Gone Too Soon: 20 Soccer Players Who Died During Their Career

Believe it or not, footballers are just as human as the rest of us. Sure they can do some of the most incredible things, but they eat, sleep and get sick just like we do.

Sadly, they die as well. While most professional footballers have the luxury of seeing out their careers and dying years after leaving the game, some aren’t that lucky. In fact, there have been several cases of players dying right there on the pitch or as a result of an injury suffered while playing.

Football is quite far from being a dangerous sport, especially when compared to motorcycle racing, surfing, rafting and other extreme activities people decide to take on for the thrill of it. However, there’s always a risk of someone suffering a life-threatening injury during an episode of the beautiful game.

There are also players whose death have been the result of accidents, murders and what have you. After all, they aren’t exempt from the gruesome events that could affect any given person at any given time.

Footballers are obviously more sheltered, as they can afford personal protection, and in some cases the clubs that they are contracted to restrict certain risky activities by use of a clause.

Yet there have been many players who left the game way too soon due to death. Here’s a list of 20.

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20 Piermario Morosini

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Italian midfielder Piermario Morosini died as a result of cardiac arrest suffered during a match between his team Livorno and Pescara on April 14th, 2010. Morosini had collapsed in the 31st minute, tried getting up, but fell back to the ground.

The 25-year-old was rushed to the hospital, but was announced dead upon arrival. It was also reported that the ambulance was delayed for nearly a minute as a police car was blocking the entrance to the pitch, but it was later stated that that minute would not have made a difference.

Recently, three doctors who tended to Morosini were found guilty of manslaughter and were each handed suspended prison sentences for failing to comply with medical protocol. It is believed that the player’s life could have been saved if a defibrillator was used, but that did not happen, despite the stadium having two at the time.

19 Daniel Jarque

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Daniel ‘Dani’ Jarque spent his entire senior career at La Liga club Espanyol, having joined them in 2001. Playing as defender, Jarque was named the side’s captain just one month prior to his untimely death in 2009.

The player, who was 26 years old at the time, fell ill and passed out at the team’s training base in Coverciano during Espanyol’s pre-season tour in Italy. Despite the medical team’s best efforts to revive him, Jarque passed away just one day before the Spanish side were due to play Bologna.

The news hit all of Spain quite hard and Barcelona star Andres Iniesta was left traumatized for almost a year after Jarque’s passing. The winger won the FIFA World Cup for Spain a year later, scoring the only goal in the final against Holland. His goal celebration would demonstrate an undershirt with the words "Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros" (Dani Jarque, always with us) written on the front.

18 Antonio Puerta

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Antonio Puerta played for Sevilla, before dying from a series of heart attacks during the Spanish side’s 4-1 win over Getafe. Puerta, who passed away aged 22, was also a Spain international, but had only managed one appearance for his country at senior level. He also played for their Under-21 and Under-23 teams.

Puerta passed on August 28th, 2007, having collapsed while jogging back towards his own goal a few days earlier. Medics and teammates had to work hard to prevent him from swallowing his tongue. After going off, he would collapse yet again and was later taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The hospital’s director said that Puerta died from multiple organ failure caused by prolonged cardiac arrest.

17 Miklos Feher

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Hungarian forward Miklos Feher passed away while playing for Benfica on January 5th, 2004. Feher, who had previously played for Porto and Braga, came on as a substitute in the 60th minute against Vitoria Guimaraes.

He was shown a yellow card in the dying minutes of the match and seemed to take it with a smile, but everyone rushed to his aid after he bent over with his hands on his knees, then fell backwards.

It was quite an ugly scene as team members, as well as his coach Jose Antonio Camacho, struggled to hold the tears back. Feher was revived by the team’s medical staff and was taken to a nearby hospital after, but much like in the case of Morosino, the ambulance faced trouble accessing the pitch.

The striker did not even make it to midnight and was pronounced dead at hospital. He was 24 years at the time of death.

16 Gregory Mertens

via foxsports.com

Belgian defender Gregory Mertens died on April 30th, 2015, three days after collapsing during a reserve match between his team Lokeren and K.R.C Genk. Aged 24 at the time of his death, Mertens had represented his country at the Under-16, Under-19 and Under-21 level.

The player passed out on the pitch during said game and was treated immediately by the medical staff, who administered CPR. He was then rushed to hospital and news outlets reported that he was fighting for his life. Unfortunately, the fight would only last three days and Mertens would succumb to cardiac arrest after his family agreed to pull the plug on life support.

Prior to his death, Mertens had passed all fitness tests imposed by UEFA and was said to be one of the fittest players at Lokeren.

15 Stefan Petrovski

via espnfc.com

The 18-year-old goalkeeper died in May this year (2016) through the most unlucky way possible. Petrovski, an Australian who played for Melaka United in Malaysia’s second tier, met his end after being struck by lightning.

On April 5th, the youngster was about leaving training when he got the shock of his life. He was hit by the charged bolt along with teammate Muhd Afiq Azuan and both players were left unconscious. Azuan regained his senses and was stabilized, but poor Petrovski was not so fortunate and eventually passed due to the injuries.

At one point it seemed like he was on his way to recovering, but a month later, he would pass away as his brain was swollen and he lacked oxygen.

What a way to go.

14 Junior Malanda

via thefootballmind.com

Junior Malanda’s passing shook the entire football world and left Wolfsburg, in particular, in major distress.

Malanda, a Belgian footballer, died at 20 years of age and was a very promising midfielder before passing. He was the passenger of a car that crashed on a German motorway on January 10th, 2015, due to wet conditions. He was on his way to meet the rest of the Wolfsburg squad who had to travel to South Africa for a training camp.

The car he was traveling on was said to have slammed into a tree. And Malanda, who was not wearing his seatbelt at the time, was thrown out of the car and died on the spot.

He made 17 appearances for the Bundesliga side before the tragic event.

13 Patrick Ekeng

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The Cameroonian defensive midfielder was part of the Dinamo Bucaresti side at the time of his death. He only made a handful appearances for the team before collapsing during a match against Viitorul Constanta on May 6th, 2016.

Ekeng, 26, had come on as a sub in the second half of the match. It is believed that he was feeling quite fatigued and had told a friend that he did not feel like playing on the day. He fell down in the 69th minute of the match and was taken to hospital thereafter. He died two hours after passing out.

Medical personnel came under scrutiny and were criticized for the manner in which Ekeng was treated. Further investigation revealed that the ambulance company was at fault due to faulty equipment and expired medicine.

12 Robert Enke

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German goalkeeper Robert Enke is better known for stints at Benfica and Barcelona, but was attached to Bundesliga outfit Hannover 96 at the time of his death. He also had eight caps for the German national side.

The stopper is believed to have taken his own life by purposely standing in front of a train on May 10th, 2009. A suicide note was subsequently discovered by police, but they rightfully refused to go into details.

Enke’s widow, Teresa, revealed that her husband had been struggling with depression for years and was undergoing psychiatric treatment as a result. He had lost his two-year-old daughter Lara to a heart condition in 2006 and was said to be fearful of his adopted daughter being taken away from him.

11 Hernan Gaviria

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Hernan Gaviria, another player who was struck by lightning, was a 32-year-old midfielder who played for Deportivo Cali at the time of his passing.

Gaviria died instantly, on October 24th, 2002, after getting hit by a bolt of lightning during a training session with the rest of the Deportivo squad. His teammate, Dario Sala, spoke after the player’s death and revealed that Gaviria had said that he could never be killed by lightning a mere 15 minutes before getting struck.

Sala also said that the day in question was a sunny one, but some light rain had forced the players to take the necessary precautions i.e. removing any sort of conductor, such as earrings and what have you, from their bodies. He recalls that there were 15 to 30 lightning bolts in around four minutes.

Sala lost another teammate in Giovanni Cordoba, who died three days after getting hit by the same bolt of lightning.

10 Dale Roberts

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Dale Roberts was a goalkeeper who played for Rushden and Diamonds FC before taking his own life. Prior to that, he represented Nottingham Forest, Eastwood Town and Alfreton Town.

Roberts, who was 24 years old at the time of his passing, committed suicide because he could not handle the heartbreak and media intervention after his fiancée admitted to having an affair with teammate Paul Terry, who is Chelsea captain John Terry’s older brother.

Lindsay Cowen confessed to cheating with Terry following a confrontation by a suspicious Roberts. The keeper refused to play with Terry thereafter, which led to him (Terry) being cut loose by the team, as his other colleagues wanted nothing to do with him either.

Roberts split with Cowen after finding out, but eventually gave way to the pressure and on December 14th, 2010, his body was found by Northamptonshire Police.

9 Serhiy Perkhun

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Russian keeper Serhiy Perkhun died aged 23 after colliding with Anzhi Makhachkala forward Budun Budunov during a match between Anzhi and CSKA Moscow on August 19th, 2001. Perkhun was in goal for CSKA and came out to head a threatening ball away. He could not avoid contact with the striker, who was trying to score, and was on the receiving end of a boot to the face.

Initially, the injury was not thought to be serious and Perkhun was said to have suffered a broken nose. But on the way to the hospital, he fell into a coma and would never recover, dying nine days later.

“During the match, your sense of danger completely disappears,” he said in his very last interview. “You’re thinking mainly about playing the ball and avoiding making contact with the striker. And only later do you think back on how you played, and what could have happened.”

8 Marc-Vivien Foe

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Marc Vivien-Foe was a Cameroon international, who played for Lens, Lyon, West Ham and also had a loan spell at Manchester City.

He died on June 26th, 2003 after collapsing during a FIFA Confederations Cup match between Cameroon and Colombia. Foe, who was 28 years old at the time, fell to the ground in the 72nd minute of the match and was stretchered off after attempts to revive him were made out on the pitch.

Medical staff tried both oxygen and CPR and 45 minutes were spent trying to get him back, yet efforts proved futile. He was taken to the medical centre in Gerland Stadium in Lyon, still alive, but passed away moments after.

The cause of death was not known at the time, but a second autopsy revealed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition known to increase the likelihood of sudden death during any intense physical activity.

7 Matt Gadsby

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Matt Gadsby died at the age of 27, on September 9th, 2006, during a match between his team Hinckley United and Harrogate Town. Gadsby had turned 27 three days prior to the tragic event.

He collapsed during the first half of the match, with no one even near him. Medics rushed to his aid within seconds and made their best efforts to save him. He was then taken to a nearby hospital where their staff tried their best as well, but to no avail.

Tests later determined that the player had died as a result of Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy, which is a condition that affects muscles in the heart’s right ventricles.

A match was later held in his honour, between Newton Thistle, a Sunday League team, and Leicester City old stars.

6 Bernardo Ribeiro

via thescottishsun.co.uk

Brazilian attacking midfielder Bernardo Ribeiro passed away at the age of 26, just one day after Patrick Ekeng died, on May 7th, 2016. Ribeiro fell ill whilst playing for Friburguense in his homeland Brazil and had to be substituted. Upon arrival at the hospital, he suffered a heart attack and passed away shortly after.

The player had started out his youth career with Flamengo in Brazil. He later signed his first professional contract with Albanian club Skenderbeu.

He then moved to Australia to join the Newcastle Jets, but only played six matches for the side. After signing with Finland top flight side IFK Mariehamn, he moved back to Brazil in 2015 and joined Inter de Lages, before signing for his last club Friburguense.

5 Joe Powell

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Joseph Joshua Powell was Arsenal’s captain for their first ever league match, so you could imagine how old he would have been today – if people lived that long.

Powell joined the Gunners way back in 1892, when they were still known as Woolwich Arsenal. He had enlisted with the Army as a young man and played football for the South Staffordshire Regiment where he worked.

During a game against Arsenal in October of 1982, the soldier performed so well, the club decided to buy him out of his Army contract and had him signed up by December.

Playing as a right-back, Powell spent four years with the Gunners. But in a match against Kettering in November of 1896, he broke his arm and fell victim to blood poisoning, as well as tetanus. The arm was amputated in an attempt to save the rest of him, yet he would pass away six days later. Powell made 92 starts for Arsenal in his career.

4 Di Jones

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Di Jones was a full back who represented Bolton Wanderers and Manchester City in the late 1800s. The Englishman made 228 appearances for Bolton and 114 for City before his death in 1902.

Medicine back then was nothing near what it is today, so like Powell, Jones would have probably survived if he had suffered this injury a few years back or even way before that.

The player, 35 years old at the time, fell on a piece of glass during a training session on August 17th and cut his knee. An inquest into his death reported that Jones, whose injury was not seen as life-threatening at the time, refused to be stretchered off and walked away, dressed himself and even tried getting his own transport. He also walked out of a cab to seek treatment.

For all of his bravado, Jones would die of blood poisoning and lockjaw 10 days later.

3 Tommy Blackstock

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Tommy Blackstock was a Scottish defender who played for Manchester United between 1903 and 1907. Prior to that, he represented Dunniker Rangers, Blue Bell FC, Raith Athletic, Leith Athletic and Cowdenbeath.

On April 8th, 1907, Blackstock was playing for the United reserves in a match against St. Helens Recreation FC when he headed the ball and then fell to the ground unconscious. He was carried off the pitch and into the dressing room, but upon getting there, he was already dead.

Doctors’ reports claimed that there was no internal injury and there was nothing physically wrong with the defender, and his death could not be explained. He was reported to have died of natural causes.

Things were made even worse when United refused to pay Blackstock’s family insurance money that was rightly theirs. And that prompted his enraged teammates to form the first players’ union, the Association Football Players Union (AFPU) which, over time, became the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) we have today.

2 John Thomson

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John Thompson played as a goalkeeper for Celtic and Scotland. He was only 22 years of age at the time of his death, which was the result of a nasty collision with an opponent’s knee during an Old Firm derby match against rivals Rangers at Ibrox on September 5th, 1931.

The collision left Thomson’s skull fractured and an artery in his right temple ruptured. He was treated on the pitch and then stretchered off to be taken to the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow where a doctor would attempt an emergency surgery in order to ease the pressure from the swelling of his brain. However, the procedure was unsuccessful and Thomson was pronounced dead that very night.

The youngster’s death came as a huge shock to many and touched all of Scotland. Over 40,000 people were said to have attended his funeral.

1 Andres Escobar

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The most brutal and shocking of them all, the death of Colombian star Andres Escobar, in 1994, shook the world to its core.

Escobar played for Atletico Nacional and Young Boys in his native land, also representing the Colombian national side on 51 occasions. He was the nation’s poster boy and meant even more to the people of his poor hometown Medellin. But things took a horrible turn during the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

In a match against USA, the defender helped the ball into his own net after mistiming a slide meant to cut off a pass and USA won 2-1. Upon return to Colombia, despite several warnings not to, Escobar would meet up with friends on the night of July 1st, 1994 and visit two bars. After he and his friends split up, the 27-year-old was left alone in the parking lot of El Indio bar around 3am when he was approached by three men and a woman.

An argument ensued and Escobar protested, claiming that the own goal was a mistake, yet two of the men proceeded to pull out guns and shoot him. The player was shot six times and was left to bleed out in the parking lot while the men sped away in a truck.

Subsequent reports claimed that one of the killers had shouted “Gol!” after every shot, mocking the South American commentator who sat at the aforementioned match.

Escobar’s funeral was attended by over 120,000 people. After his murder, several players quit the national team, with some retiring from the game altogether.

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