Chelsea have rallied behind Didier Drogba after his furious confrontation with referee Tom Henning Ovrebo after their European Champions League exit at the hands of Barcelona – and vowed to take action against any fans making death threats to the official.
|Respect for referees sinks to a new low [EPA]
Norwegian Ovrebo had to be smuggled out of Britain on Thursday by police who feared for his safety in the wake of the previous night's semi-final second leg.
Ovrebo turned down four strong penalty appeals by Chelsea, who lost on the away goals rule after Andres Iniesta scored in the 93rd-minute to level the scores at 1-1 on the night and on aggregate.
At the end of the game, the Norwegian official was confronted by a furious Drogba and had to be escorted down the tunnel by a group of Chelsea stewards who had difficulty restraining the striker.
Captain John Terry and manager Guus Hiddink both voiced their support for the Ivory Coast international but that will not help him avoid potentially severe sanctions from European governing body Uefa in the aftermath of a match which can only have tarnished the image of football.
"Following media reports claiming threats have been made against the referee of last night's game, Chelsea Football Club would like to make clear that it condemns any form of threat against players, officials or supporters," the club said in a statement.
"If provided with proper evidence Chelsea will take the strongest action against any season ticket holders or members who have participated in this activity.
"Everybody connected with Chelsea is very disappointed with the events of last night.
"However we would stress that we have received no evidence that Chelsea fans are involved in any of the alleged threats reported."
Fearing reprisals from furious fans, police changed Ovrebo's hotel before organising his exit from the country, according to former international referee Graham Poll.
Poll revealed: "This morning he's being smuggled out of our country under police escort – this is a referee of a football match.
"That is a disgrace.
"When he booked in a hotel they had to change the hotel he was staying at because of the fear that maybe fans would find him."
Ovrebo's situation has worrying echoes of the hounding of Swedish referee Anders Frisk, who retired from the game in 2005 after receiving death threats in the wake of another ill-tempered meeting between Chelsea and Barcelona.
Drogba's extremely intimidating behaviour towards Ovrebo was aggravated by the fact that he went on to scream obscenities into a television camera, forcing some broadcasters who were carrying the match live to apologise to viewers.
"This morning he's being smuggled out of our country under police escort – this is a referee of a football match. That is a disgrace"
Former English Premier League ref Graham Poll
"Are you watching this? It is a disgrace. It is a fucking disgrace," Drogba shouted.
Hiddink, who attempted to restrain Drogba, seemed to suggest that the striker’s conduct was acceptable as long as he didn’t start hitting people.
"People say he should be in control. The moment a player starts hitting then he is going beyond where he should go," Hiddink said.
"I can understand his emotion and his behaviour after the game. I will protect that."
Hiddink added: "There is an overall feeling of being robbed, of there having been an injustice. That's why they were so hot and angry.
"Of course the players make mistakes, coaches make mistakes and referees can make mistakes, that's why we talk about giving the benefit of the doubt.
"But if you have seen three or four situations waved away, then it's the worst I have seen."
Uefa will wait until they see Ovrebo's match report before deciding what action to take.
The governing body's General Secretary, David Taylor, dismissed any suggestion that Chelsea's exit reflected the governing body's desire to avoid another all-English final.
Ovrebo arguably made a string of errors but Barcelona were also victims of his poor decision-making with Eric Abidal sent off 25 minutes from the end for tripping Nicolas Anelka, who actually tripped himself up.
Taylor, who was at the match at Stamford Bridge, said he was angered by the implication.
"If anything it's a media conspiracy against Uefa," he said.
"It does make me angry. It really annoys me because it's a load of rubbish."