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Chelsea’s 1997 FA Cup win over Leicester City spawned a lawsuit, questions in Parliament and cost a radio host his job

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We’ve all got our Tom Henning Ovrebo.

Mark Hughes

Chelsea have 2009, ref Tom Henning Ovrebo and Barcelona in the Champions League. Leicester City have 1997, ref Mike Reed and Chelsea in the FA Cup fifth round.

Twenty-one years on and they’re still fuming about the penalty that cost them the game in a replay at Stamford Bridge, after they’d taken the favored Blues to a 2-2 at home.

“There was a little bit of resentment towards Chelsea from the outside that they were buying success. We were Little Old Leicester. It was tough to take.”

-Matt Elliott (defender and captain); source: Leicester Mercury

With time running out in a scoreless match, Leicester were starting to mentally gear up for penalties. Then centre-back Erland Johnsen drove the length of the pitch, played a one-two and dived (there’s no other way to put it, really) over Elliot’s withdrawn leg.

Referee Mike Reed swallowed the hook. Penalty awarded.

“I had thought I could get there and make the challenge, but realised halfway through, I wasn’t going to get there and pulled out.

“Johnsen thought I was going to make it, took a tumble and bundled into Spencer. It was never a foul.”

It really wasn’t. Judge for yourself.

Fellow defender Frank Leboeuf slotted the penalty past Kasey Keller and that was that.

Only.... it wasn’t.

First, an infuriated Leicester fan who was at the Bridge went to court over the bad call.

“I thought immediately the Chelsea player went down that it looked dodgy. Then when I saw it on TV later I just could not believe it. It was a disgraceful decision, I just could not believe it.”

-John Regan; source: Leicester Mercury

John Regan, who’s now 66 years-old, wanted to sue referee Mike Reed personally. That wasn’t legal. But he could sue his bosses, the Football Association. And so he did. Here’s the text of his complaint, for which he demanded £160 in compensation.

Gianfranco Zola

“The first defendant (the referee) gave a penalty that was made negligently and in breach of his duty of care. As a professional referee he has a duty of care to those persons watching the match.

“The plaintiff suffered trauma, shock and distress acknowledged by independent experts as negligent. The second defendant as employee of the first defendant is liable for the negligent acts of the first defendant.”

THAT made the news even more than the ref’s decision had. Regan did a bunch of radio and television interviews and made the front page of the local paper. Feeling like he’d made his point, Regan never attended the hearing.

“A date was set for the hearing, but the moment had passed. I wasn’t going to attend the hearing. I’m told that the FA spent £33,000 on legal fees and I only paid out a 20 quid to lodge the writ.”

And that wasn’t the end of it, either. Questions were asked in Parliament over the competence of the referee. Radio 5 sports call-in host Danny Baker lost his job after an on-air rant that sounded dangerously like he was encouraging personal violence against Mike Reed. Here are some choice snippets from his diatribe.

“It was scandalous, an absolute scandal … football has a maggot at its golden core, and that maggot is referees...

“... what is the point in anyone investing millions in football when the whole thing rests on some erstwhile van driver from Folkestone who’s probably had a row with his wife?

“... most of them need a good slap round the face … hacks should doorstep this man like he’s a member of Oasis … that worm should be on the phone now, Radio Five should be knocking down that ref’s dressing room and asking do you know on behalf of all referees how bad you are?”

Danny Baker; source: The Guardian

Phew! And we thought Drogba and Ballack were tough for getting in Ovrebo’s face. We have nothing on the outrage over little old Leicester being robbed by big, bad, Chelsea and a poor ref.

Eddie Newton

This one was so memorable that eleven years later The Guardian actually made it #5 on their list of the six worst refereeing performances. Ever. In all of football. Of course, that was written a year before Ovrebo, which, as we all know, is #1.

So, we’re still angry at Ovrebo. And they’re still angry at Reed. But honestly, it’s kind of fun when you’re on the winning side of one of these, isn’t it? Especially since Chelsea went on to beat Middlesbrough 2-0 in the final and win our second FA Cup (and the first since the epic 1970 two-match affair against Leeds United, during which I became a Chelsea fan.)