Björn Kuipers has savoured the taste of big finals numerous times – but the Dutch referee, who takes charge of Wednesday’s UEFA Europa League final between Marseille and Atlético de Madrid in Lyon, says every new final has its own unique flavour.
The 45-year-old supermarket owner from Oldenzaal in the eastern Netherlands is ready for the occasion in France, and can count on the experience gathered in refereeing two previous UEFA club finals – the 2014 UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atlético, and the previous year’s UEFA Europa League showpiece featuring Chelsea and Benfica.
“It was a big surprise, but a fantastic one,” says the married father-of-two of his latest assignment. ”I’m really happy. It’s the eighth final in my career, and each one is very special.”
The appointment for the game in Lyon is further recognition of Kuipers’ qualities as a referee – attributes that have led him along a distinguished career path that began when he was a teenager.
Kuipers leads a Dutch refereeing team on Wednesday -.assistants Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra, additional assistant referees Danny Makkelie and Pol van Boekel, and reserve assistant referee Mario Diks. Poland’s Szymon Marciniak completes the team as fourth official.
He is unequivocal that refereeing teamwork has been a huge factor in bringing this latest high-level honour.
“It’s not just recognition of me,” he stresses. “It’s also recognition for my team – they are fantastic, and I would be nothing without them.”
Kuipers thanks his father Jan for setting him out on his refereeing path at the age of 16. “He was an amateur referee, and I used to go to matches with him,” he reflects. “He suggested that I might like to try refereeing, that I might enjoy it. I did enjoy it – very much so.”
“When I started out, I wasn’t ever thinking of getting to the top levels – but I was lucky, because I have been coached and guided by very good people along the way.” Kuipers gives particular credit to fellow Dutchman and long-standing UEFA Referees Committee member Jaap Uilenberg for being a vital source of advice and encouragement.
Passion, pleasure and home support are three elements that, in Kuipers’ opinion, help a referee to enjoy success at whichever level he or she officiates. “If you have that passion and pleasure, you can achieve a lot,” he explains.
“The support of those who are close to you is equally essential – in my case, my wife Marlies and my son and daughter have been particularly important. They know how much refereeing means to me, and they are always there for me.”
Over the years, Kuipers – selected for the team of match officials at this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia – has seen considerable changes not only in top-level football, but also in refereeing.
“The players are stronger and fitter,” he says. “The game is quicker, and so referees have had to adapt as well. Referees now are as much athletes as the players.”
“Other aspects have developed, for example, the tactical preparation that we do now ─ it’s really important that you know how teams play, so you know what to expect when you’re refereeing them.”
A final in front of a packed house presents its own special challenges for the refereeing team. Mental strength is a priority requirement. “It’s one of the most important facets for a referee,” Kuipers says. “You have so many people looking at you and reading about you at a match, so you have to be strong and confident in everything you do.”
“We will prepare for the final as we always do – we’ll go out on to the pitch beforehand to taste the atmosphere, and then go back to the dressing-room to get ourselves absolutely focussed on doing the best job that we can.”