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Afolayan: "We have a job to do"

Wide man Oladapo Afolayan is gearing up for his first taste of derby action at the Millerntor against HSV on Friday evening (18.30 CET). The London-born player knows all about crosstown rivalries both as a player and as a fan. From the Thames to the Elbe, the nerves start to tingle in the run-up, and he's no exception.

Ever stopped to think where the term 'derby' comes from? We all know there's a city in England of that name, while the link to horse-racing suggests it might have its origin in the world of sport. The Bundesliga goes one step further and takes the view that it stems from a medieval sporting contest between the citizens of two neighbouring communities in the county of Derbyshire in England, where the objective of the game is to hit a millstone in the other town, some three miles away, with the ball.

Which leads us nicely on to football and Dapo Afolayan, for whom local derbies are practically in his blood, he being born in London and having played for Bolton Wanderers, Chelsea and West Ham United. "Local derbies are always important," the 26-year-old said. "There are lots of big teams, especially in London, and you always want to beat the teams around you."

The electric atmosphere, that "something in the air", is something Dapo is familiar with as a supporter as well. "Being an Arsenal fan I've been to a lot of games against Tottenham, Chelsea and West Ham. I know what those games feel like. They're always special," added the winger, who has great memories of Thierry Henry's spectacular solo effort in the derby against Spurs in the 2002/03 season: "That was an amazing goal. I was also there in 2012 when we came from 2-0 down at home to win 5-2. They're big moments in big games."

Dapo Afolayan in action during the away derby in April 2023

Dapo Afolayan in action during the away derby in April 2023

Moving from the stands to the pitch, Dapo has particularly fond memories of his first derby with Bolton Wanderers against Wigan Athletic in 2021, even though he ended up on the wrong end of a  4-0 defeat: "It was an emotional game for me, my first derby for Bolton against Wigan, both ex-Premier League clubs playing in League One at the time. It was a great atmosphere. The fans in England are very different, so it's hard to give direct comparisons with the fans here, but both are special in their own way."

Also special was his first crosstown derby in a St. Pauli shirt at the Volksparkstadion back in April, which ended in a 4-3 defeat. Dapo thought he had opened the scoring in the 17th minute, but unfortunately the goal was ruled out for a foul in the build-up. "The referee made a decision that we didn't agree with but that's life sometimes, especially in football and in derbies," the Englishman said. "You have to try and get over it and win the game, but despite all that it was a special occasion and a really enjoyable experience."

On Friday evening, when the floodlights light up the Millerntor and the opening chimes of Hell's Bells ring out, Dapo may well be making his first appearance in a home local derby. Will he prepare any differently? "No, not really, you obviously understand the importance of the match and why it's special for the fans, but at the end of the day we're professionals and we have a job to do, so it's up to us to perform. I'm really looking forward to it."

Photos: Witters