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Belgian Bullet Hopes to Trigger Snooker Explosion Back Home

They can barely reach the table, but that’s not stopping the next generation of Belgian snooker players who are now emulating their hero.

Twenty years ago, Luca Brecel was himself gracing the same baize of the Snooker Sports club in Maasmechelen municipality, in Flanders, near the Dutch border.

Now – at 28 – he’s the world champion. And continental Europe’s first.

As is so often the case when a sporting prince is crowned, those who grew up with the talent in question explain how they predicted it right from the beginning.

Childhood friend Stephanos Poulios, whose own dad owns this snooker hall, recalls an eight-year-old Luca walking in for the first time.

“He was just a little kid and my dad was talking with his father Carlo,” he tells the BBC.

“He [Carlo] said: ‘Here is my son and you can play against him.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, but he doesn’t know how to play. I don’t want to play him.”‘

At 10, two years older, Stephanos was already doing well on the youth circuit in Belgium but after Luca started lessons, he and everyone at the club soon looked on in amazement.

“In a few months he had already surpassed me. With coaching I improved 10%, he went 300% ahead. An amazing talent, a real talent.”

For Stephanos’s dad, Georgios, one specific memory of the young star is seared in his mind.

Georgios acts out how a young Luca would, at first, use the rest for every shot, no matter how close the cue ball was to the cushion.

In 2012, having just celebrated his 17th birthday, Luca Brecel became the youngest ever qualifier at the World Snooker Championship.

It made an immediate and big impact back home, Stephanos explains.

“We noticed a lot of young children coming over here too and wanting to play. Some played snooker, others played pool because the smaller table may be easier for them.”

Belgium now boasts the world champion and Stephanos is expecting an even bigger boost.

“It’s just going to explode, and more and more people are going to play snooker and we’re going to have a lot of people play in the Top 16 in the future.”

So who should we credit for shaping such a brilliant talent in the form of a young Luca Brecel?

Well former coach Jean Iser certainly played his role.

Standing next to the table where his prodigy began to rack up prize-winning breaks, he explains how he developed Luca’s adolescent game between 2008 and 2009.

“I went once with him to Portimão [Portuguese snooker tournament] where he played Jimmy White… and in those times, only one thing counted for Luca and that was playing the game. That was it.”

Much has been made in the last 24 hours of Luca Brecel’s self-confessed partying and carefree attitude which helped ease him to the world crown.

But Jean says that as a young teenager Luca showed huge dedication – an obsession, even, with the sport – practising 10 hours a day, both at the snooker hall and then with his mum and dad at home.

“If there’s one player who deserved to be the world champion, it’s Luca. 100% sure.”

Any expansion of the game will be great for Snooker Sports in Maasmechelen with so many clubs having shut down for good.

“Here in Belgium and here in Limburg [province], a lot of clubs have closed. There simply weren’t enough players for them. Or people wouldn’t consume enough [food and drink] and it was just difficult for them to survive,” Stephanos says.

But now there’s hope.

And owner Georgios reveals that he will now abandon the plan he had to sell one of this three remaining snooker tables and replace it with a sixth pool table.

“If snooker blows up in Belgium, then new clubs and new places will rise and the players will have multiple places to go to.”

A new generation – one used to fast technology – could be inspired by a more sedate game, although a game which Luca Brecel makes so dynamic.

“Obviously for young children, if their parents have to drive five minutes or 30 minutes in order to have a place for snooker that a big difference.”

Luca Brecel hasn’t forgotten his roots and still comes into the club sometimes, Stephanos says, but not to play snooker.

“He comes in to play darts with the guys. He’s really good at darts too.”

You can well believe it.

The May Day weekend could well be remembered as the moment the Belgian Bullet fired the starting gun on an explosion of snooker in his country – and the rest of Europe.

Source : BBC