Boxing passion sends Blues man on fantastic voyage

He picked up man-of-the-match plaudits on his Pompey debut.
Dave Birmingham enjoyed a superb debut success. Picture: Mick YoungDave Birmingham enjoyed a superb debut success. Picture: Mick Young
Dave Birmingham enjoyed a superb debut success. Picture: Mick Young

They came at Portman Road against an Ipswich Town side bound for the Premier League.

A 1-0 Championship win against the Tractor Boys will live long in the memory for Dave Birmingham as he curtailed the lethal threat of Marcus Stewart and David Johnson 16 years ago.

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But it’s not a patch on the emotions which coursed through his body earlier this year.

The inauspicious confines of Liquid nightclub in Portsmouth provided the setting as the 35-year-old completed his transition from ex-professional football to a paid-up bonafide member of the pro boxing ranks.

And when it comes to an assessment of the two sports which have been central to Birmingham’s life, there’s no comparison.

‘I’ve never experienced anything like it in all my time of playing football,’ he said of his debut win over Latvian Antons Zacests earlier this year.

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A similar sensation was savoured in May as Birmingham stepped out at the home of British boxing for his second paid contest.

The York Hall in the heart of London’s east end perhaps lacks the pristine air of its neighbouring O2 Arena.

But the Bethnal Green venue echoes with the blood, sweat and tears of the greats who have laced their gloves there down the years.

The likes of Ricky Hatton, David Haye, Anthony Joshua and our own Leigh Park Warrior, Tony Oakey, have all created memories which seep from the York Hall’s walls.

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They were all to the fore of Birmingham’s thoughts as he stepped into the ring there with journeyman Kristian Laight in May.

‘The opportunity of a lifetime,’ was how the lightweight saw the occasion.

And against the kind of opponent who exists to survive and spoil, he impressed the most knowledgeable and no-nonsense of boxing crowds.

Now, this weekend, Birmingham takes his third professional step on home soil.

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Another durable opponent lies in wait in the shape of Qasim Hussain.

He will provide exactly the kind of test for Birmingham to sharpen his tools as he continues on his magical mystery boxing tour.

Where it will take him, nobody is quite sure. Least of all the man who spends his day earning a living as a delivery driver.

But the strides made to get to where he stands today really are quite something for Birmingham.

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After all, it was just 16 months ago the former Blues man was boxing on a white-collar show for the Oakley Waterman Caravan Foundation.

For the uninitiated, the white-collar world exists outside of the confines of the licensed game - meaning anyone can step into the ring.

That brings its own inherent dangers with the scale of abilities of its participants so varied.

Birmingham, though, unleashed a monster when he took part in the fundraiser.

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And that hunger to embrace the noble art took him down a path which has become a voyage of discovery.

Local trainer, Michael Ballingall, has provided the guiding hand but quickly found glowing words for the manner in which Birmingham has gone about his business.

His ready listening and low-maintenance approach have been noted, with Ballingall happy to say he wished all of his boxers were as easy to deal with.

Birmingham remains honest and realistic about his limitations and talent.

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‘I get bashed up in sparring still,’ he recently admitted. ‘But I have one way of boxing – and that’s all out,’

An area title doesn’t register on the radar for most top prospects, but fitting one of those around his waist would see Birmingham die a happy man.

And that glory would be way beyond stepping out any football theatre for a grounded lad from Leigh Park.