Remembering Agostino Di Bartolomei on Suicide Prevention Day

30th May, 1994. Ten years earlier, Roma had lost in their only ever European Cup final appearance, to Liverpool in a penalty shoot out on home soil. But the tragedy that came a decade after the loss to the English club was far more important than the outcome of any football match.

Agostino Di Bartolomei, captain of the club in that famous final the decade before, took his own life at his villa in San Marco di Castellabate. He was just 39 years old.

Di Bartolomei’s suicide shook Italian football to its very core. Nobody could have seen it coming. Agostino was always known as a shy and introverted man, but nobody could have imagined the feelings he was feeling on that fateful day and those leading up to it. His death came as a complete shock.

The years following the loss to Liverpool had not been kind to Di Bartolomei. Against his will – as well as that of the fans – he left Roma for AC Milan that summer. In his time with the Rossoneri, who were at a low ebb in their history, the team failed to win a single trophy. Three years after joining Milan, he moved on to Cesena for one season, then finished his career with Salernitana.

Agostino was not offered an off-the-field role at Roma upon his retirement in 1990 (teammates Bruno Conti and Franco Tancredi were when they called time on their careers). Instead, Di Bartolomei remained in the Salerno region, and saw his finances plummet, as he struggled to launch a career in business and a football school. Desperately in need of money, he was refused a loan from the bank, which drove him to breaking point. As he wrote in the suicide note that was later found in his pocket, he couldn’t “see the exit from the tunnel.”

Over twenty years since Di Bartolomei tragically took his own life, support networks for mental health are starting to increase. Society is realising that anyone can suffer from depression, no matter what their background is. Former Roma forward Bojan Krkic recently opened up about his own struggles with mental health, and he is not the only professional footballer to bravely set an example and open up about their feelings. For negative thoughts can come to anyone. But no person should feel like taking their own life is the only solution.

In his far too short life, Di Bartolomei had brought joy to thousands of people. He captained his hometown club with great honour, pride and elegance. A magnificent passer of the ball, he dictated play as a regista, and was also comfortable playing in a deeper role as a centre-back or a sweeper. He shone throughout the European Cup final, and even appeared to put Roma in the driving seat when he scored the team’s first penalty in the shootout. But despite the high esteem that many held him in, Agostino didn’t receive the sufficient support when things started to go wrong.

39 is no age to die at, and suicide is certainly no cause of death to go by. Agostino cannot be brought back, but we can learn from his tragic story. Mental health is an issue that needs to be taken more seriously, and those suffering from depression and other negative feelings should be aware that they are not alone. Di Bartolomei may have felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, but for everyone, there is. There is a way out. It may not come quickly and it may not be obvious at this moment in time, but one day, it will come. Small steps will become big ones, and one day, the dark tunnel will be left forever, traded for a life of happiness and positivity.

Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, spare a thought for Di Bartolomei, and all those after him who have felt depressed or suicidal. It’s a situation that many have found themselves in, but with the right support, society can help to get them back on track. It’s time to talk about feelings with honesty, and with no fear of judgement. People will listen and they will help. It’s the best way to start on the road to recovery.

There have been few greater captains in Roma’s history, and Italian football as a whole, than Agostino Di Bartolomei. Even now, our love for him lives on. He will never be forgotten.

Feeling low? Call the Samaritans on 116 123, or the CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) helpline on 0800 58 58 58. The NHS website has a range of other experienced, trustworthy services that are there to help.

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