Racist abuse, fat chants and how two years in Lithuania made Adebayo Akinfenwa into 'The Beast' he is today

A move to FK Atlantas when he was 18-years-old became the defining point in the journeyman striker’s career, but not for the reasons he would have hoped

Simon Collings
Thursday 04 January 2018 16:31 GMT
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Adebayo Akinfenwa looks back on how a much-travelled career started and how it changed him forever
Adebayo Akinfenwa looks back on how a much-travelled career started and how it changed him forever

When Adebayo Akinfenwa turns out for Wycombe Wanderers in the third round of the FA Cup, he will undoubtedly cop plenty of flak from the visiting Preston North End fans.

Weighing in at over 100kg, Akinfenwa has been dubbed ‘The Beast’ by his own supporters but opposition followers have used the striker’s size to ridicule him over the years.

Throughout his career the 35-year-old has just about heard it all from fans, with shouts ranging from ‘your tits are offside’ to ‘you’re just a fat Eddie Murphy’.

As Akinfenwa points out, this is abuse. But as he leans back in his chair he is able to smile and joke about it. You are unlikely to find a footballer with thicker skin than him and when he begins to explain why, suddenly his infectious smile isn’t so catchy.

When Akinfenwa was just 18 he left London and a promising youth career at Watford to join Lithuanian club FK Atlantas. The move came about through his agent’s wife, who was from Lithuania and had connections at the club.

Akinfenwa promptly went over for a trial and within days a three-year contract had been placed in front of him. It was too good to turn down.

However, while it would go on to become a defining point in the striker’s career, it was not for the reasons he would have hoped.

Akinfenwa was just 18 he left London

“I left London, a metropolitan city where I didn’t really have to deal with racism at 18, to go to a place where I was one of…a black person,” says Akinfenwa. “Then to get racial abuse. And I am talking about not hiding behind corners – I am talking about in your face racial abuse. It was overwhelming.

“I was talking to my brother where we went into the grocery store and I kid you not the whole shop stopped. It was me, my brother and my partner at the time. And the whole shop stopped. I remember they thought – what is going on?

“I had got used to it, so it became the norm that people were watching you like that. It defined me as a man to be able to not let that defeat me. So I was then able to deal with anything thrown at me when I got back here.”

Although his family did come to visit him, Akinfenwa was very much on his own out in Lithuania. There were no iPhones or WhatsApp to keep in touch with loved ones and laptops were “mad expensive”.

Akinfenwa looks back on his time in Lithuania without regrets

Instead it was the local internet café and MSN Messenger that was the then teenager’s best way of getting back in touch with those in London.

And it is that sensation of feeling truly away from home, coupled with the level of racial abuse he received, which makes fat chants from fans today pale into insignificance for Akinfenwa.

“What I was trying to explain was the level of abuse I had,” he says. “I am not saying it makes it right. But when people are saying they want to shoot you because of the colour of your skin, to then saying you are a fat Eddie Murphy, for me I took the light-hearted side of it.

“It made me tough. It defined me as a man.”

Akinfenwa returned prepared for anything the world could throw at him

Akinfenwa confesses now that he wouldn’t want go through what he did again. Although in a way he is glad he did as otherwise he would not be the person he is today.

“Have I got any regrets? Yeah, but I wouldn’t change it,” he says. “I wouldn’t change my story. I believe that everything that has happened has shaped me to the person I am today.

“It is the reason why I am where I am today. I am glad I went through it, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”

Akinfenwa was speaking courtesy of Wycombe Wanderers’ Official Energy supplier, Utilita Energy

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