Y'all Weekly Special: Charlotte Remembers Anton Walkes
Worldwide soccer community mourns after 25-year-old Charlotte FC player dies in tragic accident
On Wednesday, January 18, Charlotte FC defender Anton Walkes was involved in a boating accident off the coast of Virginia Key in Miami, Fla. The London-born soccer player died the next morning at the age of 25, leaving behind a daughter and a partner.
People Magazine reports Walkes was a passenger on an 11’ personal watercraft that collided with a larger boat. Walkes was unconscious when he was taken to the hospital after the crash, and the incident is still under investigation by Florida authorities.
Charlotte FC supporters groups led the public mourning after the team announced Walkes passing on the morning of January 19. A makeshift memorial came together on the East Gate of Bank of America Stadium. Fans, team members, and staff came together to remember Walkes at 4:00 PM.
By Saturday afternoon, the memorial had grown to almost the entire length of the fence, with references to Walkes shirt number, 5, and his English nationality. Mourners visited every couple of minutes, with one mother and child leaving a bouquet of flowers with a note that said, “We are always with you ❤️ #5.”
Winning his Spurs
Anton Walkes was born on February 8, 1997 in the borough of Lewisham in southeast London. The borough was the birthplace of Sid Vicious of Sex Pistols fame, and is the current home of Millwall F.C. in the EFL Championship league.
In July 2013 at the age of 16, he joined English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur’s academy, and rose quickly through their ranks as a midfielder. Eventually, he moved into more of a defensive role and made his Major League Soccer debut for Atlanta United in their inaugural match in 2017. Though Walkes netted an own goal in his inaugural MLS match, he would go on to play in 70 matches for Atlanta in the 2017, 2020, and 2021 seasons, scoring four goals.
Walkes also played at Portsmouth F.C. in England’s third tier.
Before his death, Charlotte FC saw Anton Walkes as an important piece of their sophomore campaign. He had 21 starts in 23 appearances for the club in 2022, with the highest passing accuracy of any player on the squad. While he was originally acquired from Atlanta United as part of Charlotte’s five expansion draft picks, the club protected from being drafted by this season’s expansion team, St. Louis City SC.
When I spoke with Walkes after Charlotte was officially eliminated from playoff contention last year, he told me it was a good expansion year all around and he was expecting to make the playoffs in 2023. “There’s still more to come. I can see it. And, obviously with our coach he’s put so much effort and time into the team and I honestly believe we can do more for him.”
Walkes continued, “I wouldn't want to play to just settle for the bare minimum. I don't believe anyone in a locker room is. I looked around today, and everybody's hurt, even out there. Getting frustrated, things aren't going our way and it's painful. And I know that everybody else feels the same way. There's not one guy in a locker room that just thinks they can just turn up and it's just a hobby, right? This is real life and we take it [personally] every day.”
Walkes was still preparing to make a playoff run a week before his death. “There’s no excuses this year … we had a good first year and we need to build on it,” Walkes said in a January 10 video. “We need to push on and try and win something.”
By all accounts, Walkes was looking forward to a bright future on and off the pitch.
In the press room and the locker room, Anton Walkes was kind, professional, and passionate. Though he wouldn’t claim the mantle of being a team leader in his final post-match interview of 2022, the tributes from his teammates and Charlotte FC staff say otherwise.
In a social media post, fellow Charlotte FC player Andre Shinyashiki wrote of Walkes, “To me this isn’t a charlotte fc player, this was one of my best friends, i already miss your laugh, your jokes, sitting next to you in the meal room, enjoying our time together …
“God’s plan isn’t always what we think, life won’t be the same without you here, just know that you were a special person and that I would do anything to have you back here with us.”
Walkes was also a leader off the field, as shown in his statement on Pride night, below:
Caught off Guard
While visiting Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, I spoke with Jason, a Charlotte FC season ticket holder, who came to pay his respects.
“Somebody passing like this … seeing him grow, especially towards the end of season, being an amazing player and then having something happen very suddenly so close to the season … I mean, it was really unexpected.”
“It caught me off guard, I’m really not an emotional person,” he continued as he described his shock when he heard the news.
Many of the reactions to Anton’s death reflect Jason’s shock. Professional soccer players are endowed with seemingly superhuman powers - skill, speed, and endurance that most of us couldn’t match in a hundred lifetimes. Anton was one of perhaps a thousand people worldwide with the talent to play as a defender in MLS.
Conservatively, he was one in a million, and that makes it even more shocking that he could go in his prime.
As Shinyashiki wrote, “God’s plan isn’t always what we think,” and the same is true of the soccer gods. Our clubs lose matches we think we should win, they miss playoffs they deserve to be in, and every once in a while a team like Leicester City overcomes 5000:1 odds to win the championship.
However, we don’t expect soccer to be a life and death affair. We look forward to long careers, happy retirements, and a youth that will always be eternal in books and on highlight reels. What football supporters feel after a bad season or a relegation pales in comparison to a loss of this magnitude.
Charlotte - and fans across the world - made it clear this week how much Anton Walkes will be missed.
A public celebration of life for Anton Walkes will take place Tuesday, January 24 at 3:00 PM at Bank of America Stadium.
Doors open at 2:00 PM at the East Gate, where the memorial to Walkes is located.