MARK Halsey gave an interview to The Independent recently. “When I cross that white line,” he said, “I am not Mark Halsey the cancer patient. I am Mark Halsey the referee.”
The Bolton-based referee has admitted to being overwhelmed by just how many messages of support he has received in the eight months he has been battling throat cancer. But he was never going to let sentiment rule him.
And so when a downpour made the pitch at Accrington’s Crown Ground unplayable less than an hour before last night’s League Two match against Barnet was due to kick off, Halsey did what he had to do and called the game off – even though it meant delaying his own return to top-line refereeing.
Even so, it must have felt good to be back. And he will only have to wait a few days for his next match, the League Two encounter between Rotherham and Port Vale at the Don Valley Stadium on Saturday.
Halsey and his family have had a difficult time over the last couple of years. In December 2008, his wife Michelle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia, which is treatable but not curable, and for which she must take medication for the rest of her life. Eight months later, Halsey discovered he had throat cancer. The couple experienced the fears, the lows and the setbacks that come with fighting cancer; but the good news is that for both Halsey and his wife, the disease is now in remission.
The referee’s cancer was diagnosed shortly before he took charge of Arsenal’s 6-1 victory at Everton on the opening day of the Premier League season. His consultant told him it was the worst case of throat cancer he had ever diagnosed. Halsey underwent two biopsies to remove cancerous cells, as well as six courses of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy.
With the help of The Christie hospital in Withington, south Manchester – and in particular lymphoma specialist Professor Tim Illidge – Halsey began to regain his health. With the support of the football community, he set about proving himself ready to resume refereeing.
He has admitted that there were times when he didn’t think he would pass the required fitness tests. Premier League officials have to complete six consecutive 40-metre sprints, each in less than 6.2 seconds. They also have to do 20 runs of 100 metres, each in under 30 seconds. They are allowed only 35 seconds of rest between each run.
The first time Halsey took the test, he failed it. By his own admission, he wasn’t even close. A family holiday in Lanzarote helped to lift both his spirits and those of Michelle. He also carried out a rigorous training programme while out there, and returned home vowing to pass the test second time round. When he did pass, he confessed to crying more than a few tears.
Halsey has spoken of his gratitude to The Christie for their part in helping him and his wife, and is using his high profile to raise money for the hospital. Donations can be made online at www.justgiving.com/mark-halsey.
“The Christie has to raise so much money just to keep providing the care they do,” Halsey told The Bolton News last September. “I think at times the Government get it wrong when they bail out the banks, yet somewhere like that gets very little help.”
Halsey’s comeback started in reserve-team football, taking charge of a Totesport.com Cup semi-final between the second strings of Scunthorpe and Leicester at Hinckley United’s Greene King Stadium.
Last night was meant to be the next stage in that comeback. And in a sense, it was. Halsey has postponed his first Football League match since returning to refereeing. Now all his has to tick off are his first red card, his first debatable penalty decision, his first barrage of abuse from the stands and his first post-match slating from a beaten manager.
He wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s good to have you back, Mark.