Cult hero returns

Date published: Wednesday 20th June 2012 1:46

Kuipers honoured with Amex testimonial

When you mention the name Michel Kuipers to Brighton fans, the response is always extremely positive for the hugely popular Dutchman. This summer see’s his testimonial at The Amex against Premier League new boys, Reading. It’s a bit of an odd situation, since Michel was released two seasons ago, but a promise by Dick Knight was kept and Kuipers gets to fulfil a dream by playing in the stadium he helped campaign for.

I was lucky enough to catch up with the man himself over a pub lunch where he chatted fondly about his Albion career. To the fans he is known as “The Former Dutch Marine” or “Chef” which was apt, as just before I met him, he had spent the morning paintballing for his son’s birthday, Marine! His choice of lunch also randomly meant he had to cook his own meat on a hot rock, Chef!

Kuipers played 287 times for Brighton after joining in 2000. In that time he was promoted three times and relegated twice. I’ll always remember him, as I think most fans do, as the rock at the back of the famous team that won two successive titles, elevating us from League Two to The Championship.

Of all the games he played, he named saving Michael Ball’s penalty to knock Manchester City out of The League Cup in 2008 as his favourite one. He also loved the double save away at Wolves, which has been described as the best in the history of the football club. It was so good, it’s shown at every home game in the build up to kick off video!

We chatted for nearly four hours along with the club’s Press Officer, so trying to remember it all, fit it in this blog is tough. There’s also a few unbroadcastable bits too! The most entertaining stories he regaled were from team trips abroad, from the Battle of Longford, to Prague and Athlone.

On his first Ireland trip, the senior pros decided to pull a prank on their younger team mates. They spread the word that everyone was going on a fishing trip departing at 4.30am so the young players would have to get up at a silly hour in the morning. One of the senior plays (who remains nameless) in on the joke, forgot it was a joke, woke up, got ready to board the coach, and was furious when said coach didn’t turn up!

The trip to Prague sounded a much more messy affair shall we say. Michel won himself a tidy amount on roulette betting on black, which to his amusement saw a fellow senior player lose a wedge who was betting on red. Black came in 15 consecutive times!

I thought trips abroad with a professional football team would be a glamorous affair, but Kuipers’ tales of the trips to Ireland painted a very different picture. There were no 5-Star hotels, management stayed in a basic hotel in the town centre, whilst players where put up in local people’s homes. He laughed saying that the less senior you were in the squad, the further away from the town centre the home you stayed in was. Some younger players had a pretty long walk to the gaffers hotel!

amusingly

During our chat, Michel talked about the qualities and management style of all eight managers in his time at Brighton, who he got on with and the ones he didn’t quite see eye to eye with. More amusingly he did the same with a few of his former coaches and team mates – from the funny men, to ones pinned against the wall, to the shall we say, less intellectual people he has played with.

For me it was a real insight into the lives of a professional footballer and the relationships, camaraderie and tough times they go through. It’s not something I’ve really thought about before. To me footballers have just been people I pay money to worship, cheer, shout and occasionally moan at. Meeting and chatting made me realise that they all have different personalities and in reality are just ordinary people doing a job like me and you.

My favourite tale he recited was part of his Crawley career, more specifically the Bradford brawl. I watched it about 10 times on YouTube, each time spotting something different to the last. Michel talked about the absolute carnage, playing peace maker and the sending offs in the changing rooms. Very entertaining stuff!

Having chatted about the past and the present, we went on to talk about his future. He has just penned a new deal at Crawley and thinks he can continue playing for at least another three seasons. Having sat next to (and be dwarfed by) him, it is clear he has the physique and motivation to do so.

Three seasons would take him to his 40th birthday. In an ideal world, he wants to go into coaching. He is already getting to do this as part of his new deal with Crawley, but after that he wants to continue. Having such an affection for the area where he lives now, he doesn’t really want to up sticks, so admitted his options maybe limited to nearby teams if he wants to make a career out of coaching.

As a Brighton fan, getting the chance to chat to my favourite ever Brighton keeper was a brilliant afternoon! I’ve been watching Brighton for 25 years, and only in 5 of those seasons have we been any good. Kuipers was in goal for the first three of them! After 10 years at The Albion in a very difficult time for the club, he very much deserves a great testimonial, so I hope everyone can come along!

Michel Kuipers Testimonial Match takes place at The Amex on Tuesday 7th August 2012 against Reading, with tickets going on sale from 1st July 2012.

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