Detailed threats and breach of security forced Frisk to quit

Nick Harris on the sinister campaign that drove referee of controversial Chelsea match to retire
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The Independent Online

The "vital factor" that led Anders Frisk to premature retirement was that several recent death threats were made to his secret "secure phone" at home, on a number known only to a few close associates, according to a source in Sweden.

The "vital factor" that led Anders Frisk to premature retirement was that several recent death threats were made to his secret "secure phone" at home, on a number known only to a few close associates, according to a source in Sweden.

Frisk, who believes militant Chelsea fans were behind the threats, feels whoever obtained that particular number had made a concerted effort to frighten him, and that they presented a menacing threat significantly beyond an e-mail abuse campaign.

The Swedish official, 42, has yet to make public the exact nature of the threats that have caused him to retire, saying: "The threats toward me have escalated the last few weeks after the Barcelona-Chelsea game. Their tone has become much stronger. It's a real shame and an impossible task to try to beat something like this. In any case, it's a battle I don't want to fight just because I'm a referee."

The source said: "It appears that he thinks there is something more sinister than a few calls or e-mails from angry but essentially harmless individuals.

"The vital factor seems to be the specific nature of some threats to this private telephone number. Anybody could find an e-mail address for him, and a lot of people would probably have access to his cell-phone number, but his home number was secure. Nobody would give that out, very few people know it. Somebody must have gone to some trouble to find this number."

Frisk talked over the weekend about his fears for his family, saying: "It's not worth carrying on ... my safety and the safety of my family goes before anything else. These last few weeks have been the worst of my life."

He added that he was now unsure about letting his children go to the postbox in the garden to collect the mail. Sources close to Frisk believe that the specific threats which persuaded him to hang up his whistle might have been related to his children. "There is an assumption that it must have been something like, 'We know where you live, we have your number, we know your kids collect the mail'," one source said. "There has been no physical damage yet, but he cannot know for sure that these people haven't been watching his house. I think the pressure of that is behind his retirement."

The Swedish media devoted enormous coverage to the affair over the weekend, and some newspapers there are investigating the theory that Chelsea followers with links to far-right groups such as Combat 18 might be involved. Whoever was involved has achieved their aim. "Chelsea have supporters in many parts of the world, so all of them [the threats] didn't come from England," Frisk said. "Soon it will be impossible to referee a Champions' League match if the clubs can't accept defeat or a player being sent off."

Frisk is not a stranger to controversy, but most of the incidents that have earned him headlines have been of other people's making. In December, Claudio Ranieri said he felt that his Valencia side had been "shafted" by poor decisions after losing 2-0 to Werder Bremen in a game refereed by Frisk. But the Italian apologised within days, saying: "I was in a very agitated state at the time. Anders Frisk is a very good referee."

Frisk was also the centre of attention in Rome last September after abandoning a Champions' League game between Roma and Dynamo Kiev. He had been hit on the head and bloodied by a missile thrown from the crowd.

He was also the subject of criticism from Ruud van Nistelrooy after he officiated at the Euro 2004 semi-final between the Netherlands and Portugal, won 2-1 by the latter. Van Nistelrooy accused the referee of giving "everything in favour of Portugal" and of being a "home whistler". Impartial observers saw little wrong and Van Nistelrooy was handed a two-match ban.

Given his record of 132 international matches at club and national level, Frisk has actually been the subject of relatively few complaints. And until someone took menacing exception to his handling of Barça-Chelsea, he had coped with those that had come his way.



LIVING WITH FEAR HOW MEIER COPED

Urs Meier was the referee when England played Portugal at Euro 2004. England were eliminated after Meier disallowed a potential match-winning goal by Sol Campbell in the last minute of normal time for a foul on Ricardo, the Portugal goalkeeper.

Meier immediately became the victim of a month-long hate campaign, orchestrated by the British tabloid press and led by The Sun. His phone number and e-mail address were published and he received 16,000 abusive e-mails and 5,000 abusive phone calls within 24 hours of the game.

Meier also claimed that English newspapers offered money to his ex-wife and children for derogatory stories about him. His home and business in Zurich were "doorstepped" by reporters, and his personal website was hacked into and a fake "confession", alleging he "threw" the game, was posted there.

Meier said yesterday: "For one week after this game there were two policemen with guns protecting my house and office. The police say to me I have to go undercover to another place for four or five days so nobody knows where I am. I had no possibility to meet my children, for example. The police said it was too dangerous to go home. It was the most negative point in my career."

Meier has since stopped refereeing after reaching the retirement age of 45. Speaking about Anders Frisk's case, he said: "It's obviously not OK for a coach to put this much pressure on a referee as Mourinho did. He [Mourinho] has to be punished."

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