The book the Premier League wanted to stop

The book the Premier League wanted to stop

This is an extended version of an article that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Monday 23rd September, 2013


AS I STOOD on the pavement outside my house in the rain waiting for a lorry to pick up a consignment of cardboard boxes growing soggier by the minute, I wondered how I ever got myself into this and how it had got this far.

The boxes contained books. That book was Added Time: Surviving cancer, death threats and the Premier League by the former referee Mark Halsey and myself, which has been become something of a debating tool for both good and bad reasons

Soaked, I suspect his old employers, the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd, would have enjoyed my discomfort. Between them and the Premier League itself, they have certainly caused plenty of it, mainly to Mark as he endured a traumatic last year as one of the Select Group of top-flight referees.

Quite apart from a year of on-field controversy, it was a year that saw his bosses seek to stop his book and one of the world's biggest publishing houses decline to publish it after agreeing a deal.

Well respected by previous heads of the PGMOL, Philip Don and Keith Hackett, Mark was never popular with the man who took over in 2010, Mike Riley. In fact, cruelly, Riley tried to get rid of him just a few months after Mark completed gruelling surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy for an aggressive throat cancer. Luckily, legislation prevented it.

Riley's new austere regime for top referees was at odds with that of Don and Hackett who liked officials to communicate with managers and players to foster better relationships. Mark found himself marginalised, refereeing ever infrequently, though one of the fittest with high merit marks. His morale dipped. He decided that the 2012/13 season would be his last.

He approached me to ghost write his auto-biography. Having done this plenty, notably with Tony Adams, once of Arsenal and England, I agreed on one condition: that he was open about both his cancer and life as a referee and the politics and personalities of officiating and football. He readily agreed.

When the PGMOL found out about the book, life suddenly became difficult for him earlier this year. He was summoned to all sorts of meetings, subjected to disciplinary action. Stories discrediting him began to be placed in newspapers.

He was offered £50,000 as a pay-off - standard stuff to retiring refs, but none had the demand, as he had, that he ditch his auto-biography. He refused. He wanted his story told. He wanted to inspire other cancer sufferers and reveal to the public what really went on behind the scenes in a sport to which they contribute billions and which had given him a good living.

Sadly, the publishers, Headline, no longer wished to tell it. The Premier League, who fund professional refereeing, warned of legal action in a newspaper article and they withdrew. Mark and I handed back the first advance we had been paid.

But he, we, were not to be cowed. We sought legal advice and decided to publish ourselves. I set up a company, Floodlit Dreams, the title of a book I had written about life as a chairman of my home town football club, Weymouth.

There followed three months of under-the-radar work that felt like the plot of a spy novel. For guns, read books. I was introduced to a middle man who ran the merchandise to printers in Lithuania. I did not want it done in this country for fear of its contents leaking out and my lawyers having to fight off the Premier League. They warned of court cases and huge costs.

Friends, family and contacts helped with cover design and typesetting, and I had to learn about how to get the book into shops (still trying). I arranged a serialisation with a tabloid newspaper, which just about covered the costs of it all.

The response to that serialisation has been, um, interesting as the Premier League, having tried and failed to stop the book, began briefing against Mark as some kind of showbiz referee, a loose cannon in the pockets of managers and players. Creditably, Mark's current employers BT Sport have stood firmly behind him despite pressure on them.

And in the rush to judgment before reading the book, there has been a depressing lack of compassion, fairness even, that, sadly, reflects a frenzied footballing era that puts spin before humanity.

Much focus has been on texts and a phone call to Sir Alex Ferguson over the Mark Clattenburg affair at Chelsea a year ago. It is sad that few have questioned why Halsey felt it necessary to intervene on behalf of his friend Clattenburg, who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and short of support from his bosses.

A holiday on Jose Mourinho (or at least, Mark and his wife's hotel bill being taken care of) after the Chelsea manager had left the country? The PGMOL knew and sanctioned it.

Chumminess with Jose, who grew closer to Mark after the cancer and has contributed the foreword? How about the PGMOL press officer who wanted Mark to do an interview about the relationship - for this newspaper - because it was good publicity?

And how about the PGMOL official who asked Mark to get a book signed by Jose on a visit to Madrid? It is simply that a mood has changed under a new regime which detests refs whose popularity lies in letting games flow.

As Steven Gerrrard, Liverpool and England captain, said in a testimonial for the book's cover: "Mark always brought a smile to a game and remembered that crowds had come to see the players."

Halsey a lone flouter of 'protocol'? If we think referees do not talk with managers and media then we are naive. How about the ref who regularly rings a senior figure at Match of the Day on Saturday nights to see how his game is being edited and what they might say about his performance?

Actually, all this sound and fury is designed to divert discussion away from the real issues, scandals even, of refereeing: how they are treated - by managers and players, the media and even their own bosses - and, shockingly the Premier League's control over them and thus the way the game is played in this country.

Why is the Premier League the only competition in Europe that controls top-flight refereeing - the PGMOL offices are even in the same building - when federations adminster it elsewhere? And Halsey is not independent? Philip Don was sacked as PGMOL general manager because he stood up to the Premier League and its clubs.

Mark Halsey has his faults. Growing up without a father may have produced too keen a need for approval but he is generous, honest - to a fault - and non-negotiably incorruptible. His heart is all gold, as cancer charities know.

It has been suggested that he has done refereeing a disservice with his book. I spoke to several in the Select Group during the writing of it to verify his version of events.

Let me tell you, when it comes to exposing the politics and perils of their lot, which brought them, morale battered, to the verge of a strike last year, referees are cheering him on.

These have been six months of stress and sleepless nights for both Mark, myself and our wives - all four of us cancer sufferers - wondering and worrying if the might of the Premier League would come down on us.

As I loaded those boxes that wet morning, though - glamorous world, publishing - I knew despite the misgivings that for those living with cancer and fans who fund football and who have a right to know truths, it had all been worth it.

Added Time: Surviving cancer, death threats and the Premier League, By Mark Halsey with Ian Ridley, is published by Floodlit Dreams, £12.99.

2013-09-23