The legendary Bill Shankly, Manager of Liverpool once said:

 ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.’

He was a larger than life Scotsman who transformed the fortunes of Liverpool FC, but he was wrong!

The Barclays Premier League began yesterday and much attention was focused on Blackpool FC who gained promotion to the Premier League by way of a play-off victory over Cardiff City.

Their first match was against Wigan Athletic away from home and surprisingly they won 4-0 against all the expectations of the experts.

For most people the result of the match and the fact that Blackpool had started their Premier League campaign with a win was the main point. But there was a more poignant story about the match.

Referee Mark Halsey made his return to top-level officiating in this match having entered remission from the throat cancer he was diagnosed with a year ago.

Halsey is 49 and from Hertfordshire. Ian Holloway, the Blackpool manager, is full of admiration for his friend as he prepares to oversee a Premier League game for the first time since last season’s opening day.

“Mark is a really good friend of mine. He used to be a QPR fan and is so honest that he told his bosses that he never wanted to referee QPR again. I wished he had done, though, because I needed some help when I was there,” the former Queens Park Rangers manager joked.

Holloway, like many of his players, is making his debut in the Premier League and he pointed to Halsey’s fight against lymphoma as an illustration of why his players should remain grounded.

He said: “I keep bringing them back to reality, and lots of my players have got young kids so it is easy to do that.

“Mark’s challenges are real. They are totally and utterly real and as long as I can keep the players focused on what he has gone through, that is more important than anything. I’m delighted for him because that’s what real struggle is.

Realising you might not be here soon and needing treatment to make you better – that is real.”

“I keep stressing that to my players that they are privileged to be on that grass and if I can keep their feet on the ground then anything is possible. What have we got to moan about?”

“I have a lot of faith in his refereeing since he referees with common sense. I think people should give the biggest round of applause to him before the game because it is real for him and his family.”

Halsey, who finished his treatment in December but suffered an infection due to his weak immune system that left him seriously ill, has spent the summer building up his fitness at his holiday home in Spain.

Mike Riley, the general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials, said: “It is very emotional that he is back.”

Mark Halsey is an inspiration to everyone in football!

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