Billam-Smith vs. Riakporhe and the perks of being a football fan

One unusual task I had to take on as a press officer for a world heavyweight champion was educating the boxer on Millwall FC’s starting 11 before an appearance on the now-defunct Sky Sports show Soccer AM around 2010.

In addition to the starting 11, player names, and positions, I also provided the manager’s name, the results of their last three fixtures, and their position in the league. This ensured that during the brief football discussion on the show, the boxer’s response would not cause embarrassment or reveal his lack of actual support for Millwall or football in general.

Like much in high-level sport, this was an exercise in manipulation and deception. Successfully aligning with a football club could help tap into a fanbase willing to follow the boxer to fights nationwide. However, appearing on Soccer AM without any football knowledge was risky, potentially leading to ridicule or accusations of being insincere.

Fortunately, the presenters’ understanding ensured the boxer was never exposed. Despite his lack of football knowledge, he repeatedly claimed to be a Millwall fan on the show. This charade made him popular, with even some Millwall fans attending his fights, though not enough to justify the effort put into securing their presence.

Other, more genuine cases, like Ricky Hatton and Chris Billam-Smith, showed true fandom by having fans follow them to fights or competing at their favorite club’s stadium. Billam-Smith’s close connection to AFC Bournemouth has fueled his success in boxing, reminiscent of a time when local boxers were deeply tied to their community and football club.

In an upcoming fight, Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe, a Crystal Palace fan, will face off at Selhurst Park. Both boxers’ authentic love for football defines their careers, with Riakporhe seamlessly discussing his favorite Palace players on Sky Sports. This genuine connection with football sets them apart and attracts loyal support from fans.

Riakporhe (L) and Billam-Smith (R) in action five years ago (Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Riakporhe and Billam-Smith’s genuine passion for football has enhanced their boxing careers, providing crucial support and relevance in a competitive division. By connecting with fans through football loyalty, they have found a unique form of support and recognition.

Some boxers may focus on social media numbers for promotion, but fail to convert that into actual attendance at fights. In contrast, engaging with real-world supporters can lead to genuine connections and financial support from a loyal fanbase. Walking out to a roaring crowd at a football stadium signifies a true connection with fans and a real achievement in the boxing world.

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