Björn Kuipers: from whining player to top class referee

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.

2nd Europa League final and golden whistle

After officiating the UCL final, Björn Kuipers officiates at the 2016 Euro’s (read how he prepares for a big tournament with his Team Kuipers), his second Europa League final and the 2018 World Cup. In the latter he’s a fourth official in the final. The Dutch referee won the Golden Whistle in 2018-2019 as best referee, which is based on Telegraaf jounalists’ reports.

But how did hye become a referee? More on that below the image.

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.

Björn Kuipers and his team.
Björn Kuipers and his team.

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”.

Success factors

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 Kuipers

Bjorn Kuipers is very popular. The day he heared about his appointment for the World Cup he was in Dutch most popular tv show DWDD.
Bjorn Kuipers is very popular. The day he heared about his appointment for the World Cup he was in Dutch most popular tv show DWDD.

Björn 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

Source: KNVB.

Sander van Roekel happy in shadow of Kuipers

In 1980 Sander van Roekel was a promising striker in the u8 team of SKV, but he got into refereeing very early in his career. When he entered professional football as referee, a member of Van Roekel’s football club wrote on the club’s website: “If Sander Van Roekel will reach the top of professional football, and if people maybe even will be talking about him in Europe, remains to be seen.”

Start as professional referee

Sander van Roekel when he was a young referee.

Sander van Roekel when he was a young referee. Photo courtesy SKV.

Sander van Roekel was also with Björn Kuipers, Bas Nijhuis and Pol van Boekel on the C-list of Dutch referees, talented refs who just joined professional football. “But I soon realised they were better”, Van Roekel told newspaper De Gelderlander. “Then I switched to a role as assistant referee.” Van Roekel became an international referee in 2007 and teams up with Kuipers almost immediately; both will be joined by Erwin Zeinstra in 2011. “The referee makes the choice who he wants in his refereeing team.”

Van Roekel trains three times a week at Veenendaal Atletiek Vereniging, a sports club for runners. He also works three days a week as teacher in economy at a secondary school. “I’ve made good arrangements with my colleagues”, the assistant ref says. “Because if the KNVB (Dutch FA) calls me, I need to be there.” And his students, what do they think of his other job? “They know I’m an assistant referee and address me about the Champions League and the World Cup”, he told Helden Online, “but I’m not really in the spotlight. And that’s what I like.”

In the shadows of Björn Kuipers

Van Roekel accepts his role in the shadows of Björn Kuipers. Although the Dutch FA talks about “team Kuipers”, it’s Kuipers who does the media talks and the assistants are more at the background. “Well, as assistant referee you need to know your place”, he told Spits. “If Björn goes to the theatre everybody whispers his name and they wonder if it’s him or not. When I go to the theater, no one recognizes me.”

The Dutch assistant referee told that he can easily walk in Amsterdam the day after the Ajax – PSV clash in the Dutch league. “Nobody knows who I am, not even when I had to make a questionable decision on the field.”

The author on the website of Van Roekel’s football club was not completely right about the future of his career. Yes, he’s active on Europe and world’s highest level, but we don’t hear a lot about him. He’s a quiet man in the shadows of Björn Kuipers – and is happy with that.

Read the profile of Björn Kuipers.

Referee Milorad Mazic and the Belgrade derby’s

Milorad Mazic

Milorad Mazic

Milorad Mazic played football like most of the referees before he started officiating. “I had a bad injury”, he told Fifa. “And after that I started and became a referee.” The passion for football is the main thing that drives him, also as a referee. “I love football so much.” Mazic is very happy he could still have a career in football.

First and most important thing in Brazil is to do ‘my very best’, says Mazic. His career went fast after becoming an international referee in only 2009. On 2012 Mazic was on the prospective list of World Cup referees, but he was not an Elite Uefa referee yet. Right before the World Cup Mazic has officiated 8 Champions League and 13 Europa League matches matches. He also got appointed for the u21 European Championships in 2011, the 2013 u20 World Cup and the World Cup play-off between Romania and Greece.

The derby’s of Belgrade

The Serbian competition is not a “big” competition in Europe, but it’s definately one where you have to stand strong as a referee with for example the derby’s in Belgrade. Check out the video of the match between Red Star and Partizan:

Mazic creates Serbian histora

Mazic makes history being the first Serbian referee who’s chosen for a World Cup in almost 25 years. He’ll be assisted by Dalibor Đurđević and Milovan Ristic. The last referee from Serbia who officiated a match on the FIFA World Cup was Zoran Petrovic in in 1986 in Mexico and in Italy in 1990.

Banner Mazic World Cup final

Check out an interview from Fifa with Milarad Mazic

Mark Geiger and his exciting lifestyle as professional referee

Mark Geiger has been named MLS referee of the year 2014. He was number one for players, clubs and media, MLS announced. Number 2 and 3 were Jair Marrufo and Alan Kelly. Mark Geiger will also referee the 2014 MLS final.

2014 was a great year for Mark Geiger. The best moment maybe is 2:24 am on 15th of January 2014. At that moment an e-mail was sent to Mark Geiger from Uefa Headquarters with the news that he’d be a referee at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. “I woke up to an email and a couple of text messages from friends. An outstanding experience just to wake up and see that email”, Geiger told AP.

Refereeing for pocket money

At the age of 13, Mark Geiger became a football referee. The reason? He needed some pocket money and this was a far better way of getting some extra bucks than the other kids. It took him 15 years from 1988 to become a National Referee in 2003. Since 2014 he has been officiating in Major League Soccer. After 4 years on the higest national level he became a Fifa referee.

Mark Geiger, Sean Hurd and Joe Fletcher.  Photo published with courtesy of Professional Soccer Referee Association (PSRA)

Mark Geiger, Sean Hurd and Joe Fletcher. Photo published with courtesy of Professional Soccer Referee Association (PSRA)

After the 2010 World CUp Fifa boss Sepp Blatter announced that he doesn’t want part-time referees anymore. “You can’t have non-professional referees in professional football”, Blatter said. Not everybody changed his career, Björn Kuipers is for example a supermarket owner, but Geiger did. On January 2013, he made refereeing in Major League Soccer his full-time job. “It was It was something I would have to do”, he told on the website of Lacey Township High School, the school he was a math teacher at. “It’s a new opportunity. It’s going to be a new lifestyle. It’s exciting.”

The moment was right for him. “Timingwise, it couldn’t have been more perfect,” he said. “I’ve seen improvements in myself. I don’t have that stress while I’m at the tournament worrying about what my students are doing back home.”

Mark Geiger’s international career

After Geiger became an international referee, he got some big games. During 2011’s u20 World Cup he got 2 group stage matches, a last 16 match and finnaly the final between Brazil in Portugal. His team back then was the same as the assistants he’ll go to Brazil with now: American assistant referee Mark Hurd and Canadian assistant referee Joe Fletcher.

In 2011 he also became MLS referee of the year. In 2012 Geiger went to the London Olympics as referee and in 2013 he got appointed for the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup. Mark Geiger could be come the first American referee who officiates a match beyond the group stage.

“If you don’t do well there, the tournament is done,” Geiger said. “We need to focus on that first game wholeheartedly, make sure we nail that and get it right.”

Want to see more of how Mark Geiger prepares for matches? Check those video’s from Major League Soccer from 2011. He was then a teacher, so he has now more time for refereeing and preparatin, but video’s still worth watching.

Part 1 of MlS Major League documentary

Part 2 of MlS Major League documentary

Joel Aguilar always goes for the final

When a referee didn’t turn up Joel Aguilar from El Salvador had to pick up the whistle. “When I was asked to be the referee I said no at first because I liked playing and in fact had poor relations with referees because I got sent off every so often,” Aguilar said to Reuters.

Joel Aguilar - World Cup referee from El Salvador.

Joel Aguilar – World Cup referee from El Salvador. (Screenshot from interview on SNTV).

“All of us who love football wish the national team to go to the World Cup. Given the choice between the team and a referee, everyone would pick the team, but I’m proud to be able to take part representing El Salvador,” Aguilar told Reuters. He even told SNTV later that going to the World Cup would be “the ultimate fiesta”. It’s the second World Cup of the Salvodoran referee, but he hasn’t yet officiated a match at this level. In South Africa he was only a 4ht official.

Joel Aguilar, a 39-year-old teacher, almost didn’t go to the 2010 World Cup as reserve referee. Because Fifa had a dispute with the Salvadoran football association FESFUT because of “government interference” in the El Salvador’s football. “Furthermore, during the period of suspension, FESFUT will not be able to be represented in any regional or international competitions,” said the Fifa statement. “For example, the refereeing trio selected for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa will not be able to participate in this competition if FESFUT remains suspended.”

Referee of USA – Costa Rica

Another moment you could remember Aguilar from is the 2014’s World Cup qualifier between the USA and Costa Rica. Heavy snow blizzard covered the field in white. The Costa Rican Football Federation wanted the match to be replayed, but Fifa throw out their demand. See here the match conditions:

The conclusion on the website of Soccer Referees USA:
“Also, the safety of the players is crucial and of paramount importance. Somewhat surprisingly here, despite very difficult field conditions, both teams played a clean game and no serious foul play occurred. Moreover, it appeared that, after the referee stopped the game in the second half to evaluate the situation, both teams tried to persuade him to let the game continue. Still, Mr. Aguilar made a risky decision when he permitted the game to continue.” Please comment below if you’d have let play continue.

World Cup preparation

After the 2010 World Cup the carreer of Aguilar progressed rapidly. He refereed both 2011 and 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup Finals. This tournament is held every two years by national teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

On the day that Fifa announced the World Cup referees the boss of Salvadoran referees, Luis Iraheta, announced that “it was an honour for the country” that Joel and his team were selected. “I can also tell you that Joel is the number one referee on the ConCaCaf list right now”, he proudly told.

Joel Aguilar finished the national season with the clash between Dragón and Isidro Metapán. “We take all the responsibility to be there to enjoy the game because it is a final, but we obviously take our responsibilities. But it is not easy to maintain the trust that the authorities always give you”, Aguilar said. “But you have to earn the trust of players, officials and press, and not just the authorities.

Aguilar is happy that he could officiate the national final. “I’m very happy , he said in EDH Deportes. “As referees you always want to officiate the final round of a competition”. With that spirit the Salvadoran referee moves to Brazil on Saturday 31st of May with his assistants Juan Francisco Zumba and William Torres will go to Brazil. Aguilar, who picked up the national flag to take it to Brazil, says just before he left to his second World Cup: “we want to uphold the name of El Salvador when we are in Brazil”.

Yuichi Nishimura can bring Asian refereeing to new heights

Yuichi Nishimura is a big contestant of becoming the first Asian World Cup final referee. The 42-year-old referee from Japan has already shown his skills during the 2010 World Cup with a quarter final and the appointment as 4th official in the final officiated by Howard Webb. A report of newspaper UzDaily wrote shortly after the tournament: “I cannot predict the future but I won’t be surprised if there was an Asian, whether from Japan, Malaysia or even Bhutan, who would one day become THE referee for the World Cup final. The sky is the limit for Asian judges on field. And the dedication is there for them to reach the pinnacle.”

Update: Fifa announced on 10th of June that Nishimura will be the referee who will referee the opening match between Brazil and Croatia.

Start of Nishimura’s career

Nishimura is one of the Asian World Cup referees. But how did it all begin for him? Nishimura was the coach of a youth team and in his opinion the referee ruined the dreams of his pupils by bad judgments. This inspired him to become a referee himself with the motto of thinking of the players first. He told Fifa once that “his biggest challenge on the pitch is to maintain positive motivation amongst the players”.

Nishimura became a Fifa referee in 2004 and only two years later he already refereed an Asian Champions League final between Al Qadisiya from Kuwait and Al Karama from Syria. One year later he officiated the Fifa u17 World Cup final in Korea.

Match-fixing

But that’s not the only foreign experience Nishimura gained. The Japanese match official was also invited to the 2008 Africa Cup in Ghana as only non-African, where he got three matches. And his most remarkable refereeing adventure maybe was in Poland. He officiated three matches in the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2008 as part of a referee exchange. After he landed they told him about match-fixing problems in the country. “But we were not there because of that affair”, Nishimura told Gazeta Wyborcza. “We are international referees, but we’ll never officiate competition matches in Europe and all experience will be usefull.” Nishimura continues the interview and tells why nobody will ever to buy him to manipulate a match. “In Japan, there is no corruption in the sport. I think it has to do with our culture and tradition. Such behavior will never be tolerated.”

Japanese courage

Integrity in sports is very important for the Japanese. Before moving to Poland he had heard about Tomasz Hajto, a player with foreign experience. “Yes, I also knew about the yellow cards he has collected”, Nishimura told. “And I also booked him today, but there was no alternative after such behavior. I had no other choice. I’m not prejudiced before the game to anyone.”

Nishimura was named best Asian referee in 2012 and as worked hard to be top fit at the 2014 World Cup. “It is an honor to be appointed for the World Cup, but it is hard to finish any World Cup match without any problems”, he keeps reservedly. “But I want to meet that challenge with courage and hope my decisions will be accepted by the teams involved in the games where I take charge.” That Japanese courage could bring Asian refereeing to new heights during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Read the interview with 2010’s Asian semi-final referee Ravshan Irmatov.

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