Referee Makkelie relishing big Cologne date

Dutch referee Danny Makkelie, who takes charge of Friday's UEFA Europa League final, talks about his career and what makes a top match official.

Danny Makkelie prepares for the UEFA Europa League final
Danny Makkelie prepares for the UEFA Europa League final UEFA via Getty Images

Danny Makkelie is preparing for one of the most important refereeing assignments of his career so far – and is thankful that the unprecedented events of an extraordinary year have opened his eyes to just how much he loves both refereeing and football.

The 37-year-old Dutchman takes charge of Friday’s UEFA Europa League final between Sevilla and Inter Milan at Stadion Köln in Cologne with a feeling of greater appreciation after the long hiatus endured by European football amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When there was no football, I really missed the game, and I really missed refereeing,” he says. “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s not there. I certainly learned during that period what a privilege and pleasure it is to be a referee…”

Refereeing ‘calling’

Makkelie says that to be a referee was his ‘calling’ from an extremely young age. The son of a Dutch Royal Marine, he was born on Curaçao, an island in the southern Caribbean Sea that forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. His parents returned to the Netherlands, and as a small boy in a new environment, he discovered that he enjoyed playing a leading role in primary school sports activities. By the age of ten, he was taking charge of football and basketball sessions.

“I really enjoyed being a leader, and that feeling has stayed with me as part of my personality,” he says. “I like facing challenges, taking responsibility.” By his teens, Makkelie was refereeing adult matches and earning praise from the players for his performances. “It made me believe that I could perhaps make a career of refereeing,” he reflects. He was invited by the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) to join their refereeing set-up – starting him off on an exciting road ahead.

Danny Makkelie refereed his first professional match at the age of 22
Danny Makkelie refereed his first professional match at the age of 22Getty Images

“My father was a crucial figure at that time,” he says. “I was so young that I didn’t have my driving licence yet – but he encouraged me to follow my path. He was my biggest supporter, and he drove me to my matches. I can’t tell you how important he was.”

Refereeing his first professional match at the age of 22, Makkelie has risen through the ranks at domestic and international level to become an established and assured match official. “You need a strong personality,” he emphasises. “You must be able to handle the pressure, and you must have the authority that means that players are able to accept your decisions.”

Makkelie also names fellow Dutchman, former FIFA referee and current UEFA referee development panel member Jaap Uilenberg, as the key figure in shaping his personality as a referee. “His experience has been invaluable – he knows how to motivate me and get me focussed. It’s because of him that I’m where I am as a referee.”

Teamwork counts double

However, Makkelie makes one thing crystal clear – “As a referee, I’m nothing alone.” His two assistant referees at the Cologne final are compatriots Mario Diks and Hessel Steegstra, while two more Dutch officials, Kevin Blom and Jochem Kamphuis, are part of the video assistant referee team. “We’ve been together as a team now since 2015, and we have a fantastic relationship – we’re friends, we trust each other, we share responsibility and win together. I can’t emphasise the value of teamwork enough. Alone you may go faster – but together you can go further…”

Sadly, the continuing impact of COVID-19 means that no spectators can be present for the big game in Cologne. “This doesn’t make any difference in terms of what you expect in terms of your performance,” Makkelie says of the experience of refereeing ‘behind closed doors’. “You still have to do the best job possible, you have to be totally focussed on what you’re doing, whatever the circumstances.”

Stadion Köln in Cologne hosts the UEFA Europa League final
Stadion Köln in Cologne hosts the UEFA Europa League finalUEFA via Getty Images

Makkelie describes himself as “a real competitor in anything I do – I’m someone who really hates losing!” He enjoys his time away from refereeing watching films and listening to music at his village farmhouse between Rotterdam and Utrecht. Working for the KNVB in helping young referees develop also sees him giving back the experience that he has acquired in abundance over the years.

Thanks to UEFA

“I’m proud and delighted,” he says of his appointment for the UEFA Europa League final. “Especially when there are so many other excellent referees who would have deserved to have been selected as well.” There’s also a special word of thanks to UEFA for the European body’s assiduous drive to set up a comprehensive training programme for Europe’s referees during the COVID lockdown period. “Even when there were no games, we were all kept fully involved in refereeing,” he says.

Danny Makkelie’s determination to succeed as a referee shines like a beacon: “I’m someone who always wants to get the best results possible, to achieve the highest quality that I can. And I hope that the refereeing team can show on Friday that we’re worthy of being part of this great European football occasion…”