Ref’s fatal collapse

Colin Heeley
Colin Heeley

Tributes have poured in for a much loved football referee who collapsed and died half an hour into a match.

Players and onlookers had rushed to the aid of 78-year-old Colin Heeley, a referee in the Heavy Woollen Sunday League, who fell ill after refereeing just 30 minutes of a Thornhill United game on Saturday.

The match was abandoned when Mr Heeley’s condition worsened and his pulse stopped. Players and spectators battled to save Mr Heeley, giving him CPR and mouth-to-mouth as they awaited the emergency services. He died of a heart attack.

Wife Pauline, of Heathfield, Mirfield, paid tribute to her husband, who had been officiating football and cricket matches for more than 35 years. She said: “He was absolutely dedicated to his football and his cricket.

“Unless somebody else stopped him, he would never have given up – he just loved it so much.”

Mrs Heeley spoke of the pain of losing her husband, who she married in 1967, but said he died doing what he loved. She said: “It has left me utterly devastated. I have got a broken heart.

“But he used to tell me that, when his time was up, he wanted to be on the football pitch. Lo and behold, he has got his wish.”

Mr Heeley, who was still working as a motor accident repair specialist, registered as a referee in 1973, officiating in the Spen Valley League and Heavy Woollen League, where he oversaw most of the cup finals in his time.

Gary Scott, Heavy Woollen referees appointments secretary, said: “He was loved by a lot of the lads and colleagues.

“The fact he was refereeing until he was 78 speaks of his love for the game.

He was a fantastic servant to the referees’ association.”

Players from both teams lined up beside the ambulance and applauded as father-of-three Mr Heeley was driven away by the emergency services at the game against Almondbury Woolpack at Thornhill Community Academy.

Thornhill manager Chris Kennedy hailed players and spectators from both sides, singling out nephew Adam, 19, for coming to the referee’s aid.

He said: “Adam and another lad from Almondbury were fabulous – the pair of them deserve a medal.

There was no pulse but by the time the ambulance got there, there was a faint one. They gave him a chance.”

Mrs Heeley thanked the players who tried to save her husband.

She said that her husband was a fit and active man and that having a defibrillator - which gives the heart an electric shock in some cases of cardiac arrest - at amateur sports pitches could save lives.

Mr Heeley’s daughter Michelle Holgeth said: “It may have saved his life but it may not. This just shows that you don’t have to be unfit or overweight to have a heart attack.”

A series of one minute silences have been planned for local games over the coming week.