Pompey newcomer: American adventure was life-changing
Anton Walkes challenged himself to walk away from cosy under-23 football and the comfort blanket of England.
The life-changing outcome was a season spent in America, performing in front of crowds exceeding 70,000.
For the Spurs youngster, no gamble was involved when clambering aboard the Atlanta United adventure.
The desire to learn saw him revel in the Five Stripes’ Eastern Conference campaign in the MLS last year.
Walkes featured 20 times during the loan spell, starting 17 games. Primarily he served at right-back, occasionally at centre-half, weighing in with two goals.
Ex-Aston Villa keeper Brad Guzan and former Stoke and Southampton striker Kenwyne Jones were among his team-mates during Atlanta’s maiden season.
Halfway through the campaign they moved to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In the campaign’s finale, 71,874 attended a 2-2 draw with Toronto.
Quite an introduction to ‘men’s football’ for Walkes, who now wants to maintain his development in League One with Pompey.
He said: ‘Atlanta were lacking players and needed more. Luckily enough there were a few connections at Spurs, with our coaches knowing each other.
‘The president, Darren Eales, previously worked for Spurs so we used that link and thankfully they wanted me.
‘It’s not often English players go to the MLS but I was willing to take that risk.
‘It shows how much I am willing to give to play football and I always go for it. If you are speaking football, then I am listening.
‘It’s all about getting a taste for men’s football and realising it’s a lot different to the academy and reserves.
‘There’s no time to take things slowly, you have to be ready from the first whistle. The experience I picked up was incredible, such good memories, now I am here to do it again.
‘We twice played in front of more than 70,000, that’s a lot of deal with when quite young. That is a cup final attendance – and it’s all about using that experience in good ways.
‘I was playing right-back, occasionally selected as a centre-back, I found myself in the opposition’s penalty box and scored two goals as well.
‘If new players get the opportunity I would always recommend they go for it. It’s a great country, the football is amazing, the city is amazing and the people are amazing.’
Atlanta’s first pre-season game kicks off on February 10.
Walkes now has Pompey to focus on for the remainder of the League One season – yet will watch his former club from afar with interest.
He added: ‘The standard is increasing rapidly out there. It’s an unbelievable place. I will definitely go back on holidays, I recommend it.
‘It’s the weather, the food and nice restaurants, sights to see, everything there is amazing.
‘We got to the play-offs and fell short unfortunately. For an expansion team to come out of nowhere in their first year to do that when massive underdogs was superb.
‘I wish them good luck again next season.’