When Bjorn Kuipers blows his whistle to start Wednesday's 2013 UEFA Europa League final he will become the first referee to officiate at a showpiece on home turf in 22 years, since Italy's Tullio Lanese oversaw the 1991 European Champion Clubs' Cup final in Bari. The 40-year-old tells UEFA.com why it is an honour he must share with many, how well he knows the Amsterdam ArenA and how a run on a windswept Dutch beach was more enjoyable than it sounds.
- Congratulations, how does it feel to be refereeing such an important game?
- It feels good. I was very happy to get the appointment to do the Europa League final. And it's in my own country so it's great. I was very surprised because I was thinking it was not possible to have a referee from the country where the final is. But this is very special as it's in Holland, but even just doing a final is very special. I was at the beach when I got the call. I was doing some training on the coast of Holland, and Pierluigi Collina was calling me. I was very proud. I was happy for my team, happy to give them the news that we had the final. I was also thinking about the people who helped me to reach this: my coaches, the people at UEFA, the people at the Dutch FA, my team. It's been hard work, but we got some bonus.
- Could we speak a bit about Amsterdam ArenA. What do you think makes it such a special stadium?
- I know the stadium very well. I have refereed here many, many times for Ajax, and it's great. Amsterdam is a great city to have this final here. The stadium is great and it's sold out. The facilities are great so we are ready for a very nice evening.
- What does it feel like when you walk out of that tunnel onto this pitch, with the teams behind you and the crowd cheering?
- That's always a special moment. When I was a young referee, I never thought about elite refereeing – it was my hobby. So you can see how it goes, how fast you can progress. When I go out, with the teams behind me and the music playing, it's a great feeling, great.
- How do you prepare for such a big game?
- We have been preparing for a long time. It's never just about one day. If we get an appointment we clear our schedules. Last Friday we had the debriefing for the Dortmund-Real Madrid match. We brought the team together and analysed everything in our matches: what we did well, what we did not and what we can improve. We do it every match. We prepare in everything: fitness, we analyse the teams and we analyse our previous matches. It's not a one-hour job; it takes a long time to prepare for a match like this. And 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.
- You were in charge of the 2011 UEFA Super Cup. Is it any different when you're walking out onto the pitch as the referee in a final as opposed to a regular game?
- Yes, of course, a final is a final. Every match is important but to handle a final is great. But I'm not officiating any differently to how I do another match: it is still a game between two teams. The referee team is the third team. We are prepared and I hope we will handle the match very well. You will see tonight.