Championship club Wycombe Wanderers striker Adebayo Akinfenwa recalled his experiences when he was in Lithuanian league.
Adebayo who was born and raised in England by Nigerian parents, played for Watford before he was released in 2001.
With no interest forthcoming from English clubs, the then 18-year-old was offered an opportunity in Lithuania.
Speaking about his ordeal in an interview with Sky Sports, Adebayo said:
“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.”
The 38-year-old then went ahead to tell a sad story of how he was called “ziga” which means “monkey” in his first game at Lithuania.
“There were no red flags until the first game. The first game we played was a pre-season game, and like most pre-season games we played the local team, so we didn’t play in a stadium, we played 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.
“The second half came, and they started doing again, so I signalled to the manager I was coming off. As I came off there was a massive roar.”
Adebayo said he called his brother to tell him he was coming home.
“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.” He continued.
“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 former Swansea City striker said he found out he was the first black person in the entire league.
“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.”
Adebayo eventually earned the respect of Lithuanian football fans because he was scoring goals and won them their first trophy 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.
“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.”
On lessons learned after his experience in Lithuania, Adebayo said: “I think we’ve all got a story to tell, an autobiography. This was part of mine. Celebrate is the wrong word but I think you should embrace your trials and tribulations, your challenges, and I have never had a problem talking about this.
“Sometimes when you’re going through your darkest times, that shapes you for your light moments.”