Wycombe Wanderers striker, Adebayo Akinfenwa has revealed how he suffered abhorrent racism during his stint at Lithuania as a teenager.
Akinfenwa was part of the squad that secured promotion to the English champions for Wycombe. He eventually made his first Championship debut at the age of 38, leading his team to a 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.
Akinfenwa, who recalled the harrowing racist abuse during his stint with FK Atlantis he suffered was released by Watford in 2001, making his footballing to be at a crossroads.
Due to non-interest from English clubs, he had a chance to move to Lithuania as an 18-year-old and continue his development, which he took with both hands.
Akinfewa in a chat with Skye Sports News revealed that what he witnessed was completely different from multicultural London; overt, explicit racist abuse and hostility.
He however said the situation powerfully shaped him into the person he is today.
Blessed 2have made my 1st champ start at the tender age of 38!👶🏿👴🏿Always an honour 2captain the team, we take the draw but could have been so much more (If I had my shooting boots on 😂🤦🏿♂️)Ps don’t let anyone tell u it’s ever 2late 2achieve a goal. Keep believing keep pushing 💙 pic.twitter.com/j9jWskJHhf— daRealAAkinfenwa (@daRealAkinfenwa) October 28, 2020
“This situation in Lithuania came about when I was 17, 18. I’d just been released from Watford and my agent at the time was married to a Lithuanian woman.
“The president of a club in Lithuania – FK Atlantas – came to watch one of my games at Watford. After I got released, he approached my agent.
“It was sold to me that they played UEFA Cup football, but I’d never even heard of the country of Lithuania. When you’re young, you’re fearless, I didn’t take into account that I didn’t speak the language, that I didn’t like the food, or the colour of my skin – I just wanted to play football.”
Speaking further, he said there were no red flags until the first game, which was a pre-season game, played against a local team. The match was not played in a stadium, but on a pitch where all the fans were very close around.
“We kicked off and I went out to the wing, so we could play diagonal. I chested the ball down, went down the line, and straight away heard monkey chants. In my head, I thought that couldn’t be. Then, when I got the ball again, monkey chants. The second time I definitely knew it was monkey chants.
“I went to chest the ball down again, and then the chants started. ‘Ziga, ziga, ziga, shoot the *’. I stopped and looked around and was like, ‘what?’. And then what made it worse, of the 1000 people singing it, 500 were from the away team and 500 were my own team. The away fans started it, and then the home fans – my home fans – joined in.
“I got through to half-time. My team captain played in Poland, so he spoke a bit of English, but everyone else, even the manager, only spoke Lithuanian, so I didn’t have a clue what they were saying.
“I was sitting there steaming and asked the captain what ‘ziga, ziga’ meant, and he nonchalantly said it was nothing, they just rhymed it with the n-word.”
He further revealed that the same was the case whenever he gets the ball in the second half as well, prompting to be substituted.
“As I came off there was a massive roar. As I came off, I took the president’s phone and called my older brother. This was 20 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.”
After telling his brother about his ordeal, he was advised to stay and win the fight. But due to God’s intervention, according to him, he stayed and decided to win the fight.
“I told him I was coming home, he asked me what happened, and I told him they were being racist. He said he wouldn’t tell me to stay anywhere I didn’t feel comfortable, but if I left, they would win. That was all he said.
“It was funny because I would like to say it was like a film, and music started playing and I went to go and beat them, but as soon as I came off the phone I still wanted to go home. I didn’t care, they could win.
“I went to bed that night – call it divine intervention, God speaking to me – but I woke up thinking nobody was going to kick me out of anywhere.
“The thing that disappointed me was that I allowed them to make me come off that pitch in the second half, it still crumbles me to this day. Some people will say it wasn’t a weakness but for me it was a weakness. I get I was young and that hadn’t gone through those experiences.”
Adebayo Akinfenwa get used to uneasiness and won the fight against racism in Lithuania
Being the first black person in the league, he coped with the uneasiness, which he said should never have been the case
“What I went on to learn was that I was the first black person in the entire league, one of maybe 10 black people in the city of Klaipeda.
“A month into my stay, my girlfriend at the time and my brother, who was 14, came shopping with me and the whole place shut down as three black people entered.
“To this day, brother still tells me how uneasy he felt, but I had got so used to the uneasiness, which should never be the case. You should never get used to that, but I did.”
During his stint with the club, the striker scored goals and helped the club to won the country’s FA Cup final, after failing to win a title in 11 years.
“I scored goals, we got to the equivalent of the FA Cup final, FK Atlantas hadn’t won a cup in 11 years, we won it 1-0 and I scored the goal.
“Among my own fans I wouldn’t say I was a legend, but I was the guy who brought a trophy and they stopped saying racist abuse. They stopped because of what I did on the pitch, not because they knew me, so that showed me a level of ignorance.”
The striker blamed their level of ignorance for racists abuses against him before the stopped
“How can you accept someone because they are scoring goals for you, but totally dislike them because of the colour of their skin? They didn’t know me either way, so for me it was a lot of ignorance and fear of the unknown.
“They hadn’t seen a black person close up, so whatever had been drummed into them was what they were saying, but because I was scoring goals and bringing joy to their team, they looked past the colour of my skin.
“A lot of ignorance came into play and what I took from the whole ordeal was that some people are very scared of what they don’t know.”
Now that he has overcome the challenge, he became popular enjoying many services fee of charge.
“It’s a mindset. I was young, fearless, and went through things I never thought I would have to. This was 20 years ago, I had to go to the internet café to use MSN Messenger or buy phone cards to phone home, so I was isolated when I went through it.
“Eventually, I opened up my first Adidas store, I didn’t pay in restaurants anymore or at the cinema. I’m not saying that all of a sudden, they were cool with me, they were cool with me because I brought them joy.
“There were steppingstones from them seeing a black person, to see a black person that scored goals and did well for their team.
“I wouldn’t say I would ever do it again, or want to do it again, but in a roundabout way I’m glad I went through it because it shaped me into the person I am today.”