BERLIN, Nov 15, 2009 (AFP) - German football stars past and present joined tens of thousands of fans in Hanover on Sunday to pay their last respects to tragic goalkeeper Robert Enke who committed suicide last week.
Enke, 32, who had been set to travel with the Germany squad to next June's 2010 World Cup in South Africa, flung himself under a busy commuter train at a small town near Hanover last Tuesday evening having suffered from depression.
|Candles and a photo of deceased German international goalkeeper Robert Enke lie in front of the stadium in Hanover, northern Germany on November 13, 2009 (AFP photo)|
The tragedy has thrown football-mad Germany into mourning and the national team's planned friendly against Chile on Saturday was called off as a mark of respect.
A public memorial service will be held at 11:00 am (1000 GMT) in the Hanover 96 stadium, attended by the entire Germany squad -- led by captain Michael Ballack -- before Enke is buried in a private ceremony.
Representatives from Enke's former clubs -- Spanish giants Barcelona and Portugal's Benfica -- will attend while many former German football greats are also expected.
Hundreds of candles, messages and football shirts were placed Sunday outside the Hanover 96 stadium by fans, many with tears in their eyes as they remembered a popular, and successful, player.
A tribute on behalf of the Germany squad was printed in several newspapers here on Sunday.
"Robert inspired and moved many people both with his life story and his career," said the text signed by Germany coach Joachim Loew, team manager Oliver Bierhoff and Ballack.
"Robert was both an exceptional sportsman and a wonderful human being.
"People like Robert are like stars. They shine brightly, even in the darkest night. They do not die but live in our hearts forever."
Enke had been treated for depression since 2003 and had an acute fear of failure.
He leaves his wife Teresa, 33, and eight-month-old daughter Leila, whom the couple adopted in May after their two-year-old daughter Lara died from a heart infection. Enke will be buried next to his daughter.
With more than 50,000 mourners expected at the memorial service, the club's 45,000-seater stadium is expected to be packed and two giant video screens will be erected outside for those who do not get in.
Two hours before the service was due to begin, thousands of fans were already streaming into the club's AWD Arena.
Many fans began gathering outside the stadium in the early hours of Sunday morning, as Germany prepared for what rolling news channel NTV described "the biggest memorial service in decades."
"We will see how much Robert Enke meant to some people and what a great personality he was," said Hanover 96 president Martin Kind.
"The scale of the sympathy is overwhelming - not only in Hanover, but in all of Germany and even abroad."
The service will be screened live on five German television channels and Enke's coffin will be in the centre circle at the Bundesliga club before six of his former Bundesliga team-mates will carry him to his final resting place.
"We will all never forget Robert," concluded his team-mates' moving tribute, summing up the feelings of many of the grieving fans.