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Famous Fans: Nathan Cleverly

25 October 2012

Football fans love to dream.

Large numbers of supporters - young and old - spend many of their slumber hours imagining what it's like to score a winning goal while wearing their team's colours and in front of their own fans.

Age is no barrier to those thoughts, but for the majority of supporters such fairytales remain mere pipe dreams.

For others, though, they have the opportunity to get closer than most.

Take boxer and Cardiff City fan Nathan Cleverly, for example. He boasts a loyal following in the Welsh capital and has already been on the Cardiff City Stadium pitch. He has also already fought on an undercard at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

The 25-year-old has experienced what it feels like to have fellow Bluebirds supporters chant his name and celebrate his achievements, even if it's for his accomplishments in the ring and not on the pitch.

And now, as he prepares for the first defence of his title across the pond, against undefeated American and former American footballer Ryan Coyne - the fourth defence of his WBO light-heavyweight title overall - the prospect of a reunification fight against WBA light-heavyweight champion Beibut Shumenov or IBF light-heavyweight champion Tavoris Cloud looms, with a sell-out at the home of the Bluebirds a distinct possibility.

"That is a big ambition of mine," Cleverly admits. "To defend my world title and maybe fight a reunification fight, on home soil and in front of a packed Cardiff stadium - it's on the cards.

"But I can't think beyond the next fight. It is a huge opportunity for me. I have to win this fight first before thinking about next year.

"All I know is I'm close, I'm just round the corner really from one of those big fights, so it's important not to slip up."

Should Cleverly beat Coyne and earn his bumper fight at the home of his beloved City - he is so far unbeaten in 24 professional fights, 11 of which by knock-out - or even a packed Millennium Stadium, he knows he would boast a very loyal and vociferous home support.

Cleverly has fought in Cardiff before under fellow Welshman Joe Calzaghe and he receives an unequivocal backing, but moving into a packed house with his fight the main event would represent a positive step up.

Such is his loyal following, Cleverly believes a number of Bluebirds are even making the trip across the pond to Los Angeles for his November bout.

"I know a few lads are coming out [to America]. It's a tough time of year for people to pay for a trip like that, but there'll be a batch of people out there supporting me.

"It'll be a great experience for them as well as me."

He knows the prospect of a fight in front of a packed home stadium would be an altogether different - and cheaper - experience, but he's also aware that it's getting increasingly harder to defend his title.

"When you're challenging for the world title you're very hungry because you're chasing your dream and you've got that big prize to win from one fight. It's a massive landmark in your career," Cleverly admits.

"When you become world champion it's easy to think you've achieved your dream already and lose hunger and motivation.

"Also, when you're defending, your opponents have that burning desire you had when you were challenging. They give everything to win the belt from you. You need to stay focused because people are always after an upset."

The same could apply to his football team. Cardiff City have been in and around the npower Championship Play-Offs for the last four seasons and are seen as one of the biggest scalps in the division.

However, far from flinch from previous disappointments and the challenge of finally getting over the line and into the Premier League, the Bluebirds are flying high once again, currently sitting in second place behind Leicester City in the table as they look to seal an automatic promotion spot.

"They're going really well this season and so I'd love to see us get automatic promotion," enthuses Cleverly.

"It would be nice to go up without having to worry about the Play-Offs. The Play-Offs are like a cup final because anything can happen on any given day. It would be nice to get an automatic place this time around."

Cleverly is well-versed with the ups and downs of the Play-Offs. Despite his tough training schedule, the former European, British and Commonwealth light heavyweight champion and Cardiff University graduate goes to as many home games as he can.

"Obviously it's harder when you're training, but I find it's a nice break from the gym, to be honest.

"It's only a half hour drive from me and it's nice to get away from the rigours of training and watch another sport."

And Cleverly knows full well how it feels to have the backing of the stadium, too.

Such is his standing with the club and among the Cardiff fans, that Cleverly has paraded his belts in front of his brethren, who have clearly taken him to their hearts.

"It's tradition now for me to do the Ayatollah [a celebration involving fans having both hands flat pointing towards each other, raised above the head, and repeatedly moving them up and down in a patting motion] when I go on to the Cardiff pitch now," he laughs. "I've been on there with my belts and it's almost expected of me now.

"I've met a lot of the players at their training base, too. The manager Malky Mackay is also a really good guy, so I have a good relationship with the people I've met from the club."

If Cleverly and City play their cards right, both could be performing on the biggest stage, at home, in 2013. Watch this space...

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