Former Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo has revealed he regretted his performance in Chelsea’s controversial loss to Barcelona in the second leg of the semi-finals 2009 champions league clash between the two sides.
The former FIFA referee was the made headlines over some dubious calls in that game which all went in Barcelona’s favour. With Chelsea leading the tie 1-0 on the night and on aggregate after they drew 0-0 in the first leg, Andreas Iniesta popped up in dying minutes of the game to score an equalizer and send Barcelona through on away goals rule.
However, Chelsea should have been out of sight before Iniesta goals, but they were denied four clear penalties by the Norwegian referee and it is something he regrets now. The Norwegian official failed to award four penalties and a red card in Chelsea’s favour at Stamford Bridge, which ultimately ended the Blues’ European hopes while staining the official’s career.
10 years ago today, football witnessed one of the biggest robberies and scandals ever. Chelsea were denied 4 clear penalties against Barcelona. Drogba at the end sums it all up. "It's a f**king disgrace!" ? pic.twitter.com/kCogatjQCC
— FutbolBible (@FutbolBible) May 6, 2019
And speaking in a candid interview with Panenka magazine ten years on from that infamous night, Ovrebo recalled how he and his team required a police escort to leave the country, while lamenting the fact VAR was not available at the time.
‘I wish I had the help of the VAR that day,’ said Ovrebo. ‘After the first half, my assistants and I felt that we had control. At the end of the match, however, I did not have that feeling. When I got to the dressing room I thought: ‘Okay, Tom Henning, this has not been your best night’.’
A catalogue of errors led to heated scenes at full time, where Chelsea players surrounded the official and an enraged Didier Drogba shouted to television cameras that the match had been a ‘disgrace, a f****** disgrace’. Chelsea took an early lead through Michael Essien, who rifled home a volley from distance, before the controversy started and Ovrebo lost control of the match.
Florent Malouda was the first to be denied a penalty after appearing to be hauled down inside the penalty area by Dani Alves – with the foul awarded outside instead – before Drogba was brought down by Barcelona left-back Eric Abidal, who somehow avoided conceding a clear penalty and receiving a red card.
He was later dismissed for a soft foul on Nicolas Anelka in the second half, which was followed by two clear handball shouts; the first saw Gerard Pique palm the ball away as Anelka sought to go past him, and the second came after Iniesta’s equaliser, when Michael Ballack’s goal-bound shot was blocked by Samuel Eto’o’s arm. ‘
After the Ballack incident, Ovrebo revealed he told himself to ‘keep calm’, but inside, he was anything but that. ‘I must admit that inside I was boiling,’ he added. ‘It was in the dressing room that I realised how controversial everything had been. ‘In the space of two hours, I went from being a fairly respected referee to becoming the biggest fool in international football.’
Chelsea’s rage on the field was shared by coach Guus Hiddink, who described Ovrebo’s performance as the worst he’d ever seen. But the anger emanated beyond the Stamford Bridge turf as supporters rightly felt a deep sense of injustice. However, for Ovrebo, that meant a distressing trip to the airport, followed by appalling abuse and death threats.
‘They put us in police escort until we could get a plane and return home,’ he said. ‘(The death threats) came more from the frustration of not winning that match and my performance in it, than from the real desire to kill me and my family.’ The performance itself had long-lasting ramifications for the Norwegian’s refereeing career. He was unable to go to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, while UEFA prevented him from speaking out.
‘I did not go to the World Cup,’ he added. ‘My team and I knew we had a good chance of going if we did a good job at Stamford Bridge. In the end, we did not do it, and I think it’s natural that our chance to be at the World Cup in South Africa disappeared.’
On UEFA he added: ‘First they wanted the investigation into the match to end. They did not want any comments in the press that could intensify the situation, ‘he recalls, and acknowledges that ‘ it would have been very good to have been able to publicly express everything I felt about it.’