I attended a meeting of the Birmingham District Referees Association on Thursday 20th January and it was a fantastic evening.

The guest speaker was English Premier League referee Mark Halsey. He spoke about his last year – a year of pressure, setting targets, facing challenges and achieving goals.

He was talking football of course, but it was in the context that in August 2009 he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of throat cancer which not only threatened his refereeing career but his actual life.

He found out he had cancer a few days before he was due to referee the Premier League match between Everton and Arsenal at Goodison Park, Liverpool.

He refereed that match – probably he should have called off, as he admitted himself – but his biggest challenge was two days later when he went into Christie Hospital, Bolton for an operation to remove the tumour.

He took the audience through the challenges he faced, not least that his wife had been diagnosed with leukaemia some months earlier.

His main target at the start of the season was to referee an FA Cup Final at Wembley. His target a few days later was to beat cancer and survive.

His presentation was an emotional one as he spoke about the challenges he faced but it was inspirational as well since the main message was that you have to face up to challenges of whatever sort.

Mark relates well to football people because of his personality and he had plenty of support in his fight.

When Jose Mourinho arrived at Chelsea in June 2004 he said he was the ‘Special One,’ but in an interview he said that Mark Halsey was the real ‘Special One.’ He spoke glowingly of Mark as the referee he regarded as a true friend and said he was always the 23rd man on the field.

Mark’s story was inspirational and there was a message for everyone present.

Goals can be different but you always need determination to achieve them.

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