MICK HENDERSON, believed to be football’s oldest referee, is hanging up his whistle after 65 years in the middle.

The 85-year-old, who retired from teaching when he was 54, admits that he’s falling off the pace – and that it’s age which is catching up with him.

“I’m getting slow, there’s no two ways about it,” he ruefully admits. “I’ve just been lining a university girls’ game and couldn’t keep up with the lasses.”

His accolades include the Durham County Council chairman’s medal – “a model for the game,” said the citation

He took up refereeing while on National Service in 1954, when a sergeant suggested that he needed a couple of linesmen and he discovered that he enjoyed it, and has been linesmen at two England schoolboy internationals.

His two sons also became referees, their careers much more short-lived. “They couldn’t stand the hassle,” he admits.

“I enjoy it still,” says Mick, from Ushaw Moor – west of Durham. “So far as I know there haven’t been any complaints, but you know when it’s time to stop.”

He’ll continue to play golf – “that’s not very good either, these days” – has been chairman of the Durham Sunday League for 25 years and is vice-chairman of the local referees’ society, where apathy alarms him.

“We only had six at the last meeting. I was the only active referee.”

We’d last watched him in November 2014, a Saturday morning Over 40s League match between Trimdon Vets and Hartlepool Stag and Monkey.

That was already his 41st game of the season – “not including friendlies, you don’t count those” – and that afternoon he handled his 42nd, at Durham University. “So long as I get my sausage and chips after the first match I’m happy,” he said. “Why stop doing something you enjoy?

“I think the players know I get most things right, or not far wrong, anyway.”

In the first week of that season he’d shown three red cards. In the 30-odd games which followed he’d not produced so much as a yellow. “I still give them a hell of a bollocking. A hell of a bollocking from Mick is like a yellow card,” he said.

His eyesight was fine, his hearing going a bit. “I have hearing aids but I rarely use them. I can hear quite enough as it is.”

The undammable surge in offensive language has been one of the biggest changes. “When I started it was like going to church, you just didn’t hear any swearing.

“Now we’ve lost the battle. It’s become part of the game and the girls are worse than the men.”

Mick also laments the decline in spectator behaviour. “It’s never happened to me, but that guy who came on the pitch and thumped a player the other day – that was unbelievable.”

His final whistle’s imminent. “I’ve one or two games left in my diary, but I’m not taking any new appointments. I’ve had a pretty good innings, haven’t I?”