Halsey ready to return to top flight

WARWICK - On a glorious summer's morning in the English midlands a row has broken out during a training match with one of the teams surrounding the referee, vehemently protesting his latest decision.

Nothing particularly unusual about that, of course, except the men shouting and swearing at the ref, albeit with plenty of laughs, are not actually footballers.

No, they are the Premier League's elite referees putting the final touches to their own preparations for the start of the new season.

"It was handball, ref, it was handball," they gesture, mimicking the theatrics they have to put up with week in, week out from the Premier League's players they officiate.

The standard of play is predictably low but the camraderie among the group at the superb facilities at Warwick University is hugely impressive as one man will willingly testify.

He is Mark Halsey: referee, cancer sufferer and survivor - and standing back laughing at the behaviour of his colleagues.

He for one, is just happy to be there.

A year ago this week Halsey, 49, refereed his last Premier League game between Everton and Arsenal at Goodison Park the day after he was diagnosed with throat cancer.

"I thought that was it, there were times when I never thought I was going to live, let alone referee in the Premier League again," he told Reuters after the training match was over.

REALLY NERVOUS

"Now I am really nervous again. I've passed the fitness test, got back on the list and can't wait for my first match back, Wigan versus Blackpool on Saturday.

"I can't wait until the kickoff when I can be 'Mark Halsey, referee' again, not 'Mark Halsey, cancer sufferer.' Once the fans start booing me, or the players start arguing I'll be happy, I'll know I really am back."

But while delighted at his own recovery and glad to be among the elite group of 16 again, there is still sadness.

Shortly before training he had heard the news that Adam Stansfield, Exeter City's 31-year-old striker had died of bowel cancer on Tuesday while another former Premier League player and friend was also fighting the disease.

His own wife Michelle is suffering from myeloid leukaemia which is treatable but not curable and Halsey is clearly affected by what is going on around him.

"You ask yourself on a day like this, why did I survive and Adam didn't? It's tough. How did I get it in the first place?

"I was fit, looked after myself, yet the doctors said they had never seen a more aggressive tumour. If I had left it another two weeks I probably would not have made it.

"I had an operation to remove it and a week later it was back. There were some black moments, the treatment was very, very tough, the radiotherapy, the chemo, I was very ill at Christmas.

"But people rally around, these guys here have been fantastic as have many people in football, as was The Christie Hospital in Manchester and Professor Tim Illidge. I could not have made it without them."

TOUGH TEST

League referee Mark