Humble and unassuming, the Hall of Fame honour is one that took Truyens by surprise, describing himself as a player who is “a bit in the dark”, a tireless midfield engine but not “spectacular like Tom Boon”.
A trailblazer who set the tone with his attitude and commitment, a teammate that everyone can always rely on.
“I never thought about being in the Hall of Fame because, when you see the other names, there are Olympic champions and lots of medals,” he modestly reflects.
“I only have some! They are world famous – the new Red Lions are [world famous] but I am not! I never did not play for that kind of glory but this is a big honour and recognition for my career and it is nice people recognise my work; it means a lot!”
The architect of the “Miracle of Manchester”, Jérôme Truyens is the first Belgian player to enter the European Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.
His international career – encompassing 324 caps – mirrors the rise and rise of the Red Lions, a pioneer of the country’s ascent from outside the world’s top 10 to being a main contender for every title in the game.
His debut came as a 17-year-old at their relative year zero in 2005 and culminated in beautiful silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
His hockey life started aged five at Royal Racing Club de Bruxelles, encouraged to join by Luc Melotte who would be Truyens’ club coach for the next 15 years, a seminal influence on his career.
In the early years, time was split between hockey and tennis – his father was the 26th best tennis player in Belgium at one stage – but the stick always was the slightly favoured weapon of choice. Once called into the national Under-16 panel, the racquet was put away for good.
He was winning Belgian youth medals every second year alongside his twin brother Nicholas, Cedric Buchet and Jeremy Gucassoff, “a golden generation”.
“We won all the titles,” he smiles. “The team before us weren’t that good and so we always had to play one year in the second division of that age category, winning every match 10-0 or 12-0.
“We got promoted and the next year we were all the time in the final and won. A lot of Belgian titles in the youth – I think I also have six or seven indoor youth titles – but never had a men’s title!”
That would be his Holy Grail. In a changing world of opportunity, now 32, he is proud to have been loyal to the Racing Rats who showed all their trust in him as a teenager breaking through.
“What characterises me is I always played for Racing; I never went to another club although I had a lot of offers from other teams and from other countries.
“Today, you see a lot of younger guys in less good teams and they want to develop themselves by moving to the big teams. What helped me was I could become an important person and develop myself as a leader, taking responsibilities on the pitch instead of being the younger guy who relies on other people. When you are one of the best and others rely on you, it can give you a faster boost and it clearly helped me!”
It all helped him mature ahead of his time. In 2003, he helped the Belgian Under-16s win their first-ever European youth medal – a bronze – in Barcelona.
In 2005, his rise went into overdrive; with the Under-18s, he had a Euro silver in Poland. That same year, he scored five times in the Under-21 World Cup, made his international debut and got the call for the European Cup in Leipzig – a fifth place finish.
Two years later, though, can be seen as the real genesis of his country’s current success, their breakout bronze medal at the Euros in Manchester. With it came Olympic qualification, ending a 32-year wait to reach the pinnacle of the sport and Truyens was the man to score the last minute winner against Germany that got them there.
Incredibly, it was something he predicted, even down to the manner of the goal – his first for his country.
“For the entire tournament. I had a camera and did reportage, filming for two weeks. I was thinking of doing a small video for the team – I wonder if I would have done it if we hadn’t qualified; we will never know.
“Before the match [against Germany], John-John Dohmen was filming me saying ‘I will make a tip-in during the game, my first goal!’ and it happened just like that!”
At the time, it was pure euphoria but there was no sense that this was the moment to kick-start a jaw-dropping chain of events for Truyens, his sport and his country.
“Twelve years after, we see it was a very important moment. The Belgian Federation took the right decisions after that moment that laid the path for the Red Lions now being a world and European champion.
“For us, that moment was just a magical moment. Two months before, he had to get a new coach; in preparation, we lost 6 or 7-0 to them. Nobody expected us to be in Beijing. It was unbelievable.”
He cites the subsequent Olympic opening ceremony as one of his most memorable Olympic hockey moments with his whole family in support.
“They never went further than Spain or France on holiday – they had to come because my dad joked that if the Belgian team qualified for Beijing, we had to all go. He had to pay for the family to go!”
It resulted in a ninth place finish. With that monkey off their back, the paradigm had shifted and there was no time to rest on their laurels.
“We just wanted to enjoy being at the Olympics in Beijing – now, there is no way any Belgian teams goes there just to enjoy it. We go to a tournament to achieve something and win a medal. The attitude and mentality has changed.
“In London 2012, we had an objective to at least end in the top six – this was put forward by the Olympic committee. Looking back, we were disappointed not to make the semi-final because of some pool games where we didn’t play well like against New Zealand when we had a lot of opportunities. We should have won that and made the semi-final.”
Boom in 2013 – his fifth European Championship – brought home exactly how far the sport had come and Truyens’ team duly delivered silver in front of a feverish home crowd.
“The last tournament we hosted before that was the Champions Challenge in 2007 when we had a real big disappointment. Boom was the first time in Belgian hockey we were billed as a big name in a stadium of about 5,000 people. It was massive; there was a big atmosphere – something like that in your own country is unbelievable.”
Hockey in Belgium was now professionalised with Truyens balancing that career with his work as a banker but it was experiences of that kind which were the true motivation.
And hockey moments do not come bigger than the Olympic stage; Truyens knew it would be his swansong a year out from Rio. Everything went on hold; he stopped work to play hockey full-time and the camp expanded to a four-day programme, up from two and a half days.
“We had given ourselves the best means to prepare. We went from two and half days to four a week. Before Rio, we had a lot of criticism that we never beat the top four teams. How can you be on the podium if you don’t?”
Those wins suddenly came thick and fast as Great Britain were disposed, then Australia, then Spain, then India.
And then the Dutch in the semi-final, Truyens opening the scoring in a devastating 3-1 success. It guaranteed a medal but therein also lies a bundle of regret that they did not see out the gold against Argentina in the decider.
“The semi is probably the match we celebrated the most! We knew we would play Argentina which might have been easier than Germany or Australia.
“In the end, we were wrong which was maybe why we lost. All the time, we were together in that bubble.
“Before the tournament, if you said you would get silver, I would be fine! I must admit I have regrets from the final. I think now if we play Argentina five times, we would win three or four. They were more mentally prepared; there were a lot of Argentineans in the stadium and they had a big atmosphere. We were maybe a little intimidated. It was achievable…”
It was tantalisingly close to the very apex, the Holy Grail, but Truyens was at peace with his decision to step back.
“I am comfortable,” he says. “It was a decision I took already a year before Rio, that it would be my last tournament. I was already a Dad and in Rio, my wife was pregnant with my second kid. I was working for six years because hockey doesn’t pay a lot and you have to feed a family.
“I am with my wife a long time; she accepted all my sacrifices, never going on holidays together and things like that. I felt I was a bit selfish and could not continue to be selfish.
“I made the most of it for Rio. I knew after Rio there was still an evolution to come and we could do it so I had already prepared myself for that.
“No regrets because it would have to be two more years which is a lot. Today, I am just happy for them and am proud with me being part of all their evolution which is good for me.”
That comfort has allowed him to savour that latest evolution with quiet satisfaction, the switch from contender to champion as Belgium have swept all before them with maiden World Cup and European Championship gold.
“It’s maybe the things I will remember from my career is not being a medallist but is being part of that journey from 15th in the world to finishing second in the world. I got a lot of messages after they became world champion saying ‘ you are a big part of this, maybe you stopped too early’. But I am happy to have been part of it!”
“I never played for the money or the glory – just for the enjoyment and because I loved the sport. I wanted to be in the national team, to play the Olympic Games and wear that national shirt as long as I could.
“In the end, the joy you have living those moments with your team; that’s what you play for!”