Mark Halsey: 'When I beat the cancer, I wept for five minutes'

Mark Halsey is refereeing again after seven months battling illness. He tells Sam Wallace football kept him going

When the Premier League referee Mark Halsey learnt in December 2008 that his wife Michelle had been diagnosed with myeloid leukaemia, he refereed Hartlepool against Stoke City in the FA Cup third round two days later, although he will admit that he spent most of the match thinking about Michelle.

The abuse that usually washes off him hurt a little more that day. "I gave a decision against Hartlepool and a few of their fans had a right go at me. I looked at them and thought, 'If only you knew what I'm going through'," Halsey says. Within eight months he would be refereeing a game a day after learning that he had throat cancer.

Halsey, 48, has taken cancer on and won. He is in remission and on Wednesday he took charge of his first game back: the Totesport.com Cup semi-final between the reserve teams of Leicester City and Scunthorpe at Hinckley United. This week is Blackpool reserves against Rochdale reserves at Fleetwood – a very long way from the Premier League but Halsey feels like a new man and he is loving every minute.

We meet the day after the game at Hinckley at Christie hospital in south Manchester, the largest cancer hospital in Europe, which treats 14,000 patients every year. It is here that Halsey and Michelle have had their treatment and while Michelle's continues, her husband is proof that the fight can be won.

His return to refereeing came when he passed the stringent fitness tests required of all Premier League officials at the second time of asking. The test requires referees to complete six consecutive 40m sprints, each in less than 6.2 seconds and then 20 runs of 100m, each within 30 seconds with only 35 seconds of rest between each.

"My lowest point was when I took my first fitness test," he said. "I didn't get anywhere near it. I just couldn't do it. I collapsed. I remember sitting with my head in my hands. I couldn't even phone my wife to tell her I had failed. I just sat on the steps and thought, 'I can't see me ever doing this.' Michelle had a bit of a setback with her leukaemia so we went out to Lanzarote. I got a training programme to do while I was out there and I stuck to it rigorously. I took the test a second time. Mark Clattenburg, who was training on the pitch next to the track, came over and cheered me on.

"When I finished I fell to the floor and was just so emotional. Steve Bennett came over and picked me up. I think I hugged him for about five minutes and I cried non-stop." Halsey was diagnosed the day before his first game of the season, Arsenal's 6-1 win over Everton. He had suffered from a sore throat for weeks. The lymphoma tumour in his right tonsil had grown so large that by the time he was in charge of the game at Goodison Park it was obstructing his throat to the extent that if it had been left any longer he would have been unable to breathe or eat.

"On the Saturday, I arrived at the hotel four hours before kick-off and the assistants and fourth official were already waiting for me," Halsey said. "I could see they were looking at me concerned because I looked so ill. That was when I had to tell them. It was Mike Jones, the fourth official, Trevor Massey and Andy Garratt and I just said to them, 'Look, I need your help today because I've got cancer.'"

In the care of Professor Tim Illidge, a lymphoma specialist and lifelong Everton fan, Halsey underwent two biopsies to remove cancerous cells. His cancer was so aggressive that the tumour could double in size within 24 hours. After that, Halsey had a course of intravenous chemotherapy, which was followed by the second biopsy. Then there were six courses of chemotherapy and three weeks of radiotherapy.

Having reached 48, the age at which referees have to retire, Halsey hopes to be given the same extension granted to the likes of Bennett, Peter Walton and Alan Wiley. He is raising money for the Christie (www.justgiving.com/mark-halsey), he still hopes to referee an FA Cup final and most of all does not want to be treated any differently by players and fans."When I cross that white line, I am not Mark Halsey the cancer patient. I am Mark Halsey the referee. I wouldn't expect it any other way. I don't want their sympathy. But by me walking on that pitch I hope that I can give hope to all those people who are suffering from cancer. My illness has put the game and life into a different perspective. Of course I still care about football. I love the game. For me it is all about going out, and hoping 22 players can enjoy a game of football. And the fans, who pay a lot of money, should enjoy it. If I can stay out of the game and not be noticed, then I'm happy."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum