So often you hear managers, players and seemingly anyone who has a voice in football, keen to display their outbursts towards referees. So much can be said but when you see the story of Mark Halsey and his battle against cancer then everything stops, English football takes a look at itself and the game comes together to appreciate the man for what he has gone through and his sheer dedication to wanting to return to duty.
The 48-year-old referee, from Bolton, was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and had a tumour removed from his throat, along with undergoing chemotherapy. The last time Halsey blew a whistle was on the opening day of this season when he refereed Everton’s match against Arsenal at Goodison Park, in August. Today, at 2pm, Halsey will have made his comeback in a Totesport.com cup semi-final between Leicester City Reserves and Scunthorpe United at Hinckley United’s Greene King Stadium. In between August and today the referee has had to deal with his hair falling out, losing the ability to taste and having to cope with his body aching whilst feeling extremely ill. After going through all this and much more that will not be known about, Halsey is an inspiration and amazing for even contemplating a return to the game.
Keith Hackett, the former general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Ltd, showed his respect for the official. He said: “The remarkable thing about Mark is that when he’d been having chemotherapy – and we all know how dreadful that is – he’d still turn up and train, how courageous is that?” Referees have their own union and naturally stick together because they come under the most scrutiny. Returning to the game is something that his fellow refs will be looking forward to just as much as Halsey himself. The admiration that players and managers will show for Halsey is one thing, but you can be sure that the likes of Howard Webb, Mark Clattenburg and co will feel like a member of their family is back after being away for too long.
Names like Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho have all been mentioned by Halsey as people who have been in touch regularly. Along with the messages of support from the names mentioned, and the obvious show of appreciation from Halsey’s colleagues, it would be great to think that those hooligan-type spectators, who seem to fill at least some percentage of every football stadium, would now cut out the vile chants and abuse that they throw to the guys who are just doing their job to the best of their ability. A story like Halsey’s should not have to make people look at things with a different outlook – it should be done anyway – but this has the potential to go some way towards putting an end to the ill-treatment that match officials receive.
The comeback of Mark Halsey comes at an age where usually it represents your final season but they are now given contract extensions beyond 49. He has revealed his desire to officiate in an FA Cup final and look to get back to Premiership refereeing- possibly even at the end of this season. Halsey will know that after his condition he will have to prove that he can still perform at the highest level but, with the amount of training he will have gone through, he would want to come back as the same ref as before the Everton-Arsenal game. So often people ask the question, “Who would want to be a referee”, well Mark Halsey certainly would.
You can follow me on www.twitter.com/prashster