Jimmy Atkinson started out in Manchester League football with Newton Heath Athletic at the age of fifteen, and was playing for Sale Holmefield when he enjoyed a fruitless trial with Manchester United. In March 1905 the young inside forward was offered terms by Bolton Wanderers, and went on to score on his First Division debut twelve months later, in an excellent 5-2 win at Birmingham. Later transformed into a half-back, he stayed at Burden Park for more than three years, but appeared in just two more League games before being released to join the Albion during the summer of 1908.
First choice at left-half throughout 1908-09, Jimmy turned in some sterling performances but was released at the end of the season. Subsequently engaged by Exeter City, he appeared in 44 League and Cup matches during 1909-10, but when the ‘Grecians’ found themselves unable to pay summer wages to retained players he was released to join Barrow-in-Furness in the Lancashire Combination. Gentlemanly in demeanour, Jimmy was said to have been on the big side for a wing-half, weighing in at nearly 12 stone, but he appeared to be much lighter.
Jimmy played 46 matches for the Seagulls in 1908-09 scoring 1 goal.