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, but 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. In 2021 he reached his pinnacle, as first ever Dutch referee in a final of a European Championship.

“I was very emotional when I heard that I’d been given this final,” he told “I hoped to get the chance to referee a EURO final, and I’ve worked hard with my team to achieve this. It’s really a milestone, a dream, an unbelievable moment and a big honour.”

2nd Europa League final and more highlights

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 has one big goal which is refereeing a final at a European or World Cup. He will make history on July 11th 2021, because then he whistles for the start of the Euro 2020 final between Italy and England.

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 watched his son’s matches, summoned the coach to get his son on 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.

Improvement as a referee

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.”

Will he quit after Euro 2020?

“Let me think about that after the EURO,” he says to Uefa a few days before the Euro 2020 final. “We’ve seen it all – we’ve travelled across Europe and around the world, we’ve refereed great matches with great players and great coaches. It’s a dream to be a referee – it’s a dream to be refereeing a EURO final. I’ll look after the EURO about what comes next as far as refereeing is concerned.”

Björn Kuipers’ 9 finals

Source: KNVB.

2006EC u17Czech Republic – Russia
2009EC u21Germany – England
2011UEFA Super CupBarcelona – FC Porto
2013Confederations CupBrazil – Spain
2013Europa LeagueChelsea FC – Benfica
2014Champions LeagueAtletico Madrid – Real Madrid
2017WV u20 Venezuela – England
2018Europa LeagueOlympique Marseille – Atletico Madrid
2021UEFA EURO 2020Italy – England

Source: KNVB.

Referee as Athlete of the Year

When can we expect it: a referee as Athlete of the Year in The Netherlands? Dutch sports organisation NOC*NSF will announces the male and female athletes of 2014 on December 12.

Logo NOCNSFAll World, European and Olympic Champions are automatically nominated in The Netherlands. But when is a referee qualified to earn a nomination? Kuipers told when he heared about his CL final appointment: “Being on the pitch during the Champions League final is the highest achievement in football for players and also for referees.”

Is only a World Cup final enough for such a prize? That’s what happened to Nicola Rizzoli who won was Athlete of the Year in Italy. Kuipers has two more chances to get a nomination for the prize. In 2016 and 2018 he might get the Euro and World Cup final. If so, he definately deserves at least a nomination for the award.

Have you ever seen it in your country, a Referee as Athlete of the Year?

Best referee of 2014

2014 has almost come to an end. Who is the best referee in the world in 2014 in your opinion?

  • Is it Rizzoli who got the World Cup final?
  • Kuipers who got the Champions League final?
  • AFC Champions League final referees Alireza Faghani (1st leg) or Yuichi Nishimura (2nd leg)?
  • Wilmar Roldán and Sandro Ricci who both refereed the final rounds of the Copa Libertadores?
  • CAF Champions League final referees Janny Sikazwe or Bakary Gassama?

You may even add one yourself. Please comment and share your Referee of 2014 with me!

If you want to read more about Björn Kuipers, read the profile I wrote about the Dutch Referee.

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.

Björn Kuipers will referee Champions League final

Björn Kuipers will referee Champions League final between between Real Madrid CF and Club Atlético de Madrid.

Uefa just announced it on their website: “In Lisbon, Kuipers will be assisted by fellow countrymen Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra. The fourth official will be Turkey’s Cüneyt Çakır, and the two additional assistant referees, Pol van Boekel and Richard Liesveld, are also from the Netherlands. A Dutch reserve assistant referee – Angelo Boonman – completes the lineup of the refereeing team.”

Björn Kuipers and his team.

Björn Kuipers and his team.

“It’s a dream come true”, says Björn on the website of the Dutch FA. “Being on the pitch during the Champions League final is the highest achievement in football for players and also for referees. It makes us very proud and as a team we are thankfull for everybody who helped and supported us in the last few years.
I’m looking forward to the beautiful match between the Spanish teams in Lisboa.”

Photo series: World Cup preparation for referees

Photo series: World Cup preparation for referees. The photo’s are made Lorenzo Fontani, a Sky Sport journalist. He published them on Twitter and I embedded them in the blog post below.

All referees doing their excercises.

Photo of Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura.

Nicola Rizzoli check the video screen during the world cup preparation for referees.

Björn Kuipers looks very happy during the Fifa training for referees.

Felix Brych on the sidelines.

The photo’s in this photo series “World Cup preparation for referees” were embedded from Twitter and made by Lorenzo Fontani.

Björn Kuipers’ 2013 in 3 important matches

Björn Kuipers’2013 was very special. He had some very good matches and officiated the 2013 Confederations Cup final, a Champions League semi-final and the Europa League final. He also made a very brave call in the World Cup Qualifying match between Poland and Montenegro. He talks about his 2013 in an interview with Dutch newspaper Volkskrant.

Björn Kuipers: 3 video’s of 3 important decisions from Kuipers in 2013

24-4-2013: Dortmund – Real Madrid

A Champions League semi-final. Dortmund won this first round match with 4-1. Kuipers talks about a penalty incident in the 41st minute: “Borussia leads with 1-0. Attacker Marco Reus runs witht he ball into the penalty area and falls. Penalty or not?”

“Look good. Reus makes himself fall. He touches the opponent’s leg. And watch how play continues. A throw-in. A counter-attack. Real scores the equaliser, just before half-time. Everyone’s crazy. Reus shouts that it was a 100% penalty kick. Jürgen Klopp, the trainer of Dortmund, is raging. With 82.000 fans whistling I went into the tunnel. The feeling you have at that moment. Was it a penalty kick then? Back in the dressing room i found about eighty messages on my phone. How fantastic the call was. That’s something I could use.”
The reporter of the Volkskrant asks Kuipers if he got lucky by making the call. “No, I was for 80% sure that I was right, because I saw the defender made no offence.”

30-6-2013: Brazil – Spain

Brazil and Spain played the 2013 Confederations Cup final. “It was not an easy match. Two yellow cards, one red, a penalty kick for Spain. Crucial moments, all well assessed. The release afterwards was huges. We ended up in a jacuzzi, with a glass.”
Kuipers still has the ball used at the Confed Cup final. “I whistled for the end of the match when the ball was nearby. I couldn’t deny myself such an opportunity.”

7-9-2013: Poland – Montenegro

World Cup Qualification: “A super important match. In the 93rd minuted Poland scores the 2-1. The whole stadium went crazy. Players lying on top of each other. The winning goal! Ecstatic joy. My assistant was holding up his flag in that madness. He calls: “Björn, offside! Offside! I have no choice and follow him. 30 seconds later I whistle for the end of the game.”
The refereeing team made the right decision. “If someone of my team makes a crucial mistake, i twill influence me. I’m responsible.” And: “If this call (against Poland) was wrong, it could have cost me my international career.”
Video that shows the emotion of the Polish players. After 30 seconds of celebrating some didn’t even realise that the goal was cancelled:

Björn Kuipers says he hopes to receive good news from Fifa about going to the World Cup in Brazil. “That would be a dream for me.”

Björn Kuipers to referee Confederations Cup final

Björn Kuipers is appointed as referee of the Confederations Cup final between Brazil and Spain next Sunday. His assistants (as always) are Sander van Roekel en Erwin Zeinstra.

The refereeing team refereed a group stage match between Nigeria – Uruguay at the Confederations Cup. Kuipers and his assistants also officiated the Europa League final between Benfica and Chelsea. The match will start at 7pm local time on Sunday 30th of June in the Maracana-stadium of Rio de Janeiro.

Kuipers saw the Europa League final as a bonus. This is the extra bonus for Björn Kuipers. He was very happy with his refereeing this year, he said earlier this year on “I always say it is not all about me. I am the referee and the end responsibility is mine, but I never act alone. I need my team, I need everyone around me. I am very happy with my team – we have performed very well over the past year.

Stats by KNVB (Dutch FA) about the match officials:

Björn Kuipers
Referee at amateur level: 1990
FIFA-International: 2006
Number of international matches: 66

Sander van Roekel (AR)
Assistent-referee: 2003
FIFA-International: 2007
Number of international matches: 58

Erwin Zeinstra (AR)
Assistent-referee: 2005
FIFA-International: 2010
Number of international matches: 48