ONE YEAR ON: Lack of sport during lockdown hindered mental health support efforts

Place 2 Place FC was growing fast when Boris Johnson’s bombshell announcement came on March 23 2020.

Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 10:44 am
Updated Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 11:38 am

Place 2 Place FC was growing fast when Boris Johnson’s bombshell announcement came on March 23 2020.

Since its inception in 2017, the five-a-side football league has used the power of sport to help its members open up about their struggles with mental health, in an environment more familiar and relaxed than traditional therapy or counselling sessions.

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Peter Hill at Place 2 Place FC

This time last year, Place 2 Place members were on the crest of a wave. Its founder, Peter Hill, had recently been crowned the North West’s Unsung Hero at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, and new sponsors were supporting the league’s growth. And, on a cold and windy night in February, Manchester United star Daniel James dropped by the P2P base at Winstanley Warriors to meet the players and hear about how Place 2 Place had helped them with their battles.

So it was a cruel blow that, when the pandemic first hit the UK, Place 2 Place was forced to stop at a time when people needed its support than ever. But the players are determined to come back fighting when Covid restrictions finally come to an end, with a renewed appreciation for football.

“We started the year with Dan James and about 50 of us getting together, to barely getting two people together. [Lockdown] definitely had an impact on us,” said dad-of-two Peter.

“We tried our hardest to keep things fresh and interesting with the lads. We did things like kayaking and foot golf when we couldn’t play football. I think we put a fair effort in, but there’s only so many things you can do before you say ‘we have to get back to normality’.”

Daniel James with P2P members in February 2020

Peter went on: “The lockdown was needed, I don’t think anyone disagrees with that, but things particularly started to go downhill with mental health around Christmas.

“We tried to keep people chatting and occupied through social media groups. We had people like Ricky Tomlinson wishing one of our guys well in the early part of lockdown, which did him good.

“We’ve done a lot of things like Zoom calls and fitness videos. We managed to fit in, just before Christmas, a friendly with the Manchester United Foundation.”

Sadly, Peter revealed that some members had struggled greatly with the effects of the lockdown, with some falling back into hold habits.

Peter Hill at Place 2 Place FC

He said: “People have leaned towards drinking at home out of boredom, to cope with stress, and fell into some negative routines, which is even more reason for wanting to get back to football. Four to five lads have mentioned they are now drinking a lot more than they were, and it could be a common theme through the borough. That’s just the lads that have been vocal about it, so who knows how many people are privately doing the same.”

Place 2 Place members are now chomping at the bit to get back on the pitch and are looking forward to brighter days once more.

Peter said: “I think the feeling is one of fatigue now. It was one thing doing tik toks and quizzes and zoom calls throughout last year, but people really have had enough now. The lads just want to play a game of football. I think that’s the biggest thing right now, is that we’re almost chatted out. The lads have still had issues, some have taken it harder than others.”

Lockdown has taught us to appreciate things like being able to come down and play football, having a kick around with the lads.”

Daniel James with Peter Hill in February 2020

A range of support services are available for anyone struggling with their mental health during the pandemic.

- The Samaritans can be contacted free of charge, 24 hours a day, on 116 123 or at [email protected]

- Hopeline UK is a confidential service for children and young people under the age of 35, who are experiencing thoughts of suicide, or anyone concerned that a young person could be thinking about suicide. They can be contacted by calling 0800 068 4141 or texting 07860 039 967.

- Anyone struggling with alcohol consumption during the pandemic can seek help at nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse.

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