AFTER refereeing soccer games in Canberra for more than 40 years, 82-year-old Henk Thijssens reckons he might be the oldest soccer referee in Australia.
“A couple of years ago an English football referee, who was in his 80s, retired and was called the oldest referee in England, so maybe I’m the oldest soccer referee in Australia, but who knows?” he says.
The Flynn resident initially got involved in soccer in 1975 when his kids were playing. He started as the manager and then coach of Belconnen United, which later became Belnorth.
“Shortly after I took up coaching, I realised there were no referees to help out so I did a course in 1977,” he says.
Henk says he also decided to take up refereeing because there were some poor decisions at some of the games and he realised he didn’t know all the rules himself.
He started refereeing junior games and quickly realised how important the role was.
“We had a national coach visiting and he really motivated me saying there was more to reffing than just blowing a whistle,” he says.
“[As a ref] you’re quite involved in junior development and people’s enjoyment.”
At the age of 40, it was also a good way for Henk to stay fit and he used to run every day with one of his colleagues before refereeing two games on a Saturday and another two on Sundays.
As well as refereeing local games, Henk would referee senior national premier league games and school games. He would also organise referee games to train up young refs, too.
His three sons all had a go at reffing at one stage and recently, after about 30 years, two of his sons, Rod and Richard, started playing in the masters games for Belnorth on a Sunday, which Henk refs.
“It’s real good fun to referee a game with two of my sons again,” he says.
“These days I’m getting a bit slow so I concentrate on doing the masters over-45 games. It takes me a couple of days to get over it now.”
When looking back on Henk’s service to refereeing, Rod jokes that working was his part-time job and reffing was full-time.
“I think we were only about 13 and back then most parents didn’t come along to the games,” Rod says.
“My dad ended up buying a 12-seater van so he could pick all the kids up who couldn’t get to the game.
“We would turn up and open the door and the whole team would pour out and the other teams would look at us and think: ‘What just happened?’
“He was a dedicated manager, coach and referee, all at the same time! Of course, some of the other teams didn’t like it but he tended to be harder on us than them.
“His dedication is just impressive. Whether it was for myself, my son or people he doesn’t even know.
“I still have mates from the team when I was younger who I’ve seen since and they say: ‘What your dad did was amazing’.”
As a former referee himself, Rod says there’s one thing to play the game and then there’s another thing to become a ref.
“Someone is always going to be upset but the amazing thing about dad is he still turns up every week,” he says.
Over the years Henk, who has a life membership with Belnorth and Capital Football, took on other roles with the club such as referees’ co-ordinator, treasurer and various other committee posts.
Apart from his continued refereeing Henk’s still very much involved in the club through his mentoring of young refs on Saturdays and helping teams with their positioning. He’s even coaching refs up for the Kanga Cup, which is coming up in July.
Rod says Henk’s always been dedicated to his club and if that wasn’t obvious, it definitely became obvious the year Rod and his wife put their son in the Gungahlin soccer team.
“My dad wasn’t happy about that,” he says.
And even though Henk’s on a dialysis machine three times a week for about five hours each time from kidney failure, he’s still not slowing down and says he’d like to keep refereeing for a few more years.
“I couldn’t stop when my grandchildren were playing and now funnily enough my sons are playing football again, so I can’t retire, can I?” he says.