Great Britain

Rob Atkinson desperate to help seal promotion for Oxford United as he dreams of facing former club Fulham next season

ROB ATKINSON can go Ful circle if he wins promotion with Oxford.

The defender today hopes to help the U’s secure a League One play-off spot and is dreaming of playing against former club Fulham in the Championship next season.

Atkinson, 22, got signed up by Fulham’s academy four years ago after making a name for himself in non-league with Basingstoke.

But the 6ft 4in ace did not enjoy his two-year spell in West London.

He said: “I was playing in the Under-23s – I didn’t like it that much.

“Even though I thought the players were better, the coaching was better and facilities were immense, I missed men’s football.

“That was my first taste of academy football.

"My whole childhood people were saying, ‘You can be scouted for this and that’ and it would be the be all and end all.

“But I was so late to the party. I was 19 when I joined Fulham.

“It would’ve been different had I gone to an academy if I was younger but I was already engrained in the men’s game and playing youth football was a step back and I started to hate football.

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“I hated playing games but enjoyed the training at Fulham. I’ve benefitted and grown as a player thanks to the training.

“The games? I didn’t want any part of it. You don’t play well when you don’t enjoy it. I was also on the bench a lot. It was a bad time.

“So if we do get promoted, it would be nice and mentally good to see myself at the same level as Fulham.”

Atkinson ended up going to Braintree on loan for the last six months of his Fulham contract to play in the National League.

And eventually ended up at Eastleigh, which is where Oxford signed him from halfway through last season.

He said: “I started to enjoy football again at Braintree even though we were bottom of the table.

“There was no pressure and then we started to win some games against teams that had a lot of money like Fylde. It got my career kicking on again.”

Oxford must today better whatever Portsmouth do against Accrington AND at least equal whatever Charlton do against champions Hull.

But Atkinson is pinching himself at how far he has come over the past year.

Last season he could not get into the Oxford team after his move from Eastleigh.

But not only has started in the U’s team 40 times this season, he was named in the EFL’s League One Team of the Season after a string of impressive performances.

Although he did get off to a bumpy start – getting sent off on his League One debut against Lincoln

He said: “Karl Robinson’s history – as well as Oxford’s – of developing young players was a big factor in me coming here.

“After getting sent off on my debut, it would’ve been easy for any manager to bin me off, thinking I’m not ready or good enough for League One.

“But credit to the gaffer, he stuck by me and I’d like to think I’ve repaid his faith with good performances.

“I’m happy with it and for being recognised for my work and must keep going.”

Atkinson has a slightly different football path than most English footballers – as the first club he played for was Cannes in France.

He explained: “When I was about five, I moved out to the south of France with my mum and lived out there until I was nine or ten.

“Cannes were the local team in the area and that is how I played for them.

“I can speak French – which is useful because there are a lot of footballers over here from France.”

Cannes is of course famous for the Cannes Film Festival.

And Atkinson would dearly love to star in a successful promotion bid.

He said: “I sat on the bench when we lost the League One play-off final against Wycombe last season and everyone was devastated.

"Some were still upset a few months after, which might explain our slow start to the season.

“But we have some good momentum now. We’ve won five out of six and in good form at the right time.”

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