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Chelsea Lost Threaten Referee Life

Posted by Hari Saryono on 10 May 2009

The performance of Tom Henning Ovrebo at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night was nothing new to Norwegian football fans.

They chant ‘Mer hur enn hyerne’ – you have more hair than brains – at the bald official whenever he makes a mistake which, if you speak to any of them, appears to be fairly regularly.

Tom Henning Ovrebo

Still asleep: Tom Henning Ovrebo naps on the plane to Oslo yesterday after his dozy display at Stamford Bridge enraged Chelsea players.

Dressed in a pair of jeans, some rugged mountain boots and a scruffy T-shirt that, much like his officating, had seen better days, the man with all the answers to all of Chelsea’s questions flew home on flight SK804 from Heathrow to Oslo yesterday morning.

It had been some night. Bundled into the back of a silver Mercedes outside Stamford Bridge two hours after Andres Iniesta’s magnificent strike sent Barcelona into the final on May 27, he was whisked away to a safe-house instead of his room, 403, at a plush retreat in London’s Holland Park.

UEFA changed his flight, fearing a gang of Chelsea supporters would ambush him before he boarded the 7.20am from Heathrow.

Ovrebo was keeping his counsel yesterday. The only communication came in a text message to the Norwegian daily newspaper Dagbladet, saying: ‘Due to the circumstances after the game, UEFA asked us not to comment to the press. Brgds (best regards) Tom Henning.’

Consequently, while he was the subject of death threats, personal abuse from Chelsea players and accusations of conspiracy theories, there was no apology to Chelsea and no denial of those outrageous theories.

Still, this 42-year-old psychologist, who lives in a modest, �300,000 house with his wife Bente and their eight-year-old son Sebastien on the outskirts of Oslo, must have done something right to be appointed for a Champions League semi-final between Barcelona and Chelsea – his 22nd game in the competition – in the first place.

Michael Ballack

Screaming match: Michael Ballack confronts Ovrebo after a late appeal for handball.

In a previous interview here in Norway, he offered these views on his refereeing style: ‘It is very fruitful to meet the challenges brought by the job. There are two teams on the field and both want to win the fight so it can almost be viewed as a conflict where I am positioned as the negotiator.

‘It is satisfying to finish a match and to feel that the conflict was solved in a good way.’

He is used to criticism. He has said previously: ‘A football game is a cheap therapy for the audience. They can scream and be angry. It is group therapy in a big volume. After the game I can receive tons of SMS-messages and I have started to save some of them. The line is drawn when you are threatened to life. We do not think it is seriously meant, but we do not tolerate it. And if it will expand to hit my family and friends, or if my children will be bullied at school because their dad is a football referee, then I will consider whether it is worth continuing.’

That decision on his future may be drawing closer, although he remains hopeful that he can make the final list of World Cup referees. England will be watching.


Michael Ballack

Wednesday wasn’t the first time Michael Ballack met Tom Henning Ovrebo. They had words during Germany’s Euro 2008 first-round tie with Poland in Klagenfurt.

His style is to smile at adversity. He says: ‘It is kind of disarming in a turbulent situation.’

There wasn’t much to chuckle along to at The Bridge, however.

He has said his idol is the Italian refereeing legend Pierluigi Collina, ‘not the best referee in the world but because he handled the players in a special way. The best referees are good when it comes to the mental part.’

Chelsea would no doubt agree.

Having taken charge of a relatively small number of domestic games – he has been the referee for 211 Norwegian Premier League fixtures – Ovrebo found himself at the centre of attention on Wednesday as he rejected four big penalty appeals from Chelsea.

Back home, he was greeted by welcoming news that, in a poll of 20,000 of his fellow Norwegians, 46 per cent thought his Champions League semi-final performance was either ‘good or average’. He must hope UEFA’s appointments committee agree, although one UEFA official said yesterday he would ‘probably not even bother giving a mark’.

Ovrebo has previous in this area, having been forced to issue a grovelling apology to the Italian FA at Euro 2008 when he disallowed Luca Toni’s perfectly legitimate goal in a group game against Romania.

Drogba rants at ref

His relatives seemed blissfully unaware of his antics yesterday, answering the door at his home in 126 Ste… (hey, as if) to inform the rubber neckers in the media – Norwegian, too, before UEFA get all uppety about an English invasion of privacy – that he would not be returning for a while.

That may be bad for full-time business, where callers to ‘Psychological Competence Centre Tom Henning Ovrebo’, even those pretending to be Didier Drogba, were told yesterday they were not taking bookings ‘for the time being’.

‘We’ve told him to lie low for a while,’ said head of Norway’s referee association Rune Pedersen when he finally revealed his true identity, sticking up for his man as he apparently made his way to a log cabin somewhere in the north ‘hundreds of miles from anywhere’.

Neighbours and friends were protective and surprised at the level of interest in Ovrebo as television crews arrived from around Europe in search of the man who was born the year England won the World Cup. He is expected to spend time on his boat before returning to action at domestic level.

‘Thanks for your help, hope to see you next year,’ he told his official UEFA driver as they embraced, patting each other on the back just before he put his holdall through the security checks at Heathrow yesterday. Er, no you won’t mate; it will be a long time before Ovrebo gets another game of this status.


UEFA’s security officials didn’t want a volatile meeting between Chelsea and Manchester United in the tense atmosphere of Rome, where travelling English fans have regularly run into violence against the local Ultras. Supporters of Arsenal, Middlesbrough and United have experienced trouble in the Italian capital recently.

UEFA president Michel Platini ordered a Barcelona victory in the semi-final because he didn’t want two English sides meeting in his governing body’s showpiece final for a second successive season. Former France captain Platini has spoken out repeatedly against the debt levels of the big Premier League clubs and can’t abide their dominance.

Anders Frisk

UEFA’s disciplinary mandarins had a quiet word in the ear
of referee Tom Henning Ovrebo to make life tough for Chelsea as payback for the way they hounded Anders Frisk (right) out of the game. The Swedish ref’s dismissal of Didier Drogba in another stormy tie against Barca in 2005 prompted death threats and he quit.


Eric Braamhaar. Remember the name? Maybe not, but the Dutch referee became an internet sensation two years ago when he was caught on camera seemingly celebrating an Ajax goal against PSV in a match he just happened to be refereeing.

Despite being clearly spotted punching the air in delight, Braamhaar was quick to insist it was all totally innocent and that he was purely enjoying the fact that his decision to play an advantage had led to a goal.

His explanation was accepted by all involved. Judge for yourself…

Linesman Ole Hermann Borgan was dumped from the 2006 Champions League final by UEFA after being photographed by a Norwegian newspaper in a Barcelona shirt. The problem was that the Catalan club were due to line up against Arsenal in the showpiece encounter.

‘It was thoughtless and stupid of me,’ said Borgan (right). ‘I didn’t think the consequences through when I was asked to put on the shirt.’

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s attempts at a spot of good PR (‘Officials will always work hard and honestly. The fact that he wore a Barça shirt does not change my mind’) then did him absolutely no good at all as Barca were crowned European champions after a night of controversy to rival Wednesday’s scenes at Stamford Bridge.

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