are generally fed by the gutter press, although my views on them are no secret so I won’t dwell too much on that point.
The bottom line is, football is just too pressured now. Anyone involved in the game these days knows that every aspect of their lives is up for public consumption, public scrutiny and ultimately, public judgement. Back in the days of George Best, for example, whilst his off-field behaviour might not always have been applauded, he wasn’t vilified for it. He was just a bit of a playboy, a bit of a lady’s man living the high life.
These days, players would be hard pushed to have half a shandy and kiss a well-wisher on the cheek without being branded the biggest arsehole under the sun. And that’s not to say there aren’t some bad boys out there – we have our own at Chelsea nevermind anywhere else around the country – but does it really entitle the press and public to torture them to breaking point?
These people are human beings for fuck sake. Yes, they make mistakes – don’t we all – and maybe we could argue that their privileged, highly-paid positions leaves them open to criticism but the fact that they’re doing something we’d assume they loved for a living doesn’t harden them to the sort of bile this country has a nasty habit of spewing when they’ve done something slightly distasteful.
Take Stan Collymore, for example, clearly not regarded as one of football’s ‘good guys’ by the majority and I’m sure he himself would hold his hands up to having made his fair share of mistakes but even whilst he’s currently struggling with another debilitating bout of depression, he has to contend with ignorance in the extreme.
Personal opinions aside, I think giving a public account of his battle with depression on Twitter recently was admirable. Not only because it takes a huge amount of courage to go public with something like that but also because it takes a huge amount of effort to put the words together when everything seems so utterly pointless. I imagine he’ll have written it not only believing people wouldn’t be interested but actually anticipating the usual torrent of abuse – and he got that.
It’s bad enough as it is when it’s the usual ignorant internet warriors bigging it up behind their screens but for a former colleague, a journalist and broadcaster to do it as publicly as Mike Parry did, well for me that just about sums up why the public feel they have a right to condemn on the strength of the ‘stories’ they read.
Of course football is a big deal, we live and breathe it. It feels like so much more than just a game to us and God knows it has enough of an effect on how we might feel, but let’s not allow ourselves to believe the lives of those players who get out there and perform for us week-in-week-out are ours to judge.
Let’s get a grip eh?