By News Team
4th August 2022
EFL legend Adebayo Akinfenwa has told William Hill’s Stripped Podcast that he threatened his AFC Wimbledon team-mates in order to get hold of Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool shirt during an FA Cup game, while he also made an arrangement with former Swansea team-mate Joe Allen to ensure he secured his idol’s jersey.
Akinfenwa revealed the anecdote on William Hill’s Stripped Podcast, a new series in which ex-footballers are invited to take a trip down memory lane by revisiting the favourite shirts of their careers.
Selecting the Liverpool shirt he received from Gerrard after Wimbledon’s 2-1 FA Cup loss in 2015, Akinfenwa said: “I told everyone that I was going to get Gerrard’s shirt. I loved my Wimbledon team-mates but I threatened them. I won’t sugar-coat it. I said, ‘if any of you ask for Stevie G’s shirt, there’s going to be a problem.’ I played with Joe Allen at Swansea, who was at Liverpool at the time, so I gave him a call and arranged it prior.
“I said, ‘tell Stevie that the big man wants his shirt.’ And he text me back saying: ‘Stevie says he’s got you.’ I told the Wimbledon boys it will be a straight-up misunderstanding if you take his shirt. But Stevie was a man of his word and we embraced afterwards, and then I showed the world that he gave it to me.”
Akinfenwa – who also played for the likes of Wycombe, Swansea and Northampton – added that a few years after their first meeting on the pitch, Gerrard went on write the foreword in his autobiography.
“That was the first time I met Stevie G,” he said. “The relationship between Liverpool and myself has stayed strong. I have goosebumps talking about it, I feel humbled. It’s mind boggling, Stevie G wrote the foreword in my book, and he doesn’t really do that. He put a paragraph at the beginning of my autobiography and wanted to write it personally. Sometimes individuals get their publicists to write it, but he wanted to do it personally. People don’t realise how big that is.
“One of the greatest moments of my career was when Wycombe got promoted to the Championship, and Jurgen Klopp sent me a personal congratulatory message. These things are synonymous in my heart and have played a major part in my career.”
Wimbledon lost the FA Cup game 2-1, with Gerrard scoring both goals for Liverpool.
“People ask who the best player I’ve played against is. It’s Stevie G,” Akinfenwa said. “And not just because he is my idol, it’s because, 20 minutes into that game, it looked like he had just decided, ‘I’m bored now, let’s go and score.’ He picked the ball up on the halfway line, put it out wide, got in the box and headed it in. That’s what it felt like.”
Akinfenwa added: “Later Stevie had a free-kick, and as I walked past him, as he’s putting the ball down he says, ‘sorry big man.’ I look at him like whatever. He puts the ball down and bends it over the wall. The second goal of the game, they win 2-1, and I miss the chance to go back to Anfield.”
Akinfenwa is lifelong Liverpool fan and it was John Barnes who helped inspire him to become a Red, though he admits he could have become an Arsenal fan had Ian Wright been at the club at the time.
“My older brother was the one that helped me get into football,” Akinfenwa said as he discussed the 1988/89 Liverpool shirt. “He was a Liverpool supporter and I remember watching John Barnes. It’s funny because now I play nothing like him, or at least in the professional game I was nothing like him. But when I was younger I used to dribble, I used to drop the shoulder, but then my legs got bigger and I couldn’t fit into the shorts the way they used to wear them back in the day! But they were the reasons: John Barnes and my brother.”
Akinfenwa added: “If Ian Wright had come earlier, he would have been the reason why I would have been an Arsenal supporter. I have so much admiration for him, I think he is a legend off and on the pitch. I love everything he did, his character and his lust for life and the game. When he scored a goal, it was entertainment. I definitely took that on board. If he had come earlier, there could have been a chance that I would have ended up an Arsenal supporter. I’m glad though, I couldn’t do with the stress they go through!”
Akinfenwa went on to speak about his Nigerian heritage as he discussed Nigeria’s 1994 World Cup shirt, stating that he would choose to play for the Super Eagles over England, though that wouldn’t have been the case earlier in his career.
He said: “If you were to ask me right now I’d say Nigeria because I’m comfortable with who I am, and what I’ve learnt as I’ve got older is whenever I can make my dad proud, that’s what I want to do. It would be his name, his country, I would want to go and play for Nigeria and make him proud. But a young 21-year-old Akinfenwa that’s only watched the Premier League would have thought I want to play for England as that was the way up.”
Akinfenwa added: “I was born in London, but I’m of Nigerian descent. You should never forget what you have been, where you have been, who you are and your heritage. It will forever play a massive part in who I am.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Akinfenwa also touched on his experiences of playing in Lithuania for FK Atlantas early on his career, where he had to deal with racism from supporters.
“I went out there and boy was it an eye opener,” he said. “We talk about mental strength, and at the time, I didn’t expect to have to go through this, but I quickly discovered that I was the only black person in the league and one of the few in the city. In the first game I played, over a thousand people were singing racist chants. I was shocked, it was home and away fans. It was a small stadium, so they were right up at the sidelines. It was frightening. I went out in the second half, and they kept going. I decided to come off, and they all started cheering like I’d scored.
“After the game, I got on the phone with my older brother and said I’m coming home. I remember he said, ‘don’t stay anywhere you don’t want to, but remember, if you leave, they win.’ At the time, those words didn’t mean anything to me, but I slept on it and, call it divine intervention, the next day I decided nobody was kicking me out of anywhere.”