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LEGENDS - John Akinde
A long overdue induction into the Downhill Second Half hall of fame. By: Eric Hitchmo 24/05/2024

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When John Akinde signed in the summer of 2014, there wasn't a huge amount of fanfare. It was to be our second season back in the National League having been relegated two seasons previously, having finished just outside the playoffs in the first season. We were just finding our feet in our new home, with Martin Allen at the helm for a fourth spell after Edgar Davids had called it quits in January.

Akinde had begun his footballing career at Ebbsfleet United, scoring a decent amount of goals before getting a move to the Championship with Bristol City. He was sent out on loan several times with varying degrees of success. He did very well at Wycombe in League Two, scoring seven in 11 games including against Barnet at Adams Park, but other loan spells were less prosperous, including a goalless 18 appearances at Bristol Rovers in League One.

He eventually joined Crawley Town in 2011 after being released by Bristol City. Goals were again hard to come by, scoring just one in 40 appearances. He then joined Portsmouth, failing to score. Released by Pompey, he dropped down to the National League in summer of 2013 to join Alfreton Town.

It was at North Street where Akinde found his scoring boots. His 19 goals for The Reds was nearly as many as his previous six seasons combined. This piqued the interest of Martin Allen who was in the process of building a league-winning squad.

It would be fair to say that owing to his mixed goalscoring record, there was a level of trepidation when he signed. He was fairly slow off the mark with three goals in his first ten before a hat-trick at home to Altrincham really got things going. It was clear that his ability was beyond that of his goalscoring record. He was big, very strong and deceptively quick with a definite eye for goal. His finish from the corner of the penalty area away at Southport at the end of August was glorious and he had no right to score from there.

What also became clear is that he was something of a penalty expert. Almost one third of his 90 goals for the club came from the penalty spot. A slow creep up to the ball, wait for the keeper to move, slot it in the other corner. Easy as you like.

However, he wasn't just a penalty taker. He was a penalty winner. I lost count of the amount of times he would break onto a long ball over the top, break into a sprint and draw a false challenge from the goalkeeper or a defender. It was almost formulaic and predictable how it would unfold.

Barnet strode clear at the top of the league that year with Akinde chipping in regularly. Massive club Bristol Rovers would not let go of our coat tails however and pushed us all the way, but with 31 league goals to his name, Akinde powered us to our third National League title and grabbed himself the golden boot.

Life back in the Football League wasn't quite as smooth sailing for Barnet or for Akinde, at least at the start of the season. However, once we found our feet, Akinde would be the man to fire us well away from danger and to a comfortable mid-table finish of 15th. He finished the season with eight goals in the last six matches, including a brace at his former club Crawley on the final day to bring his league tally to 23.

By this time his total was up to 57 in all competitions, a level of goalscoring we had not seen since Giuliano Grazioli's exploits a decade previous. Cemented as a true fan favourite, Akinde went about his business with an ultra cool exterior. I've already spoken about his penalty prowess, but his ability in one-on-ones was also exceptional. When he was in on goal, you expected it to end up in the back of the net. He could operate as a lone-striker or as part of a two or a three. Just give him the ball in the box and there's a good chance it's going to spell goals.

He signed a three-year deal at the start of the 2016-2017 season to the delight of just about everyone at The Hive. The season that followed however was something of an oddity, however.

Akinde continued his outstanding goalscoring record, he had another 18 to his name by the turn of the year including a run of five games where he scored consecutively across October and November. However while he maintained his composure, all else around him was seemingly falling apart. Martin Allen left the club in December to go and join Eastleigh (!?) which brought coaches Henry Newman and Rossi Eames into a joint-manager role.

Until this point, we were an outside bet for the playoffs but we slipped away into our mid-table comfort zone. This was overseen by the very short-lived reign of one Kevin Nugent who returned a single victory from his 11 games between February and April. Upon his departure, Eames was put back in charge to see out the season.

Despite all of this madness, Akinde ended up with 26 goals in the season. He was by this point the highest scorer of Football League goals in the club's history. This is obviously a record he still holds.

Unfortunately, the tumultuous nature of the season previous was a sign of things to come. The 2017-2018 season was an outright disaster. Akinde was largely absent until November due to injury. While Shaq Coulthirst tried to fill the void, his goalscoring exploits weren't enough to prevent a pretty poor start which led to Eames being replaced by Mark McGhee.

As Barnet fans we are used to relegation battles but this was one that seemed to come out of nowhere. In truth, we never replaced Martin Allen properly and paid the ultimate price by the end of the year. McGhee lasted barely two months gaining two league wins from 11 games. It went from bad to horrendous when his replacement was announced, one Graham Westley.

This disaster of an appointment heaped insult into injury and by the time he was dismissed after another miserable two months, we were eight points adrift at the bottom of the league.

Akinde was a shadow of himself throughout this challenging period. Who can blame him? We were a shambles on and off the pitch and had somehow turned a solid first two seasons back in the Football League into a survival scramble. This was underlined during a 3-1 midweek home defeat to Carlisle where Akinde uncharacteristically blazed a penalty into an empty terrace behind the goal.

The chairman pressed the Martin Allen panic button again and of course, Mad Dog did what he does best and turned the fortune of the team completely. We gained sixteen points from the remaining eight games with Akinde grabbing three goals, but the mountain we had been given to climb was too vast and we dropped out of the Football League for the third time. On Goal Difference. It was a tough and completely unneccessary pill to swallow.

It was clear we were going to struggle to keep our best players so it was no-surprise that the in-contract Akinde was transfer listed in the summer. Rumours were abound and interest was rife, but he eventually joined Lincoln City for an undisclosed fee.

Whilst it was a very disappointing way to go, no-one could really begrudge him the move. He was at the very least a League Two quality striker so it would have been a near-impossible task to keep him in the National League.

He left the club with 90 goals in 177 appearances, ranking him 18th in the list of all-time top Barnet goalscorers. When you look at the professional era (1965-1966 onwards) he would be 6th. He is one of very few players to have scored 20+ goals in three or more consecutive seasons, the last being Gary Bull in the early 90s. He scored three hat-tricks in a calendar year (2014) - almost unheard of in Barnet terms.

He is not only statistically one of the best strikers to wear the Barnet shirt in the modern era, but as a player and person he fully deserves the term legend to be bestowed. Long overdue on our part, but for what it's worth it's official on Downhill Second Half.

Currently he is out of contract after release from League Two Colchester. Some would say to leave the memories unspoiled, particularly with our experience of returning heroes not quite living up to previous glories in recent years, but the romanticist might just be enticed by a return to The Hive for one of the best strikers I have ever seen play for Barnet.

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