The Curious Case of Southend’s Latest Signing and a Lost Football League Chance

Simeon Akinola has finally been handed his chance of league football today, signing a two-year deal with Mark Moseley’s side.

Akinola, who bagged 16 times for the Bees last season, has briefly tasted league football before. he scored five goals in 32 outings for Barnet after leaving Braintree back in January 2017. He suffered relegation from the Football League with the Bees back in 2018, but could quite easily have been a part of another club’s history.

To trace the odd story of Akinola’s collapsed September 2017 move, you have to go back to his days at Braintree. He arrived there from Harrow Borough and was a key player in their play-off campaign in 2015/16. His manager at the time was Danny Cowley, and when he departed to take over at Lincoln City, rumours started Akinola would follow.

Instead, a cash-strapped Lincoln City couldn’t match the reported £40,000 Barnet paid to take him to the Football League, but seven months later the Imps were back in for him. By that time, they’d been on their historic FA Cup run and were hopeful of making Akinola the final piece of their Football League squad.

At the same time, striker Dave Tarpey was scoring for fun for Maidenhead, and Barnet decided they wanted to take a punt on Tarpey. If they could get a deal done for him, then they would allow Akinola to join Lincoln. So began a deadline day transfer saga that is still spoken about in Lincoln now.

Cowley was keen to bring his former hitman to Lincoln, as he already had Sam Habergham and Alex Woodyard there from his Braintree days. He spoke highly of the striker, saying “Simeon has Championship pace and agility, he’s unbelievably quick and another player who doesn’t give defenders a moment of rest. He can change a game in a minute and one of his best strengths is he’s a great counter-attacking player, who can sit on the shoulder of the last defender but he can also play wide. He loves cutting in from the left onto his right foot. He’s intelligent off the pitch as well… he’s got a first-class degree in economics.”

Transfer deadline day fell on a Thursday night and as the clock wound down, news of the deals began to break. Tarpey was heading to Barnet for a medical, and the Imps would sign Akinola. As 11 pm passed, Tarpey was confirmed at The Hive, but there was no news on Akinola. The following day, the player was spied training with Lincoln, even wearing the club’s kit. The deal, it seemed, was complete but ever the professional, Akinola wouldn’t be photographed. One fan asked for a picture and was told that he couldn’t pose in Lincoln kit until the deal was confirmed.

Oddly, Saturday came around and Lincoln hosted favourites Luton Town, drawing 0-0. Akinola was reported as being in the stands, and during the game Barnet chose to release a statement about the player, telling the world they had agreed on a transfer and pending paperwork he would become a Lincoln City player.

Shortly after, no doubt spurred on by the Bees statement, Lincoln released the same statement saying a deal had been agreed Fans waited eagerly to hear news of the deal going through. Post-match, BBC reporter Michael Hortin even joked with Cowley about someone who ‘looked a lot like Simeon Akinola’ sitting in the club stands. Sunday 3rd came and went. Monday 4th came and went. Nobody heard any more about the transfer.

Then, on the 5th Septemeber, five days after the striker first agreed to move to Lincoln, the worst news was confirmed. The club’s deal had collapsed and Akinola, unwanted by Barnet, had to head back to North London. Reports as to exactly what happened vary, although it seems both Lincoln and Akinola were ready to complete the deal well before the deadline. It appears paperwork was not completed, faxes were delayed and somehow, the relevant documents were not submitted before the deadline. This reporter was told the complexity of the contract was one hold up, as was a late change to Tarpey’s deal which caused Barnet to neglect their player sale, in favour of completing their deal. Whatever happened, Akinola headed back to Barnet, ‘broken-hearted‘ that his move had collapsed.

Just three weeks later, he was playing at Sincil Bank, starting for Barnet as they were beaten 2-1. Tarpey, the big capture upon whose shoulder the bees promotion hopes rested, sat out injured. In only his second outing for Barnet, he damaged his cruciate ligament, effectively ending his Football league aspiration. Akinola was thrust back into the Barnet side, scoring five times in 32 games as they were eventually relegated.

Worse was to come. Rumours abound that the Imps might revisit the deal the following summer. In March 2017, Akinola even stated he still wanted to work with Cowley, but in April 2018 he damaged his Achilles tendon and was ruled out for eight months. By the time he came back, Lincoln City were challenging for the League Two title and he was merely a footnote to a rather sad story. He returned in December, but a miserable 12 months turned into a sorry year-and-a-half as he failed to score a single goal.

Last season, the likeable striker’s career finally got back on track, with goals flowing as Barnet headed to the play-offs in the National League. They fell at the final hurdle, but finally, the amiable 28-year-old got his Football League move and hopefully, he’ll be able to prove to the world that his collapsed deal at Lincoln City was a missed opportunity for both parties.

 

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