When Luca Brecel beat Mark Selby in the final of the World Snooker Championship in April 2023, he became the first man from continental Europe to be crowned champion. The Belgian star wowed the watching masses with his fearless play and extraordinary potting. But he wasn’t the first non-British player to go all the way in the biggest snooker tournament in the world, although there haven’t been many.
Non-British Snooker World Champions
Here we run through the non-British snooker world champions starting with the first, way back in 1952.
|1997||Ken Doherty||Republic of Ireland|
So there we have it, just five non-British winners of the Snooker World Championship, and none has won it more than once (though perhaps Brecel will change that in the years to come). But let’s take a closer look at how each of these travelling cuemen achieved the most difficult feat in snooker.
Horace Lindrum, 1952 – First Foreign Victor
The only non-British player to be crowned snooker world champion in the pre-Crucible era, Aussie Horace Lindrum won his tournament at Houldsworth Hall in Manchester. The World Snooker Championship had been running since 1927, but most of the tournaments prior had been won by Englishman Joe Davis (15-time winner) or his brother Fred (who won three before Lindrum and added another five in the years after). A Scotsman, Walter Donaldson, had also won it twice.
But in 1952, there were only two players in the “tournament”: Lindrum and Clark McConachy from New Zealand. The reason was that there was a dispute between the Billiards Association and Control Club, and the Professional Billiards Players’ Association (PBPA), so the rest of the players declined to compete. Because of this, many snooker historians effectively discount this year and almost treat it as a void tournament. But to be fair to Lundrum and McConachy, they’d both made it to the final before, with each of them losing to the great Joe Davis.
Cliff Thorburn, 1980 – First Non-British Winner at the Crucible
For many fans of snooker, the “modern era” of the sport vaguely coincides with the Crucible Theatre becoming the venue for the World Championship in 1977. The first player from overseas to win the tournament at the Crucible was Canadian Cliff Thorburn. He lost in the first Crucible final in 1997 to John Spencer, but made amends in 1980 when he beat the mercurial Alex Higgins 18-16 in one of the all-time classic finals.
Three years later, Thorburn wowed the Crucible Theatre once again, but not by winning the tournament but rather by making a maximum 147 break. He was the first player to make a 147 at the World Championship, though it has been achieved 12 times since, most recently by Mark Selby in the final of the 2023 tournament (which he lost to the aforementioned Luca Brecel).
Ken Doherty, 1997 – First Irish Winner
Although Alex Higgins hailed from Northern Ireland and won the World Championship twice (1972 and 1982), and Dennis Taylor (also from Northern Ireland) won in 1985, it was not until 1997 that the Republic of Ireland had its first winner. That man was Ken Doherty. He went into the final against the great Stephen Hendry who had won six of the previous seven finals, including the last five in a row. It was fair to say Doherty was the underdog.
The Darlin’ of Dublin turned on the style in the final, however, and despite Hendry making six century breaks to Doherty’s zero, it was the Irishman who prevailed 18-12. That year’s tournament also saw a sprightly Ronnie O’Sullivan make the fastest maximum 147 break in the history of the sport, taking just over five minutes to clear up.
Neil Robertson, 2010 – Second Aussie Winner
Australia became the most successful non-British nation in terms of the Snooker World Championship when Neil Robertson went all the way to victory in 2010. Since Doherty’s triumph, the champions had come from Scotland (Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Graeme Dott), England (Ronnie O’Sullivan, Peter Ebdon and Shaun Murphy) and Wales (Mark Williams). But Robertson powered to victory in 2010 with a combination of exquisite long shots and thoughtful break building.
He faced Graeme Dott in the final, a man who had built a reputation as a never-say-die grinder who could mix it with the best players around. Indeed, on his way to the final, Dott overcame some quality opponents, including Stephen Maguire, Mark Allen and Mark Selby. It’s fair to suggest Robertson’s route was easier (Fergal O’Brien, Martin Gould, a very much past-his-best Steve Davis and Ali Carter). But in the final it was the Thunder from Down Under that took the game by storm, winning 18-13.
Luca Brecel, 2023
Finally we come to Luca Brecel’s fantastic 2023 World Championship heroics. Still just 28, Brecel actually made his debut at the Crucible showpiece way back in 2012 when he was the youngest ever player to compete at the World Championship. He went out in the first round that year, as he did in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022 – he didn’t even make it to the first round in the other years!
Indeed, he might have gone out at the first hurdle again in 2023, but just managed to get the better of Ricky Walden 10-9. Then he faced three-time World Champion Mark Williams in the second round but won that 13-11 before an exciting quarter-final clash against seven-time champion and tournament favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The Rocket stormed to a 10-6 lead, but then Brecel turned on the style and amazingly won seven frames on the bounce to win the match 13-10. Following that, at one point Brecel was 14-5 down in his semi-final against Si Jiahui of China. But he fought back brilliantly to triumph 17-15, the only ever nine-frame comeback in Crucible history.
In the final, Brecel faced the ever-tough Mark Selby who was chasing his fifth World Championship crown. Brecel looked the fresher of the two and raced to an early 5-1 lead, before Selby hit back to reduce the advantage to 7-5. Selby then became the first player to make a 147 break in the final, and Brecel held just a narrow 9-8 lead overnight. On the final day, Brecel raced to a 16-10 advantage and though Selby hit back in the final session, ultimately Brecel held his nerve (and smashed in some fantastic long pots) to win the match 18-15.