Raheem Sterling is renowned for his diving skills, but the Englishman will have to forget about theatre in the 2020 European Championship final. All because of match referee Bjorn Kuipers, who knows diving like no other — the Dutchman was a simulant and whiner himself until his father turned him into a referee.
The 16-year-old captain of the amateur team from the town of Oldensal was wallowing on the lawn, hitting the grass with his hand. His partners surrounded the referee in indignation, who only rolled his eyes and his opponents were indignant: «Well, you know Bjorn!» For a second the injured man unclogged his wet eyes and saw his father’s face, skewed with rage, staring at him in the stands. The dying player was instantly resurrected in front of opponents, partners and the snide referee, but the coach was already preparing to replace the simulated player. Bjorn Kuipers’ refereeing career began in 3, 2, 1.
On 29 May 2021, the world wondered why, after the Champions League final, chief referee Mateu Laos cried in the arms of UEFA referee head Roberto Rosetti. It has not yet been announced, but for the 44-year-old referee, the Man City v Chelsea clash is probably the high point of his career and a beautiful parting of the European Cup. That’s the style UEFA likes to say goodbye to the best referees by appointing them to crucial matches.
The same story is now happening with Dutch ref Bjorn Kuipers. Despite the abolition of the age ceiling of 45 for referees, referees still rarely make it to their fifth decade. And Köypers, 48, for the sake of a powerful farewell to the profession, even postponed his retirement for a year when Euro 2020 was pushed back to 2021 because of the pandemic. So the referee for the European Championship final was known long before the participants. True, Kuijpers almost lost the main match to Leonid Slutsky.
Bjorn Kuijpers ahead of Euro 2020
Photo: Getty Images
In August 2020, the Rubin coach was outraged by an unassigned penalty in a match against Lokomotiv (0-2). «After the match I got in touch with Dutch Bjorn Kuijpers, one of the best referees in the world. I can show you a text message. His opinion on the Ignatyev episode: «The goalkeeper does not play the ball. He commits a foul. It is a penalty and a yellow card». Once again, this is one of the best referees in Europe and the world talking,» Leo complained.
Leonid did not seem to know that UEFA referees are forbidden to comment publicly on the work of their colleagues in matches under the auspices of the organization. Ideally, referees should not express their opinions in public space at all — inside UEFA it is considered bad form and unprofessionalism. Köypers had to bail himself out of an uncomfortable situation in order not to screw up the final of his career.
«It said it was Leonid, but I thought the question came from someone in the RFU, the Russian referees’ adviser [Kaloshin] we worked with. His name is also Leonid. I don’t know what will happen now, but I can’t imagine such a thing. You caught me. I just answered a question and assessed the episode, not knowing that it was a message from Slutsky and that my answer would hit the media. All I can say is that they seem to value my opinion in Russia,» Bjorn wiggled. Thankfully, it all worked out, Kuijpers has officiated three matches at Euro 2020 and is preparing for the final of a brilliant career. Which might not have been the case had it not been for the Dutch ref’s stern father.
Bjorn and Jan Kuipers
As a teenager, Bjorn never thought about becoming a referee. He loved football, playing it at an amateur level — he was even captain of his hometown team in Oldenzaal. Opponents and referees hated Köypers: he would dive, fall, fake, whine and beg for cards.
Nor did Bjorn plan a career in football. He was always fascinated by entrepreneurship. Köypers grandfather opened his first shop in Oldenzaal in 1937, and Bjorn’s father Jan developed the business into a chain of supermarkets. So the young simian knew from childhood that he would continue the family business. But one visit by his father to a football match of Bjorn’s amateur team changed everything.
Jan did not often attend his son’s games, but he was well versed in football — the businessman himself worked as a referee for the fans. On one of his rare trips to a Bjorn match, the father saw that his son was a pathetic simulacrum. This infuriated the man so much that he rode up to the team coach and demanded that he replace Kuipers Jr. immediately. When the son approached his father in confusion, the latter said: «If you can’t handle the difficulties of being a player properly, then you will handle the difficulties of being a referee.» Jan’s stern lesson made an amateur referee out of Bjorn and changed his life forever.
Köypers worked as an amateur referee for 11 years, and had heard and seen enough to develop a dislike for the simulators and whiners that he was. Bjørn then went off to study and gained a master’s degree in business administration to help his father in business. He debuted as a professional referee at the age of 32 and became a FIFA referee in 2006. Since then, the Dutchman has officiated at six UEFA finals. His last major assignment was the 2018 UEFA European Football Championship final between Marseille and Atletico Madrid. And the major final (and the first) of his career was the legendary 2013/14 Champions League climax between both Real Madrid and Atletico in Lisbon, when the Simeons led from the 36th minute onwards but Sergio Ramos equalised in the third penalty minute and Real Madrid bombed their opponents into extra-time. In the 120th minute, Kuijpers also converted a penalty against the Mariners.
Bjorn Kuipers advises Neymar to keep his mouth shut
Photo: Getty Images
Because of his formative history, Köypers is uncompromising towards players who complain, and may even insult them back if they cross the line. In August 2020, for example, during a match between PSG and Napoli, Neymar so annoyed Kuijpers that the Dutchman put the Brazilian in his place. «The referee said something to me that he shouldn’t have said. It was disrespectful. I don’t want to repeat his phrase. However, someone at the top has to do something. He can’t behave so disrespectfully,» complained Neymar, who received a card from Kuipers for talking and during international matches.
After his career as a referee is over, Bjorn will focus on the family business, which now brings in a huge amount of money. The chain of shops founded by Köypers’ grandfather has been bought out by a larger company, Jumbo, but Bjorn has retained a stake and has entered management. According to As, the Dutch judge earns around three million euros a year from the business, with a total income of 12 mults. In addition, Kuijpers has launched another start-up in his hometown — hairdressing salons.