Back when I started writing this blog, I also used to play a bit of Football Manager. I wasn’t very good and wasn’t playing seriously, so with Gary Simpson’s Lincoln, I cheated a little, took over Barnet too and sold myself all their best players.
John Akinde tore up the National League for me, bagging 35 goals. That’s the player I had in mind when we signed him back in the summer of 2018. That’s the player I hoped we’d got, an explosive forward who could net from anywhere. I still had visions of his strike for Barnet, against us, in January 2018. He seemingly picked the only bit of the goal Paul Farman couldn’t reach with his finish that day. Perhaps, it was more luck than judgement.
John has been a Marmite figure for the club, but here is a firm belief I hold; without him we’d be travelling to Morecambe and Stevenage this season. He defined our approach last year, combining the big target man with an ability to run into the channels as well. When we were away and under pressure, a long ball to him didn’t just stick as it did to Rheady, but it carried and gave us attacking options. He didn’t score freely, 25 goals in 81 appearances is modest, but we scored plenty from him.
After one game, I can’t recall which, I got a call from the manager desperate to underline how important John was to the side. They’d seen the abuse he was getting on social media and felt it came from fans who didn’t fully understand how we approached the game. It led to an article by me praising John, something I stand by. I was also asked how we might move to stop some of the vitriol aimed in his direction. Some of you may recall it led to Bozzy doing an ultra-rare press conference where he called for social media calm. Now the previous manager has gone I can safely reveal that I suggested that to him at the time. I’m sure the club already had it in mind, but it didn’t really work.
The number of times I’ve heard ‘bloody hell John’ in the stands makes my blood boil; partly because it’s not warranted 75% of the time, partly because 25% of the time I wondered how I might spin it on the podcast. The Ipswich miss in the FA Cup was the killer for me; score that and we go through. I never felt we’d got the lethal Akinde that I’d seen for Barnet, but we did have an asset, certainly last season.
Oddly, his record from open play this season is better than at this stage last time out; his stats are impressive in League One. He bagged seven from open play last season, ten from the spot, whereas he’s managed that already from open play this time out. I compared him to a couple of other strikers and, believe it or not, he had 50% shots on target this campaign. Sadly, the 50% he missed are the ones people remember. My own opinion is he is an asset at this level, but not a key player; he’ll do a job for anyone, but he won’t score 25 goals a season. He’s not quite sharp enough, but he’s determined and never lets his head drop.
He had some big moments for us. Exeter away early doors last season was classic John, powerful, commanding and clinical. His goal against Forest Green came at a welcome time as well, right at the height of the abuse. It was such a good finish and, when he was on it, showed what he was capable of. He’s unnerving from the penalty spot too, what price him getting one against us in the Gillingham game later this season?
That game will be interesting because two sides of our fanbase will look to do each other over. He’ll get abuse from some, cheers from others. Even as a Gills player he’ll be splitting Imps’ fans opinions. I won’t boo, but I won’t cheer either. He’s left us and, unlike Michael O’Connor or Harry Toffolo, I won’t be too upset by it.
From a personal point of view, I always found John a difficult interview and I suspect anyone who heard him on the radio feels the same. He was a nice bloke, a gentle giant, but he was king of the five-word response. He didn’t like attention, having to answer questions or stuff like that. I got the distinct impression all he wanted after playing was to go back to his family, who he clearly adored, and be a father and a husband. That left some to think him aloof, for me, it just made him human.
It’s madness to think his final contribution to our cause was to come on against Bolton, bag two and change the game. We saw that evening what he can do, what impact he could have. I would imagine the move was as much for his family as anything; back down south to where they’re at home. After all, Danny Cowley convinced him to move up here, not the training ground, the supporters or the club. He was impressed by Danny and felt he could work with him. With a management change, perhaps the allure of being here faded., After all, he got League One football, something he clearly wanted. He got a title too, so he goes away in a much better place than when he arrived.
I wish Big John all the best. He has a unique skillset that, when applied in the right way, can be devastating. I imagine it’s a tasty wage bill off the balance sheet and with a transfer fee to be paid as well, we’ll have come out of the deal okay. Whatever your opinion of him in the past, he played his part in an historic season for us and his goals, 17 of them, helped put us in League One. For that, I thank him.
Best of luck John! Always a friendly bloke, helped us on our journey to League 1. Sounds like a good move for his family and financially 👌🏻 Grimsby hater for life! pic.twitter.com/7POtDeuG9S
— Craig Coe (@craigcoeyo) January 24, 2020
I bet he’s recovered from his hip injury now 😆
— Alan Johnson (@AFootballWriter) January 24, 2020
I have a love hate relationship with him but gonna miss him 😫
— Wam 🇪🇸🐐 (@xLepebble) January 24, 2020
Thank you John for your service and being a big part of the memorable title winning season of 2018/19. Sad to see you go, but best of luck with your future career
— WilltheImp (@William67201223) January 24, 2020
Right time to move👍🏻💷
— Jordan (@jordan7_c) January 24, 2020
He’s gone for double the wage he had at Lincoln.
— Aiden Wiseman (@AWis3man) January 24, 2020
All the best big fella, scored some important goals for the Imps. Remember the performance at Exeter away and you can’t go wrong 👏👏
— Nigel Cooke (@Jomtienimp) January 24, 2020
Cowleys biggest mistake, at least now we have shit loads of wages to give someone that can run.
— Indie Billy (@billyphipps994) January 24, 2020