AFC Bournemouth has played a big role in Chris Billam-Smith’s life for more than two decades.

The 32-year-old is set for the biggest night of his career later this month, with a dream fight at the same venue many of his idols have graced in the past.

Billam-Smith has enjoyed too many moments at Dean Court to mention as a fan of Cherries. From getting free tickets to friendly games whilst in the club’s centre of excellence, to his time as a season ticket holder in League Two and walking out as a mascot for Steve Fletcher’s testimonial, 20 years ago this summer, football was at the heart of things during the boxing star’s youth.

After not making the grade as a player, Billam-Smith, who attended Portchester School (now Avonbourne Academy) whilst honing his craft at Poole ABC, is looking to make new memories at such a special place for him personally, by reaching the pinnacle of boxing.

The chance to become a world champion is on the line, when Billam-Smith steps into the ring as underdog against unbeaten WBO cruiserweight title holder Lawrence Okolie on May 27.

Bournemouth Echo:

The home side being an underdog against a big-named opponent at Vitality Stadium? Sounds familiar.

As a footballing-loving kid of the 1990s, it is no surprise David Beckham was one of Billam-Smith’s early heroes.

But which former Cherries in particular did 'The Gentleman' look to growing up?

“I was very impressionable at that age, 12 to 13, we had James Hayter, Brian Stock, Fletch and then Wade Elliott, Garreth O’Connor, all that era,” he told the Daily Echo.

“That was my first team, my first memories. We obviously got promoted then as well. We beat Lincoln at the Millennium Stadium to go up in the play-offs.

“Then we obviously have had some fantastic players since we’ve come up through the ranks and I’ve been fortunate to meet quite a few of them. There are a lot of memories that stand out.

“I was a mascot at Fletch’s testimonial as well, so that’s quite funny. That shirt is somewhere in a lock-up we’ve got. I’ll have to dig that out and get him to sign it.

“I don’t think it’ll fit me anymore because I think I was about 14 or 15 at the time!

“I was in the Bournemouth centre of excellence when I was nine years old and you used to get a few tickets for friendlies.

“I think the first ever game I went to was an Arsenal reserves versus Bournemouth and then I think it was a Chelsea reserves game.

“Then when I was in year eight and year nine I had a season ticket, up in the North Stand for those seasons. They were some of the best memories for sure.”

Bournemouth Echo:

He added: “I used to play centre-midfield and then I used to score quite a lot of goals from centre-midfield so they used to stick me up front and it took me a while to adapt.

“Then I started playing up front through my teens and then in under-18s level I got moved to centre-back, because I’d started growing a bit. Then I played a little bit of Sunday league and played up front again. So anywhere through the middle really.

“I just loved football as a kid. When I was younger I just loved playing it and always wanted to play centre-mid.

“At first Beckham was my hero and then enjoyed being centre-mid, and loved the number eight, it was always a lucky number of mine, so Frank Lampard was up there and then Brian Stock for Bournemouth as well.”

Bournemouth Echo:

Billam-Smith has for years expressed his desire to box at Vitality Stadium.

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Now, with a professional record of 17-1 and on the back of two hugely successful shows at the BIC last year, it is set to become reality.

“It’s still a bit surreal and I think it will be until fight week, to be honest,” he said.

“I don’t think it will really set in until fight week, maybe not even until after the fight.

“But it’s unbelievable. A lot of people have put in a lot of work to get to this position, like myself and my team, but also the people at the football club have been superb throughout and the promotions.

“It’s been a mad journey, but I’m excited.

“We’ve spoken about it for a few years with a few people in the club. I mentioned it to Jeff Mostyn a few years ago when I was in the boardroom after one of my fights.

“It was amazing to have the support of him and then obviously they’ve got new owners. But I think the show was in place before the deal was done.

“It’s been pencilled in since last summer really, since after the Isaac Chamberlain fight. It’s amazing to be in this position and the club throughout really, everyone involved with the club over the years – a lot of the marketing and media departments have been involved and helped me along the way.”

Bournemouth Echo:

He added: “I’ve obviously spoken about it for a long time and it gradually got closer.

“Over the last few years, it’s been spoken about getting shows down to Bournemouth. But then after the Chamberlain fight, the crowd are the reason at the end of the day.

“The fans are the ones that have made this possible, because they’re the ones that turn out in full force, make all the noise, create that atmosphere, sell-out arenas.

“They’re the ones buying the tickets. It’s down to them and they’ve shown up for me time and time again now and shown that we can really do something down in Bournemouth, with regards to a huge event like this.

“It’s so exciting for me and I’m very proud and honoured to have such a great fan base. After the Chamberlain fight was when I thought it could be possible and here we are.

“A world title fight, a dream fight at the dream venue.”