Björn Kuipers: ‘As a referee you get criticised, no matter how well you’ve whistled’
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My personal style signifier is simplicity. I’m a traditional man. I think it’s important to always dress for the occasion, but I don’t want to stand out. My closet is mostly filled with white shirts and blue or grey jackets. I really don’t care about brands, but I do care about where I shop. Most of my clothes are from small businesses in my hometown Oldenzaal, in the eastern part of The Netherlands. The owners are customers in my supermarkets and I think it’s important to support each other as entrepreneurs.
The last thing I bought and loved was an electric bike. My wife had wanted one for a while, but I wasn’t ready yet. I thought those things were for old people – I’m only 49! But now I truly enjoy my Trek bike. Since I no longer officiate matches on weekends, my wife and I love going for 50km rides on Sunday mornings. trekbikes.com
On my wishlist is free time. Since I retired from refereeing I have more control over my time, but I still don’t allow myself enough time off from my business. I would love to spend an entire day at home – I can’t even remember the last time that happened. I look forward to simple things, like working in the garden. My grandfather started our family business of supermarkets over 80 years ago and I grew up in a family where working hard was the norm. My dad is still not good at enjoying free time. When he retired I encouraged him to buy himself something nice and he ended up getting a convertible. But he barely drives it. He’s 75 and still comes by the business every day.
I have a collection of many, many football shirts. I keep most of them in my home gym. The ones I wore during special matches are framed and hanging in my office, including the Confederations Cup final of 2013 and the Champions League final of 2014.
An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to is the holy grass of Wembley Stadium for the Euro 2020 final. I’d officiated there once before but this match was what I’d been working towards all these years. I still get goosebumps when I think of the moment the English national anthem played. Everybody sang along – my wife, my children and my father were sitting in the stands and I realised half the world was watching.
And the best souvenir I’ve brought home is the Euro 2020 final match ball. Right after the final whistle, my assistant handed me the ball and I refused to let go of it for the rest of the evening.
The place I can’t wait to go back to is Indonesia. I lived there for almost a year when I was 23 and I’ve never been back since. Back then I interned at Hotel Grand Sahid Jaya, a beautiful five star hotel. It was quite the contrast to the small kampung hut where I lived, where there was no toilet, no shower – nothing. I washed myself with a bucket of cold water. That’s where I learned to appreciate the small luxuries in life. I would love to show these places to my wife and two kids.
A recent “find” is that I quite enjoy cooking. Last weekend I made sashimi, including tuna, butter fish and raw scallops. There’s a tiny fishmonger here in Oldenzaal that’s only open on Saturdays. Every Thursday they text me a list of the fish that will be available and I place an order. It’s the freshest fish imaginable.
I’ve recently rediscovered Twente, the area where I’ve lived almost my entire life. Since my wife and I started cycling, it’s reminded me how beautiful and peaceful it is here. People from Twente are famously humble, but I think we should be more proud of our region. I recommend cycling through places such as Ootmarsum and De Lutte. With a pitstop at De Bloemenbeek or Landgoed De Wilmersberg, two wonderful hotels that also serve great food. bloemenbeek.nl; wilmersberg.nl
The best advice I’ve received came from my father. He taught me so many important things: to be direct and honest, to simply do things instead of just talking about them, and to always put the customer first. He often handed out free groceries to customers in financial trouble. He was also the person who pushed me to become a referee when I was an annoying 16-year-old amateur footballer who constantly criticised the referees.
In my fridge you’ll always find cold beers, especially Grolsch, our local pride. My wife and I both enjoy a good glass of wine, so there’s always a bottle of sauvignon blanc in the fridge.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Sooley, the latest John Grisham, which I read by the pool during our holiday to Sicily right after the Euro final. Reading thrillers is a good way for me to relax.
The last meal that truly impressed me was at Ristorante pizzeria San Vito in Mazara del Vallo, Sicily. We’ve been going to Sicily for a couple of years now, and I thought I knew all the nice restaurants in the area. But this year the woman who cleaned our hotel rooms recommended this place. We were hesitant when we arrived and saw the rusty nameplate. But the people were incredible. So warm! So generous! We asked the chef to surprise us and he prepared a table full of fish dishes to share and it was unbelievable. Plus: there were barely any tourists. Lungomare S. Vito 125, 91026 Mazara del Vallo, Italy
An object I would never part with doesn’t exist. I’m too down to earth to care that much about anything. Of course I invest in things I find important: we live in a comfortable house, we have a holiday home in Friesland and I drive a nice Mercedes. But I honestly couldn’t tell you if it’s a GLE or a GLC.
The gadget I couldn’t do without is my MacBook Air, which is the only gadget I carry with me now. As a referee, I had many gadgets that made my work easier: a watch that vibrated when the ball crossed the goal line, for example.
I’m not the type of person who idolises people, but when I still played football myself I was a fan of legendary Dutch player Marco van Basten. We’ve now occasionally worked together when he has worked for Fifa. When he came to my house for a meeting in 2017, I couldn’t stop wondering what my younger self would think of that.
The podcasts I’m listening to are mostly Dutch football podcasts, such as Kick-off. I only listen to podcasts when I’m working out, but I do that a lot. As a referee it was very important to stay fit, and I try to keep that up. I run, I play squash, I mountain bike, I use the crosstrainer in my gym and my wife and I play tennis together. I’ve always hated interval training, so I did quit that.
My wellbeing guru is my coach Jaap Uilenberg. I learned many things from him, but the most important lesson he taught me is the importance of mental fitness. As a referee you get criticised after every match, no matter how well you’ve whistled. At first I found that hard to deal with. After every negative article in the press, Jaap would text me: “Let it go!” He taught me how to put things in perspective.
The best gifts I’ve given recently were two Hublot watches to thank my two regular assistants: Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra. The inscription says: “Thank you for all the beautiful years, your buddy Björn.” Hublot Classic Fusion and Hublot Big Bang e UEFA Euro 2020
The best gift I’ve received recently is the surprise dinner my wife hosted for me the day I came back from the Euro 2020 final. It was held in the garden of the 17th-century Het Palthe-Huis museum in Oldenzaal. All of my friends and family were there. Another nice surprise was a video message from former referee Pierluigi Collina, broadcast on ESPN after my last Dutch match. It was quite special to receive such public compliments from someone like him. palthehuis.nl
The grooming ritual I never skip is going to the hair studio I own every three weeks to make sure my hair always looks decent. That’s about all the effort I put into my appearance. haarstudio-oldenzaal.nl
A cause close to my heart is the Emma Children’s Hospital in Amsterdam. I recently auctioned the whistle I used at every match for the last seven years – a gift from Japanese top referee Yuichi Nishimura – and raised more than €10,000 for them. firstname.lastname@example.org