Sam Smart has moved a step closer to fulfilling his Football League dream.
The Denmead ace is now just one division below the professional ranks after signing for Eastleigh.
Despite not being handed a chance with Pompey as a junior, it’s never stopped the former Fratton Ender in his pursuit of achieving his goal.
After being a shining beacon as Basingstoke were relegated from the Southern League premier division south last season, the former Horndean Technology College pupil was always going to attract potential suitors from levels above.
Smart looked set for a switch to Weymouth as they prepare for a return to the National League South.
But when Eastleigh displayed their interest, it was too good an opportunity for him to rebuff.
The winger moved to the side who harbour ambitions of promotion from the National League next term, after suffering penalty shootout heartbreak to big-spenders Salford in last campaign’s play-off semi-final.
That means Smart will be facing the likes of Notts County, Yeovil, Wrexham and Hartlepool next season – just some of the clubs who are widely recognised as Football League clubs.
And the 20-year-old is relishing the chance to prove himself in the Spitfires’ pursuit of League Two.
Smart said: ‘I’m delighted and it’s a really good opportunity for me.
‘The move came about when I was going to sign for Weymouth. I was sorting things out with them but then I couldn’t really say no to Eastleigh when they came in.
‘There are some big teams in the National League next season, like Notts County and Yeovil.
‘It will be a good chance to see what I’m about against teams that have been in the Football League before.
‘I feel ready. I was at Basingstoke, who are a couple of leagues below.
‘It was disappointing to be relegated considering the manager and players we had. It shouldn’t have gone that way but all of the players gave everything.
‘I always felt that I could play higher and now I have that opportunity.
‘Basingstoke knew that I’d be moving on. They were all for it because they want me to play as high as I can.
‘The dream is to play in the Football League and hopefully one day I can do it.
‘When I signed, the manager, Ben Strevens, was speaking about Eastleigh’s plans and said they were really unlucky to lose the Salford in the play-offs last season.
‘I kept an eye on their results because I know assistant manager Jason Bristow quite well, while Jack McKnight left Basingstoke to join them.
'They were really unlucky last season not to go up.
‘That’s the plan again next season. They’re ambitious and that’s good because I want to become better and if we could get into the Football League together then that would be great for everyone.’
At 16, Smart began a football education scholarship with Pompey in the Community and Highbury College.
That earned him a full scholarship to attend the University of Fort Lauderdale, in Florida.
His stint in American was only a month long, though, before he returned back to the south coast.
And it was Michael Birmingham’s Horndean who offered him his first real taste of senior football when he arrived back.
An impressive spell in the Wessex League premier division saw Smart complete a move to Basingstoke in 2017.
He continued his promising progress at the Camrose, which prompted the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland to run the rule over him.
Both clubs handed Smart a trial but he wasn’t tabled a deal by either.
Regardless, a total of 22 goals in 52 appearances for the Dragons over two campaigns has earned him a switch to the Silverlake Stadium.
The Spitfires will provide Smart something he’s craved – full-time football.
He feels he’ll improve significantly under the tutelage of manager Strevens.
‘Three years ago, I was playing in the Wessex League and I think I’ve done pretty well to make the jump,’ Smart added.
‘Now I’m playing full-time, I can work on things myself and the manager thinks I can improve.
‘It’s going to be great for me to be training every day because I’ll be able to work on things. Basingstoke only trained twice a week so it was hard for me to fit everything in because we’d be working on shape.
‘But now there will be more time for me and if there's anything I need to work on in my own time then I can.
‘The manager said I need to express myself and if I’m playing well then I'll be in the team.
‘There’re no promises I will be playing every week. Whenever I get the chance I’ll make sure I do as well as I can and give the manager no reason for me not to be in the team.
‘Being full-time is hopefully going to help me massively and to kick on.
‘Eastleigh have signed players who have played at a higher level and it’ll be good to be around them and they can give give me tips going forward.
‘I met most of the boys before pre-season started, but it's good to be bonding well and hopefully we’ll have a good season.’