A psychologist by profession, a psychologist on the football pitch: Former Norwegian international match official Tom Henning Øvrebø has rung down the curtain on his career as a referee due to injury.
Having become a FIFA licensed referee in 1994, Øvrebø is able to look back on a bright development, having started with a participation in UEFA U-21 EURO 2002. Even though it took him a while to reach the peak, since he finished his university degree only in 1998, he managed his ultimate breakthrough by having been appointed to oversee two Europa League (former UEFA Cup) semifinals in 2006 and 2007. As a logical consequence, he attended UEFA EURO 2008 as one of twelve referees, where he was sent home early though because of a controversial performance in Italy vs Romania. In October 2008, Øvrebø was put onto the list of pre-selected referees for FIFA World Cup 2010.
A few months later, he made an important step forward when he was designated to handle the second leg of UEFA Champions League’s semifinal between Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. Having rejected a handful of penalty appeals by the home side, his officiating team consisting of Geir Åge Holen and Dag-Roger Nebben on the sidelines faced a “third half” of this match. Øvrebø did not only have to bear the probably most severe protests ever seen during and after a match by Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba, but also received death threats which required a change of the hotel and police protection up to the airport. Of course, the players and media involved ignored the many acceptable and correct decisions taken by the referee team.
Øvrebø never really recovered from that. Only one year later, further mistakes and controversies happened in the Round of 16 match between Bayern München and Fiorentina. As soon as he received the message that he had not been selected for the World Cup, he took the decision to finish his international career. Nevertheless, the then 44 year-old referee was ambitious enough to continue his occupation as a referee on domestic turf. In 2012 and 2013, he handled several matches in Norway’s 2nd division.
Tom Øvrebø is still receiving mails containing death threats from some furious Chelsea fanatics, whom the Norwegian does not take serious though. He told The Times: “The death threats immediately find their way into the dustbin. I don’t take this serious. I am just surprised about those people. […] One guy referred to a Champions League final in Moscow some years ago. This says something about his intelligence.” This Champions League final was by the way refereed by Lubos Michel and not him.
An intractable knee injury was needed to make this referee finish his passion he is still following on TV with plenty of joy. Undoubtfully, this referee would have deserved more support and fairness in the most difficult part of his career.