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The Belgian Perspective

Luca Brecel’s landmark Crucible victory saw him become Belgium and Continental Europe’s first ever snooker World Champion. It was a result which sent shockwaves throughout the sporting landscape of his home country.

Since Eurosport began covering snooker, the European market has been a huge one for the sport. Brecel’s 18-15 world final triumph over Mark Selby earlier this month could be a catalyst for further growth, having sparked massive interest in Belgium.

We’ve caught up with Het Belang van Limburg’s sport journalist Marnik Geukens, who has been covering Brecel for over 16 years, to get an idea of the Belgian reaction to this year’s World Championship.

Marnik, first of all I know you were there for Brecel’s homecoming event in Maasmechalen last weekend, how did it go?

“It was a great day. The weather was good, so that was a big bonus. They had a very nice location in a park in Maasmechalen. There was about 500 people there and they made a great show about it. One of the leading sports journalists in Belgium was in charge of the presentation. They had video congratulations from Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet and others from snooker like Jason Ferguson. There was also a Belgian rapper and Dimitri Van Den Bergh the darts player. His mum and dad were on stage and his mum was quite emotional. It was really a brilliant day. People drove across the country to be there.”

How did Belgian media react to the result of the final?

“It was an amazing reaction. I work for a national newspaper, but we are regionally orientated. Our sports coverage was all about Luca the following day. For the first time the national television channels, public and commercial, both came to the Crucible to interview him. He was the number one item in all of the national news. It is the first time that has happened with snooker in Belgium.”

You cover the province of Limberg, how proud was the region of Luca’s achievement?

“Limberg is the most eastern province of Belgium. We are a proud province and we are proud of our own heroes. In the past we had Kim Clijsters the tennis player, now we have Nina Derwael who is an Olympic gold medal gymnast. We also have Thibaut Courtois the goalkeeper. These people are real heroes and that is why Luca is so big. The people came out to party with him in Maasmechalen last weekend . They gave him the honour that he deserves.”

Geukens with Luca’s dad Carlo.

How old was Luca when you first met him?

“I first met Luca when he was 11 years old. Normally I am a football journalist. I’ve been following Genk for about 28 years. However, I am a snooker player myself. They told me there was a young kid that was exceptional and when I saw him, I could immediately see he was special. I realised he could become something very big, so I started to follow him. The first time I travelled to cover him was at the 2009 World Series in Portimao. Luca was 14 and he had just become the European Junior Champion. He was invited as a wildcard to this event. In the group phase he beat Jimmy White and then beat Ken Doherty, before losing 5-4 to Graeme Dott in the first knockout round. They were flabbergasted. I remember Graeme Dott said in the press conference that he hit the ball like an adult. He hadn’t seen anything like it before.”

How special was it for you personally when he got over the line in the final?

“You still need to have a bit of distance as a journalist, but it was special to see him do it. You get really close covering someone for so long, not just with Luca but his family too. They are very warm people. When I was in the press room after the final we had a big hug and he was in tears. That gave me goosebumps.”

How important could this result be for the future of snooker in Belgium?

“We really needed this new spark. We have a very big problem in terms of places to play. A lot of snooker clubs have disappeared in the last ten years. In my region we went from 20 odd clubs to just nine now. There are still the same amount of players in our local league, around 500, they just have less places to play. This can stimulate growth in the sport and convince more young players to get involved. The good thing is we have some really good clubs that will get reward for the work they do. Wendy Jans, one of the best female players, is a good example. She owns a club not far from where Luca lives. I hope this will encourage a lot more people to play. My club has already had a spike in interest. It is exceptional for such a small country to have three professional players, with Ben Mertens and Julien Leclercq also on tour.

“Luca has already acted as an inspiration for young players, like Mertens and Leclercq. This was all down to his ranking event wins. Now he is a World Champion. That is factor 1000. When he wins a ranking tournament, it gets one or two pages in our paper. In the other papers it is a very small thing. Now it is totally different. You can feel it. I spoke to a few people who watched the semi-finals and final in a pub that only normally shows football. They were watching and cheering like it was the Belgian national football team. People are really learning to appreciate snooker now.”