The heartbroken parents of a Chorley teenager found dead at the weekend have paid tribute to the ‘life and soul of everything’.
The body of Gareth Stringfellow, 18, known to his friends as ‘Stringy’, was found close to the railway line in Coppull on Saturday morning.
His devastated parents, Jason and Elaine, of Doris Street, said their son was “the life and soul of everything”, and was a talented footballer.
Dad Jason said: “He had so many friends, he never wanted to be in and was out playing with his mates.
“Football was his life ever since he was little.
“If he was playing a match at 11am, he had his kit and his boots on at 6am.
“Everything revolved around football and he was a really talented player.”
The youngster, who attended Holy Cross Catholic High School, had started out playing for Chorley St Gregory’s where he was spotted as an 11-year-old by former Preston North End and Wigan Athletic footballer Lee Ashcroft, who took him to play for Preston-based junior football team, BAC.
He had trials with Blackburn Rovers before joining the academy at Bolton and then playing for Preston until being released as a 16-year-old.
He was handed his debut at just 16 by Ashcroft, when the pair teamed up again at Evo-Stik League Premier Division side Kendal Town, and later played for local teams, most recently, Lostock St Gerard’s in the West Lancashire League.
The teenager had been recently diagnosed with autism disorder Asperger’s Syndrome and his parents said the impact of the diagnosis had hit the youngster hard.
His mother Elaine said: “He had to cope with adult life, finding a job and being released from playing football, but he had done all that.
“We were just saying the other week how well he was doing, he was doing really well and we thought he had turned a corner.”
Lee Ashcroft, who made more than 150 appearances during three spells at North End, said the death was “like losing a son”.
He said he had only spoken with the youngster a fortnight ago and invited him to join Kendal in pre-season training this summer.
He said: “I have known Gareth since he was 11-years-old and this is like losing a son to me.
“I have seen him grow up as a footballer and a young man, he just had so much going for him.
“This is one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with, everyone connected with Kendal Town are just devastated at the news.
“I only spoke to him a couple of weeks ago and I just wish he had said something.
“We all have problems, I just wish he had called me and I could have come and talked to him about it.”
More than 200 people joined a tribute page on social networking website, Facebook, to pay tribute to the former St Joseph’s Primary School and Holy Cross Catholic High School pupil.
A spokesman for the British Transport Police confirmed officers were called to a stretch of track of the West Coast Mainline at Coppull, shortly before 9am on Saturday.
They found the body of a man and the line was closed for more than an hour.
A spokesman said the death was being treated as “unexplained”.
She said: “The body of a man was discovered at the scene and officers from British Transport Police and Lancashire Police carried out an investigation.
“The incident is being treated as unexplained and a full report will be handed to the local coroner in due course.”