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Friday, 10 August 2012

Warren meets... Michel Kuipers

A week or two ago, Three Bridges hosted Crawley Town. In the Reds net that night was Michel Kuipers and I had a chat with him about his early career as a Marine, his decade at Brighton and what the future holds.

WL: Michel, you began actually as a Marine, was that something you wanted to do when you were young?

MK: Yeah, that's right. I first had to do my national service - I didn't just want to waste my 18 months of national service and ending up like a lorry driver or something like that so I decided that I wanted to do something special and I did a 6 month in-test for the Marines and I ended up staying there for four and a half years.

WL: From the Marines you then joined Bristol Rovers, a bit of a change! How did that all come about?

MK: During the last year or so when I was in the Marines, I played for an Amsterdam club and we won the league, managed to get some publicity; newspapers, TV, radio. They were surprised by the fact that this team, for the first time in 25 years had won promotion and I got invited to a trial week at Bristol Rovers. Ian Holloway was the manager there at the time and after a week of trialing, he offered me a two-year deal.

WL: For one reason or another, it didn't really work out there. You then moved to Brighton and didn't really look back!

MK: Yeah, definitely. Me and Bobby Zamora both came at the same time. Bobby and I were both at Bristol Rovers and we both moved together to Brighton at the same time. We had some very successful years, he got a fantastic move to Tottenham and I stayed at Brighton for ten years! So, for the both of us, we really improved both our careers with the move to Brighton.

Zamora went on to play for England
WL: And in the ten years, you must have had a few memorable moments, can you pick out a couple of highlights?

MK: There's a lot! Winning my first Championship was really special and then winning another Championship the year after was even more special. Winning the play-off Final at the Millenium Stadium was memorable, sometimes, even staying up on the last day of the season in the Championship was also very special. There are loads of special moments, you know, beating Manchester City on penalties and saving the last penalty from Michael Ball to win the tie and to knock out the richest club in the world  - There are some very special moments that will always stay with me.

WL: Yeah, you've been rewarded for your loyal service to Brighton with a testimonial in around two weeks time. This must be something that you're really looking forward to.

MK: Yeah! I'm definitely looking forward to playing at the Amex Stadium. It's something that I campaigned for  for ten years. Finally the stadium is there and it's great for the community and it's great for Sussex that there's a stadium there that can be used, not only for football but to also educate youngsters during the day. A lot of people don't realise what goes on there during the day, there are a lot of young people using that stadium so it's fantastic news all round!

WL: On leaving Brighton, you joined Crawley. You'd obviously had a spell on loan in non-league at Boston but were worried about dropping down to Conference level permanently?

MK: No, not at all. I was very happy to join Crawley because I was still doing my "Albion in the Community" work. It was good to combine the two and stay in Sussex. I really enjoy Sussex and I'm very happy living here. I thought that I could either move away or work for "Albion in the Community" and play for Crawley and it was an easy decision in the end to come and join Crawley. Two years later and the fourth and fifth promotion and I'm back in League 1 again! It's been very enjoyable, five promotions in your career, there's not many professional footballers who can say that!

WL:  Exactly! So, your first season at Crawley wasn't bad, a fourth promotion for you and of course, the superb FA Cup run to go with it! Manchester United away was alright as well!

MK: Yeah, it was very good! Manchester United away, Old Trafford, in front of... what was it? 78,000 people or 76,000 people, you know, it was really nice and it was a great experience. We gained a lot of confidence from that match and afterwards we never looked back really, winning the league and gaining promotion to League 2. Last season was another great effort by the lads once again went up by getting third spot. At one stage we were out of the automatic promotion places but we fought our way back in and in the end we got something that we deserved; promotion again!

Kuips (R) and David Hunt (L) after the Manchester United game
WL: Indeed. On the topic of that last day at Accrington, how nerve-racking was that for you?!

MK: Yeah, of course but at the end of the day, we went into it in the last place, the third place. All we had to do was to stay in that third position and that's what we did! Now we are in League 1 which will be hard because there are a lot of strong teams and a lot of good players, big teams that used to be in the Premiership like Portsmouth and Coventry, big squads and expensive players. We'll need to test ourselves, especially away from home at big stadiums, a big crowd will be on our backs and we'll sometimes have to defend as a team and stay strong and hopefully we will get all the support we've got in the last two years and hopefully they'll be backing us again!

Michel (C) in yellow, enjoys his fifth promotion!
WL: I hope so! Finally, you're in the twilight years of your career at 38. Do you want to get into coaching in the future or have you began already?

MK: Yeah, I'm doing my coaching now at Crawley and obviously still playing but I also do the goalkeeper coaching as well. Paul Jones has come in this Summer and he's been fantastic really. He's a very good goalkeeper and he's very eager to learn. My style of goalkeeping is the new generation; it's very specialised in techniques and detail. All the training sessions that we do are the latest ones. We work a lot on footwork and distribution. Every game I watch him and I analyse him and I set him different targets and every time, he has succeeded in hitting the targets that I set him. It's fantastic to work with him (Jones) and I'm very pleased that he is at the football club because he is a very good goalkeeper and a very nice lad. I think that with the goalkeeping union point of view, it's going to be another successful year!

Me and "The Former Dutch Marine"!
Many thanks to Michel for taking the time out to speak to me.

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