It’s been almost nine years since that infamous night at Stamford Bridge when Tom Henning Øvrebø denied Guus Hiddink’s wonderful Chelsea side a shot at a rematch with Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League final — by the way, that’s the initial angle for the conspiracy rabbit-hole, should you choose to go down that route, with UEFA preferring a Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Messi matchup rather than another all-English final.
But it’s a much more likely explanation that Tom Henning Øvrebø just had a very bad day in office. A very, very, very bad poor terrible no good beyond useless worthless ... very bad day. He himself has admitted as much even as far back as 2012.
“Everyone who knows the laws of the game knows I should have done things differently, but that’s the life of a referee. In a strange way, I was actually satisfied with the way we all managed to keep calm in a tense situation. On the pitch I did my best. I shouldn’t have to apologise as mistakes are part of the game.”
-Tom Henning Øvrebø; April 2012
Now that Chelsea are playing Barcelona again, Øvrebø is once again relevant and has been a rather busy man giving lots of interviews.
He talked to Marca, where he once again admitted mistakes but didn’t apologize.
“It was not my best day, really. But those mistakes can be committed by a referee, and sometimes a player or a coach. Some days you are not at the level you should be. But no, I can’t be proud of that performance.”
“There were several errors and everyone will have their opinion of those plays. But, I insist, the players and the coaches also fail, and nothing happens. I am proud of having been in the European elite for a while, and among the best in my country at least. That’s why you can’t remember me or my career just for that game.”
“Yes, they were handball situations. I judged them on the pitch and I think it is not interesting to know what I think of those actions once judged, although I understand that people think differently to the decisions I made at the time. That discussion will continue eternally.”
-Tom Henning Øvrebø; source: Marca via Telegraph
He talked to Goal’s Nizaar Kinsella, where he once again admitted mistakes but didn’t apologize.
After Chelsea lost to Barcelona in 2009, referee Tom Henning Ovrebo was sent death threats by angry Blues fans! #CFC— Goal (@goal) February 19, 2018
Nine years on he spoke to @NizaarKinsella about how it all went wrong... pic.twitter.com/7G6zr8g0B9
And he talked to Chelsea Supporters Denmark, where he once again admitted mistakes but didn’t apologize. But this 30-minute interview, embedded at the top (or watch on YouTube), is perhaps the best and most fascinating look at the man most vilified by Chelsea fans and that makes for an intriguing watch, to say the least. So if you have a few minutes, you should definitely do so.
Here a few choice quotes, while a full transcript can be found by clicking here (thanks to Ram for his transcription service!).
On the atmosphere at the start of the game:
“It’s a game like every CL match should be; close duels, many situations high intensity, amazing footballers and a good atmosphere in Stamford Bridge. In the beginning of the game, the atmosphere was good but during the game controversial incidents occured where Chelsea wanted two, three, four or five penalties which creates this discussion about our effort as referees. But it was a game with great pressure and a lot of demanding decisions a game where the players also tried to appeal to the referees, because they wanted a penalty. Maybe they should’ve had it sometimes so it was a game where we really needed to be prepared for the important things.”
On not commenting in detail on the incidents:
“I am pretty sure that everyone that follows football and anyone who watches it and knows the rules can see that everything in that game wasn’t done right from the referee’s side; from my side. I think that is clear. And then it must be up to the individual to assess how many mistakes there were. Was there one penalty, were there 10 penalties, were there too little or too many red cards? It must be for others to decide. I have my opinion, and I get to keep that and then others can have their opinion.”
“Mistakes were made in that game and, unfortunately stuff like that happens in a game that the referee make misjudgements. In a span of relatively short time, you have to look, perceive assess, decide and act to make the right decision and in that game I’ll say that not all decisions were right, and then others must assess how many were wrong. But obviously, from a referee perspective, I was not happy about that semifinal, it’s not to be ignored. I don’t have a good feeling when leaving Stamford Bridge when that kind of reactions and discussions occur afterwards. You then realise “Ah Tom Henning, this unfortunately, wasn’t the time when you showed your best.”
On the reaction after the final whistle:
“I remember telling myself and the referee team, “Okay Tom Henning, now we’ve got to try and leave Stamford Bridge with some dignity and tranquillity. Because at that point we knew that there would be trouble. You can feel it by the reactions from the players and the atmosphere in the stadium. So the most important thing for me and the team was to keep our heads relatively high when we left Stamford bridge. And then I remember that there was a lot of pressure from the players but I think that the security was well managed by Chelsea and their people. I also think that Guus Hiddink, who was head coach for Chelsea, behaved very professionally by making his players calm down. I didn’t feel any danger around me. But it was unpleasant because you could see that the game could have been solved better from the referees. So it wasn’t a good feeling but we did choose to leave Stamford Bridge with a certain amount of decency left.”
On leaving Stamford Bridge:
“We had to sit and wait for a while in referee locker room because of the big pressure outside and screaming in the hallway. You could hear that people were unhappy. Many things were said, so we just have to calm down in the locker room and wait for some hours until people had left the stadium, so it got a bit later than we were used to because of safety measures. So we sit in the locker room, and when I think of all the games I’ve had, then you’re usually happy and have a good feeling, but when we sat in the room in Stamford Bride there was no cheering of happiness. We realised, that we’ve done a poor job and that’s the way it is. Players have bad games, coaches have bad games and unfortunately, referees have bad games too, and that is a part of football. Of course, I wished it would have been different, but unfortunately, it wasn’t.”
“[...] there was a lot of aggression out there, so UEFA chose, due to safety precautions, to move us to anther hotel than the one we originally stayed at. So we got moved to a different hotel and stayed there until the next day. We left London the following day. You always do that, so that was regular procedure. But they asked us to travel as civilians and we got a police escort to Heathrow, and we also had police escort when we landed In Oslo. So there were a lot of precautions and pressure around the match, which also meant an increase in security.”
On the legacy of it all:
“I‘m fine with people remembering me for this game. I usually say that it is better to be harassed than overlooked. It’s completely fine that people remember me for that. As I said, it’s not what defines me. I’m so much else. I’m a dad, I’m a friend, a boyfriend I’m more than being the referee in a semi final. So what the people remember me for isn’t that important. I wish that I was better in that game and refereed like a God. Unfortunately, it didn’t go like that, but it’s up to people to decide what they will remember me for, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on that.”
Thanks again to Mads Oddershede of Chelsea Supporters Denmark for sending along this video, and for being calm and reasonable enough to sit down with one of the greatest villains in Chelsea history!
If you need a refresher of that night, for some unfathomable reason, here you go...