Sez Les: ‘Missing’ ref turns up!

Referee Mark Halsey
Referee Mark Halsey
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THE question was pretty similar to ones you might get at any time about anybody.

“So, what happened to John Key? Where’s he got to?”

No, not the New Zealand Prime Minister of the same name but the bubbly, talkative (try stopping him!) former top referee who, like Howard Webb, came through the refereeing ranks in Rotherham.

Indeed, I recall covering the Rotherham Sunday Cup Final back in the 1970s, John Key was in charge (well before getting on the Football League list) and I suggested that he might have a good future!

He did have a pretty good career too, getting on the League in 1991, rising to the FIFA list and managing to squeeze in a bit of the Premier League before bowing out in 1994.

He was later a refs liaison officer at Rotherham United games but then the last heard of him was retiring out to Cyprus.

Except that some bad news filtered back a few years later - he’d got cancer. In the two years since, nothing.

Then, arriving at Meadowhall rail station the other day, I looked at the guy sitting reading a paper. The features underneath his woolly hat with the Sheffield Wednesday badge on (he was always a big Wednesdayite) were unmistakeable. It was John Key.

He was off back out to Cyprus after being home for a funeral.

He went out five years ago and, yes, was back after three years for surgery for bowel cancer.

“They reckoned I wouldn’t be going back to Cyprus but I told them ‘let me get that treatment started, I’m beating this and going back’,” he said in typically ebullient fashion.

So, two years or so on and the news is good and he’s still in Cyprus with the wife and loving every minute. The down side is having to keep tabs from afar on the fortunes of his beloved Wednesday rather than being there.

Like all refs, he had his share of controversy and was involved in one of the funnier moments when he whipped his arm out to indicate which way a throw-in was going and whacked a player in the face, knocking him down. That featured among the many stories refs accumulate.

He was never short of a bit of banter with players (or managers) and came up with a classic when booking Stoke City’s giant centre half who, when asked for his name says: “Berry”.

Back comes John Key... “Is that straw, rasp or Chuck?”.

*TALKING of referees, I wonder when Premier League ref Mark Halsey found out he was being sent to Coventry?

Criticised for failing to punish the Wigan player Callum McManaman for his horrendous challenge at Newcastle the other week, Halsey basically finds himself demoted and on League One duty tomorrow when Doncaster Rovers play at Coventry.

After all the uncertainty over where the game would be played, they are playing there after all.

With huge doubts over the ownership of the Ricoh Arena amidst all the beleagured Midlands club’s financial problems, it was only yesterday that anyone officially found out the match is to be played there and not somewhere else.

*YOU MAY have noted the two goalscorers for Blue Square Bet Premier club Braintree last Saturday... Marks and Sparkes.

Shopaholics would have noted when they played Grimsby who had a player called Lenell John-Lewis.