Manchester United midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger once wrote a referee a letter that stopped him attempting to commit suicide for the second time.
Former man-in-black Babak Rafati retold the incredible story of what the then-Bayern Munich captain did to help his recovery in hospital following a first suicide attempt.
This was not the first time German football had been rocked by a suicide after the death of much-loved goalkeeper Robert Enke aged just 32 had hit headlines in 2009.
Just a few years later and Babak Rafati was reported to have attempted to commit suicide before kick off in match between Koln and Mainz. The 2011 match was abandoned after Rafati could not be found.
He was found in his hotel room and taken to hospital where he recovered in intensive care. It was there that Schweinsteiger sent him a powerful letter to help him with his depression.
Rafati told Swiss newspaper Blick:
I woke in a hospital bed. It was a terrible moment, and my first thought was that I would plan things next time I tried to kill myself and do the job properly.
I had been bullied for 18 months beforehand. People wanted to get rid of me for telling the truth. Since my suicide attempt no-one from the German FA has been in touch, but all my fellow refs got in contact.
And Bastian Schweinsteiger wrote me a letter that moved me greatly. There was no ulterior motive on his part, as he knew that I would no longer be able to referee after this incident.
He wrote: ‘Mr Rafati, people often make mistakes in life, but we simply have to make comebacks even more often. I wish you all the very best.’
It was an incredibly big human gesture on his part. Depression is still a huge taboo in football. Since that time I have been working as a mind coach with three Bundesliga players.
I can rule out wanting to kill myself again. I now know that I was crazy, and life is too beautiful to destroy oneself.
Footballers are often derided as being out-of-touch pampered multi-millionaire man-children but it’s easy to forget they’re human too, with emotions they can connect with people from all over the world.
Schweinsteiger’s gesture may only have been small, but it allowed Rafati to make a full recovery and not attempt to take his life for a second time.
The troubled referee said he has not been contacted by anyone at the German Football Association during his recovery period despite saying he wanted to return to refereeing.
His recovery has been successful as at the end of his interview in Blick, Rafati says:
“I know today that I was stupid. Life is too good to destroy it.”
We wish Rafati all the best in his future endeavours.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, know you’re not alone.
The Samaritans can be reached on 116 123, all day every day, where you can speak anonymously about your problems and seek the help you need.
Taking the idea of ‘being woke’ to a whole new level over a decade-long career in sport, court and online news, George has worked for titles and agencies including ESPN FC, Eurosport, LADbible and Court News UK. He may not have a degree but does have an unhealthy obsession with Lord of the Rings.