Björn Kuipers was a football player every referee would hate. The 16-year-old captain of his team couldn’t stop whining at the man in black about wrong decisions. Not once, e-ve-ry match. As a player he was the complete opposite of the referee who got appointed for the 2014 Champions League final due to his cool and calm style of refereeing. After Leo Horn (1957 and 1962), Charles Corver (1978) and Dick Jol (2001) the 41-year-old Kuipers is only the fourth Dutch referee who’ll referee the final of the biggest club competition in Europe.
Substitution that changed his career
At a certain moment during that short football career he got, to his surprise, substituted, he once told newspaper de Volkskrant. His dad Jan Kuipers, a referee and supermarket owner as well, who rarely whatched his son’s matches, summoned the coach to get his son of the pitch. His behaviour on the pitch was no longer tolerated by his dad and he told him to face the difficulties of being a referee. That was the start of a so far very succesfull refereeing career. In January 2014 Björn Kuipers from Dutch town Oldenzaal was told he would be one of the referees at the World Cup in Brazil and on the 7th of May he got a message from Uefa referee boss Pierluigi Collina that he’ll be the referee of the 2014 Champions League final between Atletico and Real Madrid on the 24th of May in Estádio da Luz in Lisbon. “Being on the pitch during the Champions League final is the highest achievement in football for players and also for referees”, he told after the appointment. Kuipers will be assisted by Sander van Roekel, Erwin Zeinstra, Pol van Boekel and Richard Liesveld.
After his father’s advice to try refereeing Björn became an amateur referee for theDutch football association KNVB in 1990. It wasn not always a pleasant journey towards professional football. Moments of dry heaving. Matches with 14 cards. Disrespect. It took him eleven years – with a one year break because he went abroad for his master degree in Business Administation – to reach the professional football level. His first professional match was Telstar versus Eindhoven in the Jupiler League, Dutch second level. He made his debut in the Eredivisie at the age of 32. A group of young referees entered the A-list and Kuipers as one of those talents. “Referees that are good, can move up quickly”, he told NRC after his fourth match on the highest Dutch level. “I know almost all the players, but they also know me apparently. They even called my by my first name, that actually surprised me.”
That was just nine years ago. Now Björn Kuipers is the talk of the town in The Netherlands. He even give a press conference before he moves to Brazil for the World Cup, because “otherwise he wouldn’t be able to respond to all interview requests he got”.
But wat are the success factors of Kuipers career? As manager of three supermarkets with about 260 employees and owner of a barber shop he has got the leadership skills a referee needs. “But I’ll never be bossy”, Kuipers says. His work and refereeing motto is to let people do what they are good at. Kuipers gives his assistant referees Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra much freedom on the pitch to call for fouls and he supports their decisions. It is no coincidence that the KNVB announced that “team Kuipers” will go to Brazil and “team Kuipers” will referee the Champions League final.
The career of Björn KuipersBjörn Kuipers officiated five years on the highest national level before he became a international referee in 2006. Only three years later he became an Uefa Elite Referee. 2013 was a great year for him with the Europa League final between Chelsea FC and Benfica in the Amsterdam Arena. Later that year he officiated the Confederations Cup final between Brazil and Spain. All these referee successes were not possible without the support of his wife, whom he married eleven years ago, and his two children. “I’m away from home a lot”, he told Helden Magazine. Kuipers even missed 6 of his daughter’s 8 birthdays because he was away from home for a football match. “But it never causes friction. I don’t know what should do without my wife.” Kuipers’ wife follows each and every match, but normally doesn’t go to the stadium. She went to the Super Cup in Monaco and the Europa League final in Amsterdam. “She and my coach Jaap Uilenberg are the first people I call after a match.”
Kuipers’ two children, his 8-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, are not old enough yet to be like their dad on the football pitch, constantly whinging at the referee. “My daughter doesn’t even care about football so much”, Kuipers once said. “But I think, although they do not show it publicly to others, that my children are very proud of their dad.”
Björn Kuipers in numbers
Eredivisie (Dutch top league) matches: 170
Jupiler League (second level) matches: 90
Cup matches: 25
Champions League matches: 26
Europa League matches: 19
International friendlies: 6
Qualifiers European Championships: 4
Qualifiers World Championships: 7
Matches at European Championsships: 2
Matches at World Cup of clubs: 1
European Supercups: 1
Matches at Confederations Cup: 2