When then-18-year-old Adebayo Akinfenwa signed up to play professional football in Lithuania, he had no idea what to expect.  

The striker though, often regarded as football’s strongest man, didn’t sign up to be racially abused. Speaking to UCFB about his first game for FK Atlantis, Akinfenwa said: “We kicked off, I went to challenge and I heard monkey chants. I was thinking, did I just hear that right? It couldn’t be, maybe it was just sound effects?”

As the game continued, however, it became all too apparent that he hadn’t misheard the abhorrent slurs. Admirably attempting to continue play in the face of such overt and outrageous racism, Akinfenwa made the decision to leave the pitch after 50 minutes. But what happened next, he said, changed his attitude towards both football and racism forever.

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Akinfenwa said: “I phoned my older brother – I can remember this like it was yesterday, and it was 20 years ago – and said to him they’re being racist. He said, ‘I won’t ask you to stay anywhere you don’t feel comfortable, but if you leave, they win’.”

The Wycombe striker added: “I won’t lie; at the time I was like ‘I’m going home’.”

He added: “But that night, call it divine intervention or whatever it was, I remember waking up and thinking, ‘ain’t nobody running me out of nowhere’. Still, to this day, I hate the fact that I allowed them to make me come off the pitch.”

But the racism didn’t stop there. Akinfenwa recalls the precise moment, in his view, it became life threatening. In the cruelest of ironies, he had just scored the winning goal in the Lithuanian equivalent of the FA Cup Final, with fans pouring onto the pitch in a blur of emotional excitement and energy.

Akinfenwa said: “I’m dancing and cheering, and then a wave of animosity [comes over me] because everyone around me had no tops on and had swastika tattoos on their chest and backs. So I’ve gone from laughing and jumping to thinking if anyone wants to stab me, I can get stabbed in this crowd and they can just keep on moving.”

Despite the abuse Akinfenwa endured in Europe, it is the prevalence of racism today that the Championship striker finds most distressing. He is determined to see football and society change its attitude towards racism, including explaining to his 10-year-old son this is why players now take a knee before kick-off.

Akinfenwa was blown away by his child’s response. He said: “On my son’s birthday he said, ‘dad can we take a picture?’ Then he said, ‘we’ll kneel down for racism’.”

His son added: “'Dad we do a lot of things together, but of all the things we do together this is the one thing I don’t want to do with my son.’”

Akinfenwa said: “I didn’t know he felt like that, I didn’t even know he could articulate things like that. For me, that was the most powerful thing. I was thinking, in 20 years’ time when my son’s 30, will he still be doing the same thing with his son?”