Revisiting Chelsea's night of injustice against Barcelona
Monday marks 10 years since one of the most contentious refereeing performances in the history of European football
By Ben Grounds
Last Updated: 06/05/19 11:32pm
An evening which promised so much for Chelsea in their quest for an elusive Champions League title turned into a night of bitter recriminations at Stamford Bridge.
On May 6, 2009, boos rained down from the stands as a furious Didier Drogba, dressed in flip-flops, was kept apart from the protagonist.
The man in the eye of the storm, Tom Henning Ovrebo, turned down no fewer than four penalty appeals as Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League by Pep Guardiola's Barcelona.
Such was the level of anger from Chelsea supporters towards the match officials, Ovrebo had to change hotels after the game.
The Norwegian received death threats and admitted fears for his own safety in the days immediately after Chelsea's exit at the semi-final stage, 12 months on from the penalty shootout defeat to Manchester United in Moscow.
Michael Essien had given the Blues an early lead, and things got even better for Guus Hiddink's side when Eric Abidal was sent off with 24 minutes remaining.
By then, Chelsea felt they ought to have been out of sight, with the most blatant of their penalty appeals coming when Ovrebo failed to see a handball by Gerard Pique inside the box.
His decision to wave away the protests allowed Andres Iniesta to strike a late equaliser that put Guardiola's Barcelona through to the Champions League final on away goals after the two sides played out a 0-0 draw in the first leg at the Nou Camp.
For a fourth time in six years, Chelsea exited Europe's premier cup competition at the semi-final stage. After Luis Garcia's ghost goal, a shootout defeat to Liverpool and the surprise loss to Monaco, for some, it was too much to bear.
What left Chelsea fans so incensed?
INCIDENT: Barcelona full-back Dani Alves catches Florent Malouda inside the box after 23 minutes.
OVREBO'S VERDICT: No penalty. Ovrebo awards Chelsea a free-kick just outside the area.
INCIDENT: Three minutes later, Eric Abidal holds Didier Drogba back inside the box, but Ovrebo fails to see the shirt-tugging offence.
OVREBO'S VERDICT: Play on. Ovrebo ignores Drogba's claims - to the obvious disgust of the Chelsea striker.
INCIDENT: The most controversial - 10 minutes from time. The third offence sees Gerard Pique handle inside the box under pressure from Nicolas Anelka, but Ovrebo's decision to ignore the protests leaves Chelsea players and fans speaking of a conspiracy against them.
OVREBO'S VERDICT: Referee conspiracy or just plain ineptitude? Inexplicably in this age of VAR, Ovrebo turns a blind eye to the incident.
INCIDENT: Moments after Iniesta's equaliser, deep into stoppage time, Samuel Eto'o blocks Michael Ballack's volley with his arm inside the box.
Ovrebo refuses to point to the spot, resulting in Ballack chasing the referee back up the pitch to express his fury.
OVREBO'S VERDICT: The Cameroon international had his back to the ball and had no chance to move his arm away from the ball. Ballack is booked for dissent having run 40 yards to confront the official.
What was said at the time...
Didier Drogba and Jose Bosingwa were both handed European bans for their conduct on the pitch following the full-time whistle at Stamford Bridge.
Drogba had already been substituted, but that didn't stop him confronting the officials at the end of the game in an infamous rant caught on the television cameras.
Fuelled by a sense of injustice after the fourth minute of stoppage time had elapsed, the Ivorian embarked on a lengthy verbal tirade at Ovrebo, who was subjected to further abuse from the striker after he had been shown a yellow card as he was held back by stewards.
"It's a disgrace," he shouted repeatedly into a TV camera, complete with a four-letter verdict. Bosingwa labelled Ovrebo a "thief" after the game as chaos and bitterness reigned.
The Chelsea full-back told Portuguese television station RTP: "I don't know if he's a referee or a thief.
"I don't have any words to describe that man that was on the pitch. We have nothing against Barcelona's goal but the penalties that he didn't give us and his way of managing the game weren't right at all.
"This referee should never referee a game again. What happened was a disgrace. It was a well-contested game but the referee came to spoil our game."
Hiddink said: "I'm still very disappointed of course, it's not easy to analyse the game when the adrenaline is running. We should and could have scored more, we could talk about the not-given penalties. There were four tonight, and the boys feel, well, it's a little injustice.
"We should have had four penalties. As for the end of the game, I can fully understand the disappointment of the players and I will protect them for what they did because they had loads of adrenaline in their bodies."
The stands were in no doubt of the opinion that then-UEFA president Michel Platini was desperate to break the Premier League's stranglehold on the competition, after England had recorded five finalists in the previous four years.
John Terry, superb on the night, added: "It's astonishing. It was a shambles. We had six or seven penalty claims waved away and that's astonishing."
What the papers said...
Matt Lawton of the Daily Mail wrote: "After this, Chelsea might just have to give the Champions League a miss next season.
"They might swerve it, and instead remain at home, because of the way it tramples the soul, crushes the spirit and tears the heart from the chest. The way it shatters their dreams in the cruellest way imaginable."
Henry Winter, writing at the time for the Daily Telegraph, went further.
"The bitterest of bile can be the only taste in Chelsea mouths this morning," began his intro.
"Everyone associated with the Bridge, from dressing room to boardroom, supporters to staff, will feel sick at the injustice of what befell them here during heart-stoppage time on Wednesday night. So that's why they call it the Blues.
"Whether you like Chelsea or not, whether you can stomach the crassness of some of their fans or not, whether their powerful football is to your taste or not, Guus Hiddink and his hard-working collection of players did not deserve this brutal fate: a Champions League semi-final decided by the incompetence of a referee rather than the skill of players."
Having been escorted down the tunnel by Chelsea stewards, Ovrebo was swiftly flown out of England the next day following death threats.
Police in Ovrebo's home city of Oslo revealed they investigated threats made to the referee on the internet.
Hiddink always stated that he would return to his post at Russia at the end of the season, but had Chelsea gained revenge for the heartbreak of Moscow, would that have convinced the Dutchman to stay?
As for Drogba, the striker was handed a six-game European ban - two of which were suspended for two years - while Bosingwa received a four-match ban (one suspended) for his "thief" comment he later retracted.
Chelsea were fined £85,000 for "the improper conduct of their players and the throwing of missiles by their supporters".
What has been said since...
Speaking after the charge, Drogba said: "Whatever I did and the decision they take, I will accept it because my behaviour was not what Uefa and what everyone wants to see in a football stadium. I will do my suspension and, after that, I will come back stronger."
Bosingwa also issued an apology for his comments.
The Portugal defender said: "We were all very disappointed and frustrated after the game, but I regret describing the referee as a thief. Having had some time to reflect I would like to withdraw those comments."
Speaking last year, Ovrebo told Spanish newspaper Marca that he "cannot be proud" of his officiating on an infamous night at Stamford Bridge.
"It was not my best day, really," Ovrebo, now 52, said. "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."
What happened next?
Barcelona went on to lift the trophy by beating Manchester United 2-0 in the final in Rome, while Chelsea dusted themselves down to beat Everton in the FA Cup final.
The Blues would avenge the semi-final defeat three years later, securing a 3-2 aggregate win over Barcelona in the last four en route to lifting the trophy in Munich.
But for some fans, revisiting one of the most controversial refereeing performances a decade on, a sense of anger will still linger.