Football group re-unites Wigan childhood friends

Gareth Wilkinson, from Aspull, found long-time friend Mark Liptrot, through joining the Place 2 Place league during the pandemic

Friday, 30th April 2021, 3:28 pm
Updated Friday, 30th April 2021, 3:30 pm
Gareth Wilkinson

A Wigan dad has paid tribute to a community football group which helps people with mental health problems - and for rekindling an old friendship with someone he didn’t realise had only been living two streets away!

Gareth Wilkinson, from Aspull, joined the Place 2 Place league during the pandemic and plays for Wigan 49ers.

The five-a-side league uses football to start conversations about mental health and has been helping men speak out about their experiences with mental illnesses for almost three years.

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Gareth reunited with Mark Liptrot

It uses sport as a method to ease people into talking about more pressing matters, aiming to break down that problem many men having of discussing personal issues among themselves.

Gareth, a father-of-two, said the group has re-united him with a long-time friend, Mark Liptrot, who he had not seen for 20 years who happened to be a member.

He said: “I grew up in Ince and lived two minutes away from Mark playing football literally every day for many years.

“We started when we were eight until I was 18 when I moved away and we drifted apart not speaking for twenty years.”

After this, Gareth went on to open a cafe in Orrell, The Food Company which he owns now, and Mark went onto be a sports teacher but also started a 11-a-side football team called Aspull Juniors FC which Gareth has sponsored.

Little did the pair know, that for a number of years, they lived just two streets apart in Aspull, not ever passing - or at least recognising each other.

Gareth said: “To my surprise he was also a member at Place 2 Place and it reunited us leading to us finding out we live next to each other and that our kids are similar ages. I also sponsored his team.

He added: “Place 2 Place did an amazing job of bringing us back together and their work in the community helps more than 150 members, that turn up week after week, in so many ways.”

Place 2 Place was founded by Peter Hill in 2017, as a way of easing more men into opening up about their mental health issues. The dad-of-two came face to face with the devastating effects of mental illness when several close friends took their lives in a short space of time.

Peter decided to take a stand against the stigma of speaking out about these illnesses, starting with a charity bike ride to Paris, before later going on to found the five-a-side team, which then became a league of its own.

Place 2 Place’s efforts to help people through their struggles have received much praise, but the nationwide lockdown has sidelined its fixtures until further notice, forcing them to think of other ways to keep supporting each other.

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