A year ago referee Mark Halsey travelled to a game at Everton not only thinking his career was over, but fearing his life soon would be.
Just a day earlier he had been diagnosed with throat cancer and few knew of his inner turmoil as he ran out on to the Goodison Park pitch on the opening day of the Premier League season.
Barely two days later he was undergoing surgery, but so aggressive was a lymphoma the size of a golf ball that it immediately grew back. A debilitating period of chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed and by Christmas he was so weak that he contracted a serious infection. The prospect of a return to football at this point, as he returned to hospital for more treatment, must have seemed the unlikeliest of dreams. That the 49-year-old is now back remission, back to full fitness and eagerly awaiting his next Premier League appointment is a remarkable and inspirational story.
Halsey said: "I didn't think I'd referee a football match again. I was only a couple of weeks away from not being here at all. I owe my life to Professor Tim Illidge and the people at The Christie hospital. My last treatment was in December but then I caught an infection. I had no immune system and I was really bad. I went back into hospital for a while and I have never been so ill in my life "
Halsey refereed again in the Football League late last season and made an emotional return to Goodison Park on Wednesday to take charge of Everton's friendly against their Chilean namesakes, Everton. He will find out on Monday if he is to return to top-flight duties on the opening weekend of the new season.
"I'm on top of the world after that," the father of three added. "It was very emotional and overwhelming but it is good to be back. It has been very difficult trying to get my fitness back but I have worked very hard."
Halsey has spent most of the summer at his house in Spain building up his strength. He now feels the hard work has been worthwhile and says the doctors have been surprised by the speed of his recovery: "Professor Illidge said he had never seen a tumour or lymphoma like it, that it was one of the worst he had seen. But he has also been amazed at how well I have come back. He never thought I would get back this quick. You have got to set yourself goals. I was hoping to do a Premier League game before the end of the season but, rightly, they didn't give me one because I wasn't ready."
Halsey has since set up the Mark Halsey Foundation to raise money for The Christie and has willingly offered support and encouragement to other sufferers. Cancer also remains part of everyday life as his wife Michelle, who was diagnosed with leukaemia in December 2008, continues to receive treatment for her condition. "She is not doing as well as she should be but we will go back and see the specialist, see what he says," he said. Halsey is grateful for the support he has received throughout his ordeal but is not expecting or wanting sympathy when he returns to the pitch.
He said: "It has been tough with my wife not being so good, but my family and little girl have been an inspiration, and so have everyone else – friends, colleagues, media, everyone on the street."
"Whether people will be so welcoming if I don't give them a penalty during the season I don't know! If I deserve criticism, a manager is entitled to have a moan about me. I don't worry about anything any more, I just let things pass me by. Life is too short and every day is a bonus."Reuse content