An RAF footballer is preparing to return to the international stage after nearly a two-year gap.
Sergeant Mike Atkinson has been called up to the Belize national team squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers on 25 and 30 March.
In an exclusive interview with Forces News, the UK Armed Forces player explained how he was introduced to the Belizean set-up.
He said: "I qualify through my mum. My mum is full Belizean and my dad is English so I'm 50-50. I’ve got dual nationality which makes me eligible to play for Belize.
"I used to be a professional before I joined the military at York City in League Two.
"I got a little bit of an approach then from the team [Belize] but in the transition from leaving football and joining the military... lost a bit of connection on that front.
"I was at RAF Honington as a PTI (Physical Training Instructor) and got called up to a trial week on 17 December which I performed well at and did really well."
The next month, he was invited to the Central American Cup in Panama.
He said: "I made my debut there against Costa Rica. I played a couple of games against El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras, as well.
"From that point on, it sort of solidified my place in the team for the upcoming qualifiers which would be like the CONCACAF Nations League."
Before COVID-19, Sgt Atkinson had been part of the team in competitions in 2018 and 2019.
"We'd played teams like Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Barbados and Bahamas," he said. "They are all lovely places which is great.
"I think I've won eight caps now. This will be nine and 10, hopefully – COVID permitting."
Sgt Atkinson is looking forward to playing for Belize again – but what is he expecting for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers?
He said: "The group we are in, we've got Nicaragua, Haiti, Turks and Caicos and St Lucia. There’s games there which are definitely winnable.
"Even if we didn't qualify, it's still going to put us in good stead for other competitions. It’s probably just better to just be back playing as a team because we did have quite a few older players who have now moved on.
"The new players are coming through and it's sort of time to rebuild and go through a process with that new team that will hopefully take us in the next Nations League to eventually go to the Gold Cup in the United States.
"It’s probably our highest target but you never know with the World Cup."
The Air Force player has been a key part of the UKAF team which has been successful at the Kentish Cup but the Belize experience is slightly different.
He explained: "I think for UKAF, the intensity and stuff is really up there.
"For my game, I do have to adapt it slightly just purely playing 30 degree heat which, again, is pretty difficult.
"As far as methods of playing and stuff like that, you are just following the manager's direction.
"It’s a different formation that I play in Belize than I play in the UK. You just have to adapt to the position you’ve been told to play in."
He added: "The intensity is still there. It’s just obviously a lot warmer, [so] I have to sort of adapt and make sure I’m in decent condition before I go out there."
Cover image: Library photo of Sgt Mike Atkinson.