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."

Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
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

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable