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Willem Hofman: Who is this giant in that black suit?

Posted by on April 28, 2020

Willem Hofman: Who is this giant in that black suit?

© McCreery
Big Willem Hofman during the McCreery event in New York with his little referee friend Bilo Salama

KLARENBEEK - The world of global billiard players and referees all know him as 'Big Willem' and they look up to the his imposing stature in the billiard rooms. He has the colossal body of a heavyweight in judo (57 years, 2.05 meters, near to 80 inches). Willem Hofman, a well-known and renowned billiard referee from the Netherlands, mostly is an amiable and friendly person in his sport. In his last ten years, he has been active in all major tournaments: World Championships, European Championships, World Cups and other big events where the top of the world shows its skills. Willem Hofman is looking forward to his next invitation in this time of Corona. "We're waiting for the days when sports will be safe again.''

Due to the crisis, he's missing his sport like all athletes have been doing for months. The Dutchman fully understands it, does not complain ("we have to fight the crisis''), his life continues quietly, just like his work (logistics), going for a short walk with his wife Jolanda and the dog in his free hours.

Kozoom spent a few hours for an interview with the UMB billiards referee Willem Hofman from the Netherlands:

Who is this giant in that black suit?

Willem himself never played billiards at a high level, as a referee he did reach the world top. When he was cycling home from work one day, at age of 25, he stopped at a cosy pub to have a beer. ''I saw a few people playing billiards, I liked it and after a little time, I was attached to the game." And now, being a referee, he travelled to Egypt for years for the World Cups and the World Championship three cushion, was at many European tournaments in Brandenburg, other World Cups and championships, and not so long ago was invited to New York for the prestigious McCreery tournament.

The first anecdote, during this time of long rest in his sport is amusing: ''I was quite long, but in my last years I have even grown another centimeter to 2 meters and 5 centimetres. That was because of my two knee surgeries in 2014 and 2015: I could hardly move due to two busted knees. In those two years, they spoiled me with two artificial knees, so now I can do everything perfectly again. To my big surprise, I was an inch longer when I could walk again.''

Kozoom Frits Bakker: What are the highlights for you looking back in those years as a referee?
Willem Hofman: My first three cushion World Championship in Bordeaux was a fantastic experience. Furthermore, Dick Jaspers' winning the world title in Cairo, two world records and a high run of  28, when I was in the room with Caudron in Brandenburg and Forthomme in Zundert. The World Games in Poland with all disciplines of sports, the mega European championships in Brandenburg, where I got my international experience and the McCreery tournament in New York.

Kozoom/FB: How is the ambiance between international top referees, is there a kind of friendship?
Willem Hofman: The more you hang out with each other, the better you get to know them. And sometimes that grows into friendships. I have refereed many tournaments with Nabil Salama from Egypt, Paul Brekelmans, because we both are from the Netherlands and often are invited for the same events. I have a good click with Stefan Andres from Germany, Benny Delvaux from Belgium and André Chétard from France, all top colleagues.

Kozoom/FB: Do you meet up with players, also outside the matches?
Willem Hofman: First of all, I must say that every top player is a gentleman. That not only applies to Dick Jaspers, Dani Sánchez and others, but they are all very correct at the billiard tables. Of course, it's different when there is a discussion about a yes-or-no-point in a match and when the heat is on. Then, players can react differently, especially if a there is a lot at stake.

Kozoom/FB: How does a top referee need to act when at high level and under stress?
Willem Hofman: Top referee or not, the same applies to all arbitrators: to have expertise is the most important, always keep calm in all situations, having sufficient knowledge of the game rules and rules of behaviour, regardless of the type of game. Each referee is judged by what he shows at the table or what happens when discussions arise. You may be among the best referees in the world, but you can face a moment in a match or a discussion that will haunt you all your life.

Kozoom/FB: Have you ever experienced that in an event at a high level?
Willem Hofman: I was referee in a match of Dani Sánchez against a Korean at the World champion in Bordeaux. During the match, I counted him down for a shot which I thought over two cushions. A small discussion started, very quietly. It was getting louder and I felt great tension coming up, because the audience saw the replay on the big screen. When it was shown again, I watched with Sanchez. And I decided to review my decision. Dani was allowed to continue playing. I didn't feel happy, of course, I felt the stress and the eyes in my back of the whole audience in the stands. Funny, maybe, is that Dani later took the world title, which was well desereved.

Kozoom/FB: They are all gentlemen, you say, did you ever run into verbal fights?
Willem Hofman: All players have their own character. I have a love-hate relationship with Marco Zanetti, certainly a gentleman as well. I had discussions, also with him, about a point, like all referees have now and then. In the World Cup in Blankenberge, I spoke to Marco about the little propeller he used during the match to blow some air. I can allow that, as long as it doesn't bother the other player. Respect for the opponent is important: a tough discussion among players is allowed, as long as they are not head to head. But again: Marco is a real gentleman as a sportsman.

Kozoom/FB: What a nice hobby you have, billiard referee. The tension, the concentration, leading matches among great players at top level, making wonderful trips.
Willem Hofman: It is a beautiful world, absolutely. And I've been missing it for a few months now, that's why I want it to be all well soon. I love the excitement and I know how important it is to be focused. Yes, and of course it is nice to travel around the world for your hobby. But whether it's a match or league in your own country, or a world famous tournament in New York or Cairo: you know that you have to be on your top level everywhere to not make mistakes.

Willem Hofman in a collage of events he visited: World Cups in Egypt, World Games in Poland and McCreery event in New York

 

The international referees at the European Championshilp in Brandenburg

Willem Hofman as the referee in a match with Marco Zanetti

 

 

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