This is for all the teachers who told me I’d never amount to nothin’Street Philosopher Christopher Wallace c.1994
Saheed Adebayo Akinfenwa is a professional footballer who currently plays for English side Wycombe Wanderers. Akinfenwa goes by the moniker “Beast” due to his impressive physique (1.85m, 102kg) but is not to be confused with his Zimbabwean-born rugby-playing counterpart Tendai Mtawarira. He has struggled at various times during his career to get football clubs to take him seriously with some saying he’s “too big for football”. The other comment that used irritate Akinfenwa was “he does well for his size” because as he rightly points out “I do well because I do well”.
Akinfenwa, who grew up in London, didn’t really experience overt racism growing up and left as an 18 year old to sign for Lithuanian side FC Atlantas. He recounts hearing one of the songs rival supporters sang as he warmed up included the following lyrics:
Zigga, zigga, zigga – shoot the f***ing n***er
Akinfenwa believes his experiences in Lithuania made him stronger and gave him the confidence to continue his long football career:
“What that experience did for me was realise that there’s not much you can’t achieve once you believe; I’d overcame what I perceived was my darkest moment, and everything else should be a breeze.
“I stayed in Lithuania, scoring goals, not letting their ignorance and their racist mindsets get me out of the country or put me into my shell.”
On his return to the U.K., Akinfenwa dealt with a different kind of abuse as opposition supporters came up with chants aimed at his weight. Having experienced overt racism in Lithuania, Akinfenwa brushed off the English verbal abuse and said his favourite chant was “You’re just a fat Eddie Murphy” which made him laugh out loud. He admits he’s always been a naturally big guy, which is unsurprising for a guy who has stated his hobbies are “going to the gym and eating Nando’s”.
Akinfenwa is what is described in football parlance as a journeyman – someone who has played for many different clubs over a career. He’s played for 12 clubs and counting and has become a cult hero at several of the clubs he’s played for such as AFC Wimbledon and current club Wycombe Wanderers.
One of the reasons that Akinfenwa is so popular and loved wherever plays is his great sense of humour and infectious energy. He was interviewed shortly after AFC Wimbledon had secured promotion to League One and believing his contract had expired he made a come-and-get-me plea to managers “to hit me up on the WhatsApp and get me a job”, even though a number of pundits felt his career was at an end. Also, he has to be a decent fella if he’s a lifelong Liverpool supporter, who is happy to put his money where his mouth is.
On Monday 14 July 2020, 38 year old Akinfenwa helped his club Wycombe Wanderers win promotion to the Championship for the first time in the club’s history. After the match, he gave a heartfelt and emotional speech in a post-match interview which has since gone viral:
“The only person who can WhatsApp me tonight is Klopp, so we can celebrate together,” he said. “For me, life and football is all about opinions. Four years ago someone gave an opinion on me and that was their opinion. I hope my story shows that the only opinion that matters is the opinion that you have about yourself.”
Jürgen Klopp duly sent a congratulatory WhatsApp message to the Wycombe striker, with Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk also sending messages.
Throughout his career Akinfenwa has been derided and doubted, but he has never lacked confidence that he would be successful. He has defined his mindset as Beast State of Mind – a philosophy that encourages one to believe in themselves and to escape others limitations.
Akinfenwa plans to launch a charity as a platform for players suffering from racism and mental health issues.
“The Beast Mode State of Mind is something that’s been with me for years, and it’s the state of mind I’ve been able to use to get me where I am today,” he said. “As I got older, I’m meeting and talking to more people, and this was the right time to try and get [the charity] up and running.”
A wise man once said “Be careful who you let on your ship, because some people will sink the whole ship if they can’t be the captain”. Goalmouthmelee salutes you Adebayo Akinfenwa for always being the captain of your ship and may we all learn from your life’s work.