FOOTBALLERS often get a bad rep.

And they usually deserve it whether it is through their behaviour, on and off the pitch, or collecting vulgar wages at a club that they care little of.

So on Wednesday night, I felt privileged to see a very different side to some of the Blues big names.

David Stockdale, Carlos Edwards and Grant Leadbitter took time out to help with the ITFC Charitable Trust's disabled football team.

For those in the dark, a number which included me until 48 hours ago, the weekly training sessions are attended by dozens of football-loving folk, men and women, boys and girls, who suffer from a range of disabilities. There are even some who are visually impaired.

To quote the club literature, the training sessions cater for children, young people and adults with physical disabilities, learning difficulties or mental health issues, and offer the same footballing opportunities as mainstream players.

Noble though the actions of the Town trio were, I can hear you say that this is actually what they should be doing if Ipswich are going to truly achieve their goals as a community club.

And while I can't argue with that, I would say that all three players went above and beyond the call of duty. This was not just 10 minutes of a professional footballer's time, signing an autograph and then checking his phone for the next nine-and-a-half minutes.

All three took part in training drills and, in the case of Stockdale, had to be literally dragged away after almost an hour as he was having too much fun - playing outfield I should add - in a practice match with those suffering from serious disabilites.

The night was a real eye-opener for me, but this had nothing to do with the stars on show. For me, and I am sure the trio would agree, the real stars were the people attending the sessions.

The ones who live with constant pain and suffering, but who can, for an hour and a half every week, pretend to be their heroes - and sadly there were a few non-Town shirts on show!

Watching these lads, and even one lass, playing was almost like watching any training session of any standard. You had the shouters - the ones who either cajole or moan depending on your take. You had the triers, the ones who were there for a bit of fun - and then the real class acts, ones who I intend to write about in more detail in weeks to come. There was even one or two brave enough to give some stick to Stockdale and Edwards!

Off the pitch, they were happy to talk to me, a stranger, about their trials and tribulations, real heart-rending stuff that makes Paul Jewell's midfield dilemmas or whether to play one upfront small-fry in comparison.

And as well as providing some competitive entertainment for the players, the sessions also offer some valuable respite to family members and carers.

This is something Ipswich Town should be doing and I do believe the players have a role in supporting such services.

But under the shadows of the famous Portman Road stadium,  real light shone through the darkness.

* You can see more photos from the training sessions in today's Evening Star