Atkinson: I've got the taste for it, now I want more

After becoming the first Tasmanian to represent the Socceroos in over two decades, Nathaniel Atkinson was full of pride as he reflected on his debut against Saudi Arabia. 

Atkinson played the full 90 minutes at right-back as the Socceroos closed out the third round of World Cup qualification with a 1-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia in Jeddah last month. 

The 22-year-old’s debut was the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifices by not just himself, but his family. 

From coming through the ranks at Riverside Olympic in Tasmania to amassing 75 senior caps for Melbourne City and now starring for Scottish side Hearts, Atkinson’s family has been behind him every step of the way throughout his journey across the globe. 

“I’m a bit overwhelmed but also happy and obviously a bit down in the dumps about the result,” Atkinson said as he reflected on his debut. 

“For me and my family, it’s what I’ve been working for since I was a little kid. It’s an amazing feeling. 

“It was a 5 am kickoff so my girlfriend and all my family woke up to watch the game and they are over the moon.

“I think it’s almost more special for them because of all the sacrifices I had to make in my junior career, and my career in general with long drives from across the state of Tasmania. That is all worthwhile now. 

“I think I surprised myself because I wasn't all too nervous for the debut. This is something I've been waiting for a long time to experience. 

I don’t think there are much prouder moments than linking arms with your teammates and singing the national anthem. There is no greater honour in football really because everyone wants to play for their country.

"It was a hostile environment in front of 51,000 Saudi fans but it was a great moment."

Having already represented his country various times at youth level, including at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics where the 22-year-old was very impressive, Atkinson’s transition to senior international football has appeared seamless. 

The Launceston-born product credits that to the environment that Graham Arnold has been able to create within both the Socceroos and Olyroos camps to his success within both Australian set-ups. 

“I’m familiar with the way that the Socceroos want to play because I went to the Olympics with Arnie,” Atkinson said. 
“He’s really bred that through the younger players here so when the younger players have to step up, we fit right in and we know what to do. 

Now that I’ve got the taste for it, I want to get more of that. I think the best way to do that is to go back to my club and just keep doing what got me here in the first place. 

“If I can do that, then hopefully I can get a flight to Qatar for some big games.”

The Socceroos move on to the next stage of the qualification process when they take on UAE in Qatar on Tuesday 7 June.

But before that, Atkinson has to finish his maiden season in the Scottish Premiership with Heart of Midlothian F.C as they look to secure European Football.

Since leaving Melbourne City in January, he has started 11 of the 14 games for Hearts, playing in both right-back and right midfield roles. 

While his adaptation to Scottish football has drawn plaudits from many, Atkinson admitted that the rigours of playing regular football took some getting used to. 
“Coming from Australia, where we really only play one game a week to touching down in Scotland and playing multiple games a week on a Wednesday and Saturday, it's a tough turnaround but your body gets used to it,” Atkinson concluded. 

“All young players want to play football games and luckily enough, I play in Scotland and that's what we do at the moment.

“It's going to do nothing but benefit me moving forward and obviously for the Socceroos as well.”