A legendary top class goalkeeper has helped to plant a sensory garden in Huddersfield after a group of ex-footballers he runs raised £5,000 towards it.

Mark Crossley – the only goalie ever to save a penalty from penalty-taking legend Matt le Tissier – was at the Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice in Brackenhall.

Mark, who is one of only three goalkeepers to have saved a penalty in an FA Cup Final (from Gary Lineker in 1991), does walking and charity hikes with a group of ex-footballers including Dean Windass, Steve Howey and Nigel Jemson to raise the money.

Mark’s crew raised the money to pay for special wheelchair accessible sensory planters and hard landscaping for the garden.

Mark, who lives in Hoyland near Barnsley, first visited the hospice earlier this year. He said: “The emotions that I went through over the two hours I was there were unbelievable. I didn’t want to go in. I sat in my car for 10 minutes because I was scared to go in because I didn’t know what to expect.

“But when I came out I was smiling because everyone was so happy, singing and dancing. They’ve built a family there and it’s amazing what they do.”

Mark played for 24 years as a goalkeeper from 1988 until 2011 at Nottingham Forest (1989-2000), Manchester United, Millwall, Middlesbrough, Stoke City, Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday, Oldham Athletic and Chesterfield before becoming a goalkeeping coach at several clubs. 

In the years after he came out of the game Mark found life outside the very structured football lifestyle challenging and struggled with anxiety. He reached out to some fellow ex pros who faced similar issues and they began walking together, discovering that being in the outdoors together helped them with their stress and anxiety and they set up WATCH (Walking and Talking Charity Hikes) #walkingsbrilliant which has a website https://walkingsbrilliant.com/ 

As well as helping with their own wellbeing his group walk to challenge the stigma about talking about mental health, especially among men, and to raise money and awareness for projects that positively impact mental health.

Gareth Pierce, Director of Income Generation at Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice said: “When Mark visited the hospice earlier this year he really connected with our work around mental health and the difference that Walkingsbrilliant.com could make to families who have lost a child through the development of our garden space.

“We are so grateful for the contribution they have made to our sensory garden which will help all children and their families enjoy our outside spaces in peace, safety and with joy.”

Mark was joined by 19-year-old Hollie Shaw who was among the first children to stay at the hospice when it opened in 2012.

Hollie has a condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa, a rare genetic condition that makes skin so fragile it can tear or blister at the slightest touch.

She said: “I love to get outside in the fresh air and enjoy flowers and plants but I have to use a wheelchair and I struggle to access many visitor gardens elsewhere. The way they’ve designed their new garden here makes it so much easier to get around and get involved.”

The sensory garden was created with financial and volunteer support from WATCH #Walkingsbrilliant, Sheard Packaging, Eagle-Eye Fire and Security, J Fairbank Construction, Deco-pak, PolyGlobal and supermarket giant Tesco.

The sensory garden also features outdoor musical instruments created by Percussion Play.

Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice supports babies and children with life-shortening conditions and their families across West Yorkshire.

The charity offers a wide range of services right from pregnancy, including nursing care, hydrotherapy, creative therapy, days out, memory making, end of life care, bereavement support and counselling available to the whole family.

With only around 10% of funding coming from the government the charity must raise more than £5m in charitable donations this year to ensure it is able to give the children and families the support they need.

For more information about Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice visit https://www.forgetmenotchild.co.uk/

When Mark first visited Forget Me Not he posted an emotional video which you can watch here https://twitter.com/bignorms/status/1613164280961982467

You can follow Mark on Twitter https://twitter.com/bignorms

Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting.