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Highland League referee’s marathon challenge for NHS


By Alasdair Fraser

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Referee Billy Baxter is aiming to run 10 marathons in a month for the NHS as thanks for its efforts during the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Callum Mackay
Referee Billy Baxter is aiming to run 10 marathons in a month for the NHS as thanks for its efforts during the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Callum Mackay

A north football referee has got his running shoes on in aid of the NHS.

Billy Baxter, a familiar figure at Wick's Harmsworth Park and other Highland League grounds, is attempting to complete 10 marathons in a month to help the health service during the coronavirus crisis.

For all the fitness required as a referee – covering an average of seven miles during every match – the 51-year-old still considers himself a rookie runner.

Extra motivation for Mr Baxter comes from the fact that daughter Katie (19) is a trainee nurse, while his sister Pamela has just recovered from a bout of coronavirus.

Mr Baxter, who lives in Inverness and is an area manager for the Construction Industry Training Board, said: “I’m no natural athlete, but I just want to make a contribution.”

Donations to his crowdfunding page for NHS Charities Together have already smashed through the initial £500 target set, to reach more than £1400 so far.

Billy Baxter keeping a close eye on proceedings as Invergordon's Daniel Christie challenges Wick Academy's Alan Hughes during a North of Scotland Cup tie at Harmsworth Park last year. Picture: Mel Roger
Billy Baxter keeping a close eye on proceedings as Invergordon's Daniel Christie challenges Wick Academy's Alan Hughes during a North of Scotland Cup tie at Harmsworth Park last year. Picture: Mel Roger

Before the end of April Mr Baxter had completed two marathons without any specific training and has now managed to run four altogether.

“I’m a football referee as a spare-time hobby, but I’m not a runner," he said. "I’m getting to about 16 or 17 miles and then hitting the wall.”

For his first marathon Mr Baxter took to the football pitches in Culloden and two days later split the distance into two half-marathons, before running the backwoods from Culloden to Nairn County’s Station Park for his third.

The fourth took him across Inverness and along the Caledonian Canal.

He added: “Obviously, to prove it all, I have a GPS watch recording each run. I’m certainly never going to break any records – it takes me well over five hours.

“Recovery is a bit difficult, as it’s not like you can visit a physio or get a leg massage right now – but, contrary to what some fans shout at me, football officials do have to be quite fit. If we don’t pass SFA fitness tests, we don’t get games.”

Mr Baxter ran the line as assistant referee at Celtic Park, Ibrox and Hampden earlier in his 20-year career and is now a category three referee in the Highland League.

Donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/billy-baxter3


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