Limburg prepares to welcome home new snooker world champion, ‘Belgian Bullet’ Luca Brecel
A jubilant homecoming celebration is in the pipeline for Maasmechelen’s sporting hero, Luca Brecel, the newly-crowned Snooker 2023 World Champion.
The 28-year-old becomes the first man from mainland Europe to win the title and is also the youngest world champion since Shaun Murphy won in 2005.
It was an edge-of-the-seat final at The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, UK, on Monday evening. Brecel took an early comfortable 16-10 lead, only to see it slide to a tantalisingly close 16-15 towards the final frames. The Belgian held his nerve, eventually defeating his opponent, England’s Mark Selby, by 18 frames to 15. This was despite never winning a match at the global tournament before this year’s competition.
After lifting the trophy in front of his elated parents and girlfriend Laura, Brecel, who beat supreme world champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan on his route to victory, admitted in an emotional interview: “I was so nervous because I wanted it to happen for Europe and for Belgium. I can’t wait to see what happens now.”
Citizen of honour
What is going to happen is that the mayor of Maasmechelen, Raf Terwingen, will award Brecel Citizen of Honour of the Limburg province town in a special civic party.
Terwingen told The Bulletin: “This win is great for the town, for Belgium and Western Europe. It is great for his family and friends and I am so pleased that such a modest, empathetic young man has achieved this. His family came as immigrants from Italy to this corner of eastern Belgium to work hard in the mines in the region; the whole family deserve this recognition.”
He added: “Luca comes home to relax and to be calm. It is a great place for him to come home, and we will – with his permission – hold a welcoming party.”
Tanja Rutten, a co-ordinator for youth development and sports in the Maasmechelen region, said: ‘It was a glorious win. We were so excited. We were up until late watching and whatever the outcome we would hold a party to welcome him. We are so proud; it brings everyone in Maasmechelen together. The number of people who left messages on our Facebook page was incredible.”
The win was a teenage dream finally realised for Brecel. Nicknamed the Belgian Bullet, he has been described as “not your conventional champion”. Six times world snooker champion, Steve Davis said: “Luca is a breath of fresh air to the sport.”
Snooker’s unlikely hero won over fans as well as commentators with his confident play and cavalier approach to the game. Speaking shortly after winning the final, Brecel confessed: “This has been a crazy week, no practice, just partying. It shouldn’t be legal.”
Light-hearted remarks aside, it has taken tenacity and hard work for Brecel to reach the top of his game. He admitted he made an ambitious pledge to himself as a 17-year-old that he hoped to become world champion by the age of 19. On five previous occasions in the world championships, the professional was knocked out in the first round.
Brecel’s triumphant story is tipped to inspire youngsters and encourage others to take up the game. Rutten said she expects a rise in the number of youngsters taking up snooker and other sports in Belgium. Brecel first picked up a snooker cue at the age of nine.
Until his win, the Flemish town of Maasmechelen, was perhaps better known for its shopping outlet, although it boasts a sound sporting record. It has raised a number of footballers: Nico Claesen, Davy De Fauw, Logan Bailly, Murat Selvi and Leandro Trossard, as well as 1992 Olympic bronze judo champion Heidi Rakels.
The date for Brecel’s homecoming party is yet to be announced, but Mayor Terwingen said the whole town would be ready to welcome back their hero.
As well as pocketing €557,000, the victory will see Brecel jump from number 10 to number 2 in the world snooker rankings.
Photo: Luca Brecel at a tournament in 2018 (c) Belga/Yorick Jansens