“Oh, you recognize that one.” Trainer Simon Kistemaker can help the man who was looking for De Graafschap chairman Anton van Kooten, who also owns a butcher’s shop. “He’s the only pig with a hat on.”
That characterization does not go down well with the president in question, who reportedly no longer talks with the coach for a few months.
It depicts Kistemaker, who died at the age of 81. The native IJmuidenaar, who caused a furore in professional football in the eighties and nineties of the last century, was regarded as a colorful man who never minced his mouth.
At the age of seventeen, stopperspin Kistemaker makes his debut with Stormvogels – the predecessor of Telstar – in professional football, but an injury puts an early end to his professional ambitions as a player.
He then focuses on the coaching profession and is only 27 when he obtains his A diploma at the end of the sixties.
He has already had many amateur teams under his wing when Anderlecht competed for his hand in the mid-seventies. However, the Belgian top club is blunt, because Kistemaker wants to continue to care for his seriously ill wife. Anne died in 1976.
Only years later, in 1982, did he take his first steps on the professional trainer path. He will start in Australia with Brisbane Lions.
Down Under he can actually play a few duels with football legend George Best, who can participate in five games as a guest player in his final days.
“No trace of hair loss, I noticed immediately”, Kistemaker later tells about his experience with the Northern Irishman. “But every time he got pinched in training, he yelled ‘fucking German!’. Haha.”
Back in the Netherlands, halfway through the season, he ends up at FC Volendam, which he saved from relegation from the Eredivisie in 1984. This is followed by a whole series of clubs, where ‘De Kist’ works with varying degrees of success.
He guides DS’79, the current FC Dordrecht, to the Eredivisie via the post-season, becomes undefeated champion in the first division in 1991 with De Graafschap and leads Amsterdam’s Türkiyemspor in 2006 to the national title among the Sunday amateurs.
Porn in team bus
Kistemaker is regarded as the textbook example of the no-nonsense trainer. Roll up your sleeves and give it a go. That work. He does not shy away from harsh, coarse language, preferably interspersed with a good dose of humor.
This straightforward approach appears to be very successful with his players, even with the so-called ‘difficult types’. “If you are honest, you can be tough”, the North Hollander understands.
He maintains his unorthodox method until the bus on his way to away games. “I’d just put on porn every once in a while and then halfway through I would say to my players, ‘If you get three points, you’ll see the rest.”
It seems impossible that Ajax coach Erik ten Hag will ever adopt this method, but as a player of De Graafschap he does notice what Kistemaker brings about. “If anyone is capable of making guys work for each other, it is him,” Ten Hag once said.
Retarded whistling kettles
His quick tongue and free-spirited behavior earn him cult status. The fans run away with him. Drivers are less charmed by it, not least because they regularly have to pay for it themselves. For example, he calls the leadership of his then club FC Utrecht ‘retarded whistling kettles’.
It is not unlikely that such statements have cost Kistemaker, whose qualities and knowledge are not in doubt, a place at a club in the Dutch top. The question is whether he would thrive there with his character.
In Doetinchem, he has in any case been highly regarded since his success with De Graafschap. This appreciation is reflected in 2016 with the honorary membership of the Superboeren. Later that year a biography will also be published, with the revealing title ‘De Kist, last cult trainer in the Netherlands’.
Physically, Kistemaker has had a hard time. In 2009 he receives his first tidings of misfortune: a brain tumor is found in him. Surgery is too risky, but 36 radiation treatments appear to offer solace.
The rehabilitation – he has to learn to walk again – is accompanied by a lot of cursing. “If an exercise didn’t work, I scolded the whole thing. A lot of people didn’t want to work with me anymore. But it was pure frustration.”
Once recovered, prostate cancer looms. Once again, Kistemaker is released with a fright thanks to the necessary radiation and chemotherapy. “I live in donated time”, he realizes everything is behind him.
Heart problems then lead to a major and risky operation in early 2019. He gets through it well, but the suffering is not yet over. He was diagnosed with colon cancer and his second wife Thea died in 2020 after a short illness.
Kistemaker is going through a dark period. “My body was gone, my spirit was broken,” he said at the end of that year. “The spirit in me was gone. A strange sensation, because that used to be my trademark.”
Encouraged by his children, football friends and De Graafschap supporters, and last but not least, the memory of his wife, he scribbles back. Until the rough husk, white kernel turns out not to have eternal life.