My life as an assistant referee

John Hilditch (pictured left), is a former Premier League and FIFA Assistant Referee. Here, he tells us his story of his career and being diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Football has always been my passion. I started refereeing in the 70s, and went on to referee FIFA and Premier League games.

One of the biggest moments of my football career was when I went abroad for the second leg of the European Cup quarter final between Porto and Bayern Munich, which was in front of 90,000 spectators. I was also an Assistant Referee at the FA Cup Final between Liverpool and Sunderland in 1992 at Wembley, which is every young boy’s dream, as far as I’m concerned.

It wasn’t a huge surprise when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008. I was 58 at the time, and had moved on from professional refereeing and was working as a repayment project engineer, which involved project managing work for a broadband provider. I’d first started to notice symptoms the year before. My right index finger started to twitch and move on its own, and I was also falling asleep a lot earlier in the evening. My GP made a referral to see a neurologist, who gave me the news.

The support I’ve had from the NHS, and my family, has been wonderful. My doctor is very upfront and straight-talking with me, which I like. I didn’t want to go on medication straight away – it just wasn’t something I wanted to do at the time. He was supportive of this decision, saying that it was up to me what treatment I opt for and encouraged me to stay active and keep fit instead. However a couple of years after being diagnosed I started to walk slower. I realised my symptoms were getting worse, so I started on medication.

Keeping active is still very important to me. I go to the gym two to three times a week, where I do spinning classes, boxercise and use the treadmill. I feel that keeping fit has helped the symptoms progress at a slower rate.

I’ve always tried to keep a positive attitude about my condition. Some people aren’t sure what to say, or how to react. I try and break the ice by making a bit of a joke of it. I tell them that if I’m in a restaurant, I’d never order the soup. I think it’s important to keep a sense of humour.

I was presented with an International Cap in 2013 by the Referees’ Association President David Ellary, for my two years on FIFA (pictured). I often referee charity games and still assess for the FA and Football League. My symptoms don’t affect being on the pitch too much. Sometimes I feel that I end up feeling the cold more, but I make sure I’m wearing layers and gloves. I often give talks to referee societies too. I try and give a light-hearted take on my condition, and by doing so, I hope that I can help raise more awareness of Parkinson’s.