BY RICHARD BEEDIE
The dictionary definition of a ‘cult hero’ is ‘A writer, musician, artist, or other public figure who is greatly admired by a relatively small audience or is influential despite limited commercial success.’
Back in 2005, the BBC Sport website ran a vote to find the cult hero for each English club. For the east Lancashire club Bury the overwhelming winner was the club record scorer Craig Madden with 63% of those who voted favouring the current Southport assistant manager. To an extent Madden does indeed fill the criteria of a cult hero; ‘greatly admired by a relatively small audience’ – tick; Bury rarely broke the 3,000 attendance figure for a match in the striker’s time at the club and have always lived in the shadow of their much bigger Manchester neighbours. ‘Influential despite limited commercial success’ – tick; Madden may well be Bury’s record goalscorer, 128 if you’re wondering, but his nine years at Bury – the period from around 1981 to 1986 in particular – represented the peak of his career as he failed to achieve anything like the same level of status in subsequent moves to West Bromwich Albion, Blackpool, Wrexham and York City.
On the face of it Madden fully deserved to win that BBC poll, but perhaps the man who came second, with just 27% of the vote, better fills the true criteria of a cult hero. That man was David Adeolu Adekola.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria on the 18th May 1968 David Adekola appeared out of seemingly nowhere, arriving in Bury in January 1993 with claims of having played in the French and Belgian first divisions as well as having appeared for his country at full international level. For such a player to be touting himself around a club in the fourth tier of English football seemed strange, especially in those days prior to the saturation of English football with imports that were to come. With the arrival of the Premier League a little over six months earlier the draw of a non-British player who actually wanted to play at their level proved too enticing for the Bury board and so arrived the Gigg Lane club’s first overseas signing in their then 108-year history. Certainly their first from Africa.
A little digging by local journalists back then revealed that the clubs he had claimed to have played for on the continent had never actually heard of him, with there being no trace of him having played for his national team either. At that time Google wasn’t even around never mind as available as it is now so a more recent search via that particular engine does show an appearance, in the African Cup of Nations qualifying tournament back in April 1989, of an Adeolu Adekola whose date of birth was just one day out on the erstwhile hero of this piece. In addition, a search on no less a place than FIFA.com shows presumably the same player, given the date of birth and name matches, having made three appearances for Nigeria in the FIFA Under-20 Youth Championship in Chile in 1987. This Adekola also scored a goal, against Canada, in a tournament that saw the young Super Eagles draw one and lose two of their three matches.
Whether this was the same player that turned up at Bury back in 1993 we’ll never know, but despite his hazy background – and unlike the infamous Ali Dia at Southampton three years later – Adekola could actually play a bit and as such the Bury fans took the Nigerian ‘international’ to their hearts straight away, regardless of who he really was and where he had previously played. As well as the sudden appearance of flags of his country the fans quickly adorned him with the nickname ‘Super Adekola’ and composed several chants in his honour, from the obvious, ‘We’ve got a Nigerian International!’ to the bizarre ‘Count Your Chickens!’
The origin of that particular chant is unknown to this writer even though I lustily joined in with it on several occasions, the only thought that comes to mind is that the spindly legs of this cult hero reminded the person that came up with it those of a chicken. The chant would start by someone bellowing ‘Count! Your! Chickens!’ before the rest of the gathered crowd would break into song singing ‘Wah, wah, wah, Adekola, Adekola, Ade, Ade, Ade Ade, Adekola!’ Truly bizarre. What the man himself thought of it no one knows but what we do know is that he played the game with a smile on his face and gave the fans plenty to smile about too, never more than on a pleasant spring day in Scarborough.
The hat-trick in that game turned him into an instant club legend, it being the culmination of a run of six goals in three games, and was arguably as good as it got for the 5’ 11” striker. That season he only scored two more goals in his remaining 13 appearances and only four more were added during sporadic appearances the following season, with two of those coming in a cameo at Doncaster Rovers. Adekola had been largely replaced by new signing, and proven lower league scorer, Mark Carter whose scoring feats for the club meant he not only took the Nigerian’s place in the team but in the fans’ hearts too.
With his contract up at the end of that season, and with Carter in such good form – 20 goals in 36 matches, the first man to hit such a figure in a Bury shirt in nine years – Adekola was loaned out to Exeter City. He, very briefly, became a hero to the St. James Park faithful by scoring his only goal of a three game spell in a 3-2 home defeat to local rivals Plymouth Argyle. He was inevitably released by Bury at the end of that season but it wouldn’t be the last time their fans would see him play at their ground as he began something of a nomadic career from that point onwards. After a brief spell at A.F.C. Bournemouth, where he made just one appearance, he was back in the north west at Bury’s then fourth tier rivals Wigan Athletic. On a very wet Boxing Day at Gigg Lane, the two sides fought out a 3-3 draw – heavily influenced by the conditions – with Adekola featuring for the Latics in his only start in four appearances for the club. He cut a disconsolate figure as he battled to prove himself to Wigan looking a shadow of the beaming player that had lit up the same venue less than two years before.
He left Wigan in February 1995 and over the rest of that year toured Britain in search of a career taking in Halifax Town, Hereford United, Bath City, Cambridge United and Bishop’s Stortford, clearly not settling in at any of them. Bath City’s fans clearly took to him given they apparently saw fit to nickname him Pepsi, but plainly he didn’t fit the manager’s plans and after seven games and two goals was off again. If the Bath City fans liked him, it was very much the opposite on his next stop at Cambridge United where just one goal in five appearances was enough for some U’s fans to declare him as one of the worst to wear the Abbey Stadium club’s shirt.
Unsurprisingly released by Cambridge after a loan spell at Hertfordshire side Bishop’s Stortford, Germany was his next stop where a couple of lower league clubs were taken in before returning to Britain where, after a very brief stay at Brighton & Hove Albion, he was on the move again. Although nothing appears in any official bios there is evidence that he seemed to return to Hertfordshire and his previous loan club Bishop’s Stortford; the club website’s ‘Blast From The Past’ feature shows an Adekola making plenty of appearances for the club between 1997 and 1998. Next stop was Essex club Billericay Town, where it seems he had been before given the club’s Wikipedia page lists him as their top scorer in the 1989-90 season as well the 1998-99 season. He was a definite hit with some fans of the New Lodge club with a look on their forum showing some seeing him as a true club legend and others who would have him in their all-time Billericay Town XI. If he was indeed there in the 1989-90 season it would seem to add further doubt to his alleged claims of top flight football in France and Belgium prior to appearing at Bury. It would suggest a career at a level much lower before arriving at Gigg Lane and, if true, his signing may be explained by the fact Bury’s assistant manager at the time was John King, the man who had previously made himself a legend at current National League North side Altrincham. Bury tapped into King’s knowledge of the non-league game a lot in his spell at the club between 1992 and 1994 signing several players from that level in a bid to cut costs. It’s plausible that Adekola came to his attention via one of his contacts in the non-league game rather than the more romantic story of Adekola turning up straight from Ligue Un or its Belgian equivalent.
After his possible second spell at ‘Ricay, he was off again signing for Slough Town in 1999. He made 24 appearances for the Berkshire club over the space of two seasons garnering just the five goals, the first of which came against his previous teammates in 4-0 home win over Billericay. Walton & Hersham was his next stop where little is known of his time there but he clearly impressed Hendon F.C., his final club. He scored against the north London club with his first touch seconds after coming on as a second half substitute to gain a point for Walton in a game from April 2000, after being 2-0 down at half time. Whether that influenced matters or not he ended up at the current Isthmian League Premier Division side the following season. At the Greens he scored a creditable 14 goals in 41 games in all competitions, linking up with Bontcho Guentchev, the former Bulgarian international who was part of the squad that thrilled everybody at the 1994 World Cup in the USA.
With that it seems our mystery man’s football career was over and although he may not have had the kind he dreamed of he does actually have a legacy in the English game that many Bury fans may not even know of with a connection to another, more recent – and arguably more successful – hero of the Gigg Lane faithful. The player in question is none other than current Swindon Town striker, Nicky Ajose. The Bury-born former Manchester United trainee has drawn many plaudits for his striking exploits this season where he narrowly missed out on the League One player of the year award – but it is his two loan spells at Gigg Lane for which he is fondly remembered by Bury fans. His first and most successful stint came in the 2010-11 season when his 13 goals in 28 games, whilst on loan from Manchester United, helped the Shakers secure promotion to League One. Two years later, by now owned by Peterborough United, Ajose returned for a less successful spell as Bury failed in their battle to avoid relegation back to League Two, only managing four goals in 19 games on that occasion. What the majority of Bury fans didn’t know, as they gleefully sang their songs dedicated to young Nicky, was that the striker is actually related to their erstwhile chicken-legged hero. Writer, and Bury fan, James Bentley takes up the tale;
“My dad used to work with Nicky’s dad, who was called Peter, back in the early to mid-90s. Peter said to my dad ‘I see you’ve got a relative of mine playing for Bury at the moment, David Adekola.’ “
At the following Saturday’s game James’ dad went to the Executive Club as he usually did and he saw Peter there. After the game in question Peter introduced an awe struck James and his Dad to Adekola who turned out to be Peter’s cousin and may be another explanation as to how it came to pass that David turned up at Gigg Lane.
When at Bury there was talk that the reason he had come to England was due to his wife being at university in the area. Whether that is the case or not no one really knows but it appears that when his football days were at an end David went down the same route and got himself a degree, a David A. O. Adekola is listed as a former Alumni of Kent University in the 1990s. What he studied isn’t clear but he did end up working in the care profession with him seemingly owning his own care home in Sittingbourne for a while and most recently being registered by the NHS as a care professional based in Orpington. The county of Kent would seem to be where our mystery man has decided to call home, and where it would appear the lure of football still burns deeply, as do perhaps his links to Germany. There is more than one mention of a David Adekola helping out with football training for a tournament involving the pupils of the German Saturday School in Tonbridge, Kent. There may be more than one David Adekola in Kent, but it is hard to believe.
Adekola fits perfectly with the description of a cult hero, as James Bentley stated when relating the earlier tale to me, the term could have been invented for him. He was truly admired, revered even, by a small audience. Despite several attempts to be loved elsewhere it was only in his spell at Bury where he was truly adored, although there may be some Billericay fans who disagree. Success was limited, even at Bury with half the goals he scored for the club coming in a run of just three games. That trio of matches was all he really needed to be influential and cement his place as a genuine Bury legend, and make Bury fans of that time go misty eyed before breaking into song with a, ‘Wah, wah, wah…’
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