Robin Scott-Elliot: When the toughest goal can be staying in the game
View From The Sofa: Inside Sport: Mind Games, BBC 1
Monday 30 November 2009
Inside Sport followed Marcus Trescothick, or "Mad Fish" as he is now apparently known by his Somerset team-mates, around India during cricket's Champions League last month, which suggests last week's programme exploring depression among sportspeople had been commissioned long before Robert Enke, the German goalkeeper, took his own life. But Enke's death added a raw poignancy to the issue, a timely notice of where this illness can lead. It helped make a programme that was riveting, rewarding and, at moments, painful viewing.
It will not be the first time Inside Sport – a strand usually marooned late on a Monday night following a repeated A Question of Sport – has been described as painful, but this special made up a deal of ground with its considered and careful study of a subject to which attitudes remain confused. Trescothick and his experiences since his battle with depression became public knowledge three years ago provided the centrepiece, but Frank Bruno and John Kirwan, the former All Black, also proved eye-catching adornments.
Kirwan was particularly revealing. In between clips of him rampaging around rugby fields, he spoke honestly of his struggles with his own mind. To many, said Kirwan, his eyes narrowed, sportsmen and women can seem "super human" and "super lucky". They are living the life. Playing the game was the good bit for Kirwan; it was when he took off the black jersey, his own superman outfit, that the demons closed in and with that came "shame". The choice of word is telling for perception is all. What will people think of me?
How much have attitudes changed? Kirwan fronts a successful national mental health campaign in New Zealand. He tells of how before a Lions Test in 2005 a young man walked up to him and thanked him for saving his life. In this country The Sun labelled Bruno "bonkers" after he was sectioned in 2003. John Gregory, the manager of Aston Villa, was shown claiming that Stan Collymore had no idea what real pressure was. Kids, jobs, a struggle to pay the mortgage, that asserted Gregory, was real life. It's the Keith Miller line: "Pressure," the fighter pilot turned Australian all-rounder said, "is a Messerschmitt up your arse."
The question of whether sportspeople are more prone to depression was touched on without any great revelation. It is a subject that has been explored before with reference to cricket; there have been books and studies on the seemingly high(ish) rate of suicide among players. But as one in four people suffer from some form of depression during their lives, it is surely not that sportsmen or women are more likely to suffer, simply that their suffering attracts wide attention. "At the end of the day," pointed out Bruno, implying ordinariness, "we've still got to go to the toilet."
Trescothick was accompanied by a camera for his venture to India this winter. The impression given was that one minute he was fine, the next he was coming home again. The failing of the programme, given the access it had to Trescothick, was that impression, and the lack of any real insight beyond the basics that here is a decent man who has been/is ill and is struggling nobly to deal with it. It scratched the surface, admittedly of a complex subject.
Yet good sporting documentaries – ones that appeal beyond the core audiences for football, rugby or Formula One – are few and far between. Here was one. The BBC has the resources, and the remit, to do more. If only it did.
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