Why outraged Chelsea fans should ref off

Chelsea fans might be angry, and pundits critical, but for everyone else referee Tom Henning Ovrebo is a hero.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Now I like a good hate campaign as much as the next man, but the vilification of Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo is just childish and boring.

I’m fed up with the whole overblown furore following the Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona. All that posturing and outrage-by-numbers. On one side we have Chelsea’s laptop wannabe thugs issuing death threats via Facebook (ooh, so brave). On the other side, sanctimonious broadcasters moan about poor refereeing standards, or else Didier Drogba’s ref rage. Cheated, robbed, incompetent, unsporting, ugly scenes…yada yada yada. It’s all so predictable. The usual dismal procession of whinging no-marks jamming the 606 switchboard. Why do we never hear from the silent majority? Those of us who couldn’t give a monkey’s chuff about whether the ref was good or bad. Those of us who weren’t outraged by the ref’s performance. Those of us who, let’s be honest, haven’t stopped laughing since Tom Henning Ovrebo blew the final whistle.

Agreed. Chelsea deserved to win. But they weren’t cheated. The referee was not a ‘thief’, as Jose Bosingwa has suggested. The idea that the game was rigged to prevent another all-British final is simply laughable. Yes, Ovrebo got a couple of penalty calls wrong. But he also sent off Barcelona’s Eric Abidal wrongly, as replays show. Ovrebo’s decisions certainly played their part but there were a whole load of other reasons why Chelsea lost. They didn’t score an away goal at the Nou Camp. They didn’t finish off 10-man Barcelona when they had them on the ropes. Drogba didn’t take his chance with only Valdes to beat. Essien didn’t clear the ball just before Iniesta scored. A whole load of reasons. But invariably Tom Henning Ovrebo has taken all the flak.

First up was Didier Drogba ranting and raving like a bug-eyed loon. Raging at the ref, screaming at the TV cameras. Petulant, yes. But also rather comical. He was wearing flip flops, for Christ’s sake. Flip flops! What was he thinking? Then there was Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp complaining that referees from minor countries like Norway shouldn’t be allowed to take charge of big Champions League games. ‘How many big games has he reffed in Norway?’ fumed Redknapp. ‘I don’t know why we can’t have the best ref from Germany or Italy. I don’t think someone from Norway should be reffing a game with the intensity of this one.’

Spot on, Jamie. You’d never see howlers from referees like Italy’s Roberto Rossetti, would you? Er, hang on a minute. Okay, Rossetti got the red card for United’s Darren Fletcher badly wrong, but officials from the big leagues are generally more competent, aren’t they? I mean, you won’t see an English ref like Graham Poll issuing three yellow cards to the same player, would you? Refreshingly, Redknapp’s rants were given short shrift by Roy Hodgson. The Fulham boss retorted: ‘Are we going to say, “You’re from Spain, you might be OK but the rest of you, Switzerland, France, Poland, Russia, Austria, Ukraine, Slovenia, Serbia, can go f*** yourselves because you don’t count?” It’s nonsense!’ Never mind guiding Fulham to a top-10 finish on a shoestring budget, Hodgson should win manager of the year for that quote alone.

Rather inevitably, Ovrebo’s controversial officiating has spawned a puerile internet hate campaign. Dozens of anti-Ovrebo groups have sprung up on Facebook sporting delightful names like ‘Kill Tom Henning Ovrebo’, ‘Ovrebo is a bastard’, ‘Fuck off Ovrebo’, and ‘Tom Henning Ovrebo Sucks’. They’re full of the usual ungrammatical playground name-calling you tend to find on internet forums. One group of Chelsea fans has even started a campaign to prevent Norway’s Alexander Rybak winning the Eurovision Song Contest. ‘They robbed Chelsea of the chance to play in the Champions League final’, one enraged Chelsea fan told the Daily Star. ‘So let’s rob them of the Eurovision trophy.’

E-hate campaigns against referees have become a familiar phenomenon in recent years. Anders Frisk and Urs Meyer have both been on the receiving end of hate campaigns orchestrated by unhappy English fans. But unpleasant as these campaigns might be, they are also largely theatrical. It’s just like abusive terrace chanting, like thousands of fans singing ‘You’re going to get your fucking head kicked in’ without seriously meaning it. You only have to browse through the anti-Ovrebo Facebook pages to see that 99 per cent of the hatemongers will never get within spitting distance of Ovrebo because they are still at school.

Sure, the hate campaigns are unpleasant, but they’re also fairly innocuous so let’s not overreact. ‘Chelsea referee in Facebook death threat campaign’, screamed the one headline in the London Metro (1). Was there really any need for the Norwegian official to switch hotels and get smuggled out of the UK under police protection? Police in Ovrebo’s home city of Oslo are investigating the death threats. ‘We’re watching closely what is being posted on the internet – anything we believe would threaten his personal safety will be taken seriously’, said a police spokesman. Some newspaper reports have even suggested that Ovrebo has gone into hiding. However, no one seems to have told Ovrebo who has been out walking the streets of Oslo. ‘Since this happened I have been noticed more in the street and people are pointing’, he said. An object of curiosity maybe, but he’s hardly living under a fatwa.

Sick and tired of both the bilious anti-Ovrebo hate campaign and the sanctimonious media reaction to it, I decided to launch my own ‘Give the Norwegian ref a medal’ campaign on Facebook (2). I wanted to redress the balance. To give a voice to all those football fans who were pissing themselves laughing at Chelsea’s exit from the competition. The 42-year-old shaven-headed psychologist from Oslo is a hero to the Anyone But Chelsea brigade. What is our campaign vision? In short, to ensure that the man who brought joy to millions receives some kind of official recognition. A medal, an honorary knighthood, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, a statue on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square… The possibilities are endless. Sign up today and support this important cause.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Chelsea referee in Facebook death threat campaign, London Metro, 7 May 2007

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Topics Politics


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