Olatunji Akinola: U23s live for Stadium games
After leading his side out the tunnel at London Stadium last month, West Ham United U23s defender Olatunji Akinola can’t wait for more of his side’s upcoming showpiece fixtures.
Speaking as part of the third episode in West Ham TV’s Academy of Football video series – which you can watch right here – Akinola revealed that, for the flourishing footballer, stadium games can prove the pinnacle of any campaign.
The U23s will enjoy four more such fixtures this season: they are due to host both Swansea City and Middlesbrough at London Stadium and travel to Derby County’s Pride Park and West Brom’s The Hawthorns in the coming weeks.
The junior Hammers had also been due to play at Villa Park next month against Aston Villa U23s, although that fixture has now been relocated to Bodymoor Heath Training Ground.
Those are the games that we live for, to play in stadiums like this
Nevertheless, Akinola reflected fondly on the experience of leading the U23s out as skipper at the home of West Ham United a fortnight ago.
The 21-year-old is also looking forward to the prospect of more games in Stratford in the coming weeks, including the Swansea match at London Stadium on Monday 16 March – with tickets free to season ticket holders and claret members.
“Those are the games that we live for, to play in stadiums like this,” Akinola smiled. “The other games we’ve got coming as well are a great opportunity for the boys, and hopefully we can take the chance to show the talent we’ve got in the team.
“Leading the team out was definitely a proud moment. It’s a great honour for me. For the coaches to choose me as captain and to walk out the boys in this magnificent stadium, in front of these magnificent supporters, is a great feeling for me.
“Hopefully, we’ll see even more supporters there against Swansea.”
Akinola was amongst the substitutes earlier this week as Dmitri Halajko’s unbeaten U23s stayed top of Premier League 2 Division 2 with an emphatic 4-0 win over Norwich in Dagenham.
However, their nearest challengers, Manchester United, also won on Monday night, staving off a late Stoke City comeback to win 3-2 and remain just three points behind with a game in hand – albeit with a significant deficit in goal difference.
With West Ham aware, therefore, that silverware lies within their grasp should they win all four remaining league games, Akinola is relishing the title race going right down to the wire.
“It’s going to be a good one for the neutral to watch,” he observed.
“I think we just have to focus on ourselves – if we worry too much about them, it could take away from our performance.
"We just have to keep getting our heads down, getting into training and keep working. Hopefully we can keep getting wins and win this league at the end of it.”
West Ham United U23s’ next match is their first-ever Premier League International Cup quarter-final, against Derby County at Pride Park on Tuesday 10 March. Kick-off is at 7pm.
They will then return to Premier League 2 Division 2 action against Swansea City at London Stadium on Monday 16 March, with kick-off 7pm. Tickets are free for Season Ticket Holders and Claret Members. For non-members, they are priced at £5 for Adults and £3 for Over-65s/Under-21s. Click here to book.