LONDON, Feb 24 (Reuters) Chelsea have strongly criticised the sending of threatening e-mail messages against the referee who sent off defender Asier del Horno during the English team's 2-1 Champions League defeat by Barcelona.
''Chelsea totally condemns any threats made to referees, officials, players or supporters of any club or football organisation,'' the Premier League champions today said on their website.
Death threats to another referee who sent off a Chelsea player a year ago provoked the the match official's premature retirement.
On Wednesday Norwegian referee Terje Hauge sent Del Horno off for a foul on Barcelona winger Lionel Messi minutes before halftime in the first leg of the first knockout round tie at Stamford Bridge.
British newspapers today reported that threats against Hauge had been posted to an e-mail chat room in Norway and on Chelsea's website.
''A small number of abusive messages were posted on the official chat site...and the offending messages were removed as soon as Chelsea were alerted to them,'' the London club said.
Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho slammed the red card, saying the referee was influenced by play-acting from Messi but Hauge has stood by his decision.
Swedish referee Anders Frisk retired after he and his family received death threats following his dismissal of Chelsea striker Didier Drogba against the same opponents at the same stage of last season's Champions League.
A letter directed at Hauge and posted on a chat room in Norway purporting to be a Chelsea fans' site said ''Congratulations on your last game as an international referee.'' Chelsea said if they found any of the messages on their site were posted by club season ticket holders or supporters they would take punitive action.
Reuters SC RS1710