When coeliac disease ended rugby league fanatic Mark Charlton's pro-level refereeing career, he turned to working behind the scenes of the sport he loves. Now, he will look after the Papua New Guinea squad when the World Cup comes to Hull. Danny Longhorn reports.
THE squads may not yet be announced for this year's Rugby League World Cup but dozens of people from East Yorkshire will play a key role.
More than 70 people have been recruited as volunteers for the competition, set to take place in the UK from October.
Among those is Mark Charlton, 43, of South Cave, picked as the team liaison officer for Papua New Guinea, who will be based in Hull for the duration of the tournament.
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He said: "Deciding to apply to be a volunteer was easy. I am passionate about rugby league, I wanted to get immersed in a team environment and I want to inspire young people to get into sport – whether as a player, administrator, match official or any other valuable support role.
"I am Hull born and bred and am immensely proud of my home city. This is the chance to present Hull positively."
Mr Charlton, who works in Hull City Council's adult, children and family services department, has had rugby league in his heart since the 1970s.
As well as playing the sport, he has refereed Championship games – one league below the top division Super League.
"After the excitement of my first team officiating debut, there was to be a twist that meant I would no longer go on to the professional field with a flag in my hand as the 2008 season was coming to a close," he said.
"I had two final academy level games, the first being Hull FC v Wakefield where in minute 79, I was able to sprint the length of the field, keeping pace with a young and quick 18-year-old.
"A week later, I had Wakefield v Hull KR, but it was in this game that I first experienced some problems.
"I was getting severe stomach cramps, was feeling lethargic and generally not myself.
"Just two weeks later, I was in the heart ward with strange heart flutters and was starting to lose weight and suffering more bouts of stomach cramps and experiencing chronic fatigue."
Thankfully, the father-of-two's heart was fine and further tests on his liver also came back clear.
In the end he was diagnosed with coeliac disease – a condition in which gluten found in wheat, barley causes the immune system in the gut to attack the digestive system, damaging it to a point where it affects the ability to absorb food.
He said: "There is no cure for coeliac disease, it is managed through changing the diet to exclude all gluten-containing foods.
"Even now, the diet goes wrong and this leaves me fatigued – and for this reason, I opted not to push my fitness and go back on-field at the pro-level.
"My thinking was that if I was due to officiate on a Sunday and my diet went wrong on a Wednesday, I would be withdrawing from the game at short notice – not the right approach in professional sport.
"So with my on-field days over, I had to be involved in the sport that has been part of my life since the late 1970s.
"The opportunity to become a match commissioner came along in 2009 and I grasped it. It also meant learning a new side of the game."
His role as match commissioner sees him checking the pitches are suitable and safe to play on, make sure there are all the medical facilities, doctors and necessary safety precautions in place at matches.
He is also one of the 1,000 people to take on volunteer roles at the Rugby League World Cup, taking a month off work to look after Papua New Guinea.
"I'm really looking forward to it and feel lucky that I am one of 14 people getting the chance to be a team liaison officer," he said.
"It is a great opportunity to spend time with the team, see the environment and how they prepare for games.
"I have already started revising about their languages and cultures and look forward to showing them our local culture here in Hull."
More than half a million people are expected to watch the 28 matches live over six weeks in autumn.
Hull was one of 34 bids, comprising 30 stadia, 47 team training sites and 87 team base camps, that were submitted to the Rugby Football League.
Councillor Terry Geraghty, Hull City Council's portfolio holder for public health, said: "Rugby League World Cup 2013 is the next major sporting event in the UK and is fantastic for Hull to be hosting three matches at the MS3 and KC stadia.
"We hope the games will bring many visitors to the city so they can see the many cultural and sporting places Hull has to offer as well as the economic benefits.
"The volunteers will gain valuable experience and play an important role to ensure the games run smoothly and safely so that visitors can enjoy the games.
"They will also be an ambassador for Hull and responsible for putting Hull on the map."
Emma Neve, Rugby League World Cup 2013 tournament projects manager, said: "It's fantastic to see such outstanding volunteers emerge.
"We sought to appoint hard-working, enthusiastic and passionate people to the available roles and were overwhelmed by the quality of application we received."
Visit Mark Charlton's blog to read about his experiences as a volunteer.