Elijah Adebayo: How Luton Town's hat-trick hero with the long name took the long route to the top

Luton Town's Elijah Adebayo with the match ball after his hat-trick during the Premier League match at Kenilworth Road, Luton. Picture date: Tuesday January 30, 2024.
Credit: PA
Adebayo leaving the pitch with the match ball after his hat-trick for Luton Town against Brighton. Credit: PA

ITV News Anglia's Andy Ward reflects on Elijah's Adebayo's journey from rejection at Fulham to Premier League hat-trick hero.

As Elijah Adebayo left the pitch to a standing ovation at Kenilworth Road, his smile spoke a thousand words.

Having just become the first ever Luton Town player to score a Premier League hat-trick in the 4-0 thumping on Brighton, and the first in the top flight since Lars Elstrup against Norwich in September 1990, his place in Hatters folklore had been secured.

Taking his place on the bench to watch the remainder of the match, he must have felt like pinching himself.

Just four years ago, Adebayo was facing a very uncertain future.

Released by his boyhood club Fulham, where he'd been since the age of eight, he was scrambling around trying to find a new home.

Adebayo celebrates after his third goal of the game, which wrapped up the Hatters' win. Credit: PA

In the end it was League Two side Walsall who took a punt on him, impressed by his goalscoring exploits in the non-league on loan at Slough Town and Bognor Regis Town.

They were experiences Adebayo says helped shape him into the player he is today.

“My journey was different because I had to go and prove myself right down in the (seventh-tier) Southern League,” he told the Athletic in a recent interview.

"Everyone will know I played for Slough Town and Bognor Regis. I’ve worked my way up now and I don’t want to stop here, I want to go again.” 

And go again he certainly did.

Adebayo's imposing frame led coaches to experiment by playing him at centre back earlier in his career. Credit: PA

During his time in the youth ranks at Fulham, Adebayo played a couple of seasons as a centre-half as the coaches attempted to find the best position to make use of his imposing 6ft 4ins frame, but at Walsall, he was very much seen as the main man up top - although consistency still proved to be an issue.

“When he’s on his game, he’s unplayable and it’s about getting him on his game as much as we possibly can," the Walsall manager at the time, Darrell Clarke, said.

“Hopefully the penny is starting to drop on a more consistent basis, not one every five games. Getting the consistent performances is what we’re looking at from Eli.”

When that consistency did finally start to come, so did the interest from clubs further up the football pyramid.

Despite interest from elsewhere, he joined Luton in a deadline day deal in February 2021 for a fee rumoured to be around £250,000 - a fee Adebayo has already paid back in spades.

He scored 16 goals in his first full campaign at Championship level, backing that up with another eight last season as the Hatters earned the unlikeliest of promotions to the Premier League.

He's continued to be prolific in the top flight as well, netting on eight occasions already - including Tuesday's history-making hat-trick against Brighton.

But away from the spotlight and plaudits, things have been tougher. Adebayo has been targeted by racist abuse on a number of occasions, with the most recent incident coming after a 1-0 defeat to Tottenham this season.

Before that, he reported at least three more incidents in the space of just a year.

In a statement, the club said that their striker had been singled out so many times that "he can't be bothered to report or respond to discrimination anymore. He's tired of it."

Luton Town boss Rob Edwards says Adebayo "has a really high ceiling" to his potential. Credit: PA

As he always has done, Adebayo has fought back in the only way he knows how - by performing on the pitch.

As a man of Nigerian heritage, Elijah Anuoluwapo Oluwaferanmi Oluwatomi Oluwalana Ayomikulehin Adebayo has one the longest names in the Premier League, perhaps even world football, and having taken the long route to the top flight, his manager is backing him to continue to shine.

"He can defend set-pieces, he’s a threat in the six-yard box, because of his hold-up play and pressing and he’s scoring some goal goals," said Rob Edwards after the win over Brighton.

“He’s got a really high ceiling. If he stays focused and keeps working hard, he can go a long way and have a really good career.”

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