Whole new ball game as refs strip off for charity

THEY strip off at every match to don the black jersey but for these daring referees, it is a whole new ball game — so to speak.

Forty members of the Cork branch of the Irish Soccer Referees Association have come within an inch of being called offside to pose naked for a 2012 charity calendar — with not a single red card in sight.

The men in the middle stripped off to help raise funds for the Jack & Jill Foundation.

“Refs sometimes get bad press but hopefully these tasteful pictures will show us in a different light,” said referee John Gaffney.

The Farranree man said he wanted to do “something different” to help the foundation, which supported him and his family after the birth of his daughter, Grace, in June 2002. Grace was born with a fatal chromosomal disorder called Patau’s syndrome.

John and his family knew they would have very little time with her. The foundation & supported them with Grace’s 24-hour care regime, which allowed her to stay at home for six weeks before she died, aged just 10 weeks.

“It was great to get her home,” John said.

“We couldn’t have coped without the Jack & Jill Foundation. Coping with a child like Grace at home is hard and the support we got from Jack & Jill meant everything to us and now we want to help the foundation to support more families.”

John was initially shown the red card when he pitched his naked calendar idea to his colleagues.

But when he explained why he wanted to do it, 40 refs stepped forward.

Evening Echo photographer Brian Lougheed shot the refs in a variety of strategic poses in Turners Cross in April.

It features some of the city’s best-known referees, assistant referees, and referee assessors, as well as RTÉ soccer reporter Pat McAuliffe, Con Dineen, and its oldest pin-up, Keith Spooley, who is in his 70s.

“We’ve had tremendous support for the calendar from local businesses who’ve taken advertisements and from all the local clubs who’ve already started placing their orders,” said John.

“I really hope it’s a sell out and want to thank everyone for their support. This was a real team effort.”

Over 3,000 copies of the calendar will go on sale, priced €10. It will be available in Eason and in SuperValu in Hollyhill and Togher, Cork.

The calendar will be launched by Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, at the Maldron Hotel in Cork tomorrow night.

The Jack & Jill Children’s Foundation helps children born with or who develop brain damage and who suffer severe intellectual and physical developmental delay as a result.

* www.jackandjill.ie

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