Another missed chance

Ashley Timms found himself jailed for attempting to blackmail a Premier League footballer. But as Mike Whalley reports, his attempts to rebuild his career are not running smoothly

When you’re trying to rebuild your career after a spell in prison, the last thing you need is to fall out with your boss after barely a month. But Ashley Timms isn’t very good at steering clear of trouble. In September last year, the former Man City youth-team keeper was jailed after admitting that he tried to blackmail an unnamed Premier League footballer over a mobile phone sex video.

Following his release, he pitched up at non-League Bacup Borough in July. A stint in the North West Counties League might have seemed a big drop for someone who was considered worthy of a trial at Fulham two years ago but Timms made optimistic noises following his arrival. Having signed on a non-contract basis, Timms spoke of using the move as a stepping stone back into the professional game, an ambition fully supported by Brent Peters, the club’s manager. “What has happened has happened and I want to draw a line under it and take the chance that I have,” Timms said at the time. At 23, he was still young enough to resurrect his career.

The keeper had ended up at Bacup thanks to Pro-Vision North West, a “second chance” academy run by former Man City defender Andy Hill for young players looking to stay in the game after being released by professional clubs. While Hill’s academy was only for under-18s, his partnership with Peters allowed it to be extended up to the age of 24, with older players such as Timms given a chance to impress in Bacup’s first team.

Peters, a former Bury youth-team coach with a wealth of contacts, already had a history of high-profile transfer manoeuvres. He persuaded David May to join Bacup in 2004, made an unsuccessful bid to tempt Andy Cole out of retirement last December and then almost signed former Oldham and Everton keeper Paul Gerrard, who instead went to Stockport County as a player-coach in the summer. Ryan Giggs’s brother Rhodri and former Man Utd youngster Ben Thornley have also had spells at the club.

Given his recent past, Timms’s arrival was arguably the biggest story of the lot and he knew that he needed to make a good impression. Yet his relationship with Bacup quickly disintegrated. Having made a less than convincing start, conceding ten goals in his first six games, Timms lost his place in the team following a spectacular fall-out with Peters.

According to the Bacup manager, the pair had a disagreement over a non-football issue, thought to be the player’s expenses. Timms has not spoken publicly about the dispute, but is understood to be looking for another club. In the meantime, Peters has signed another two goalkeepers.

Even before the blackmail scandal, Timms was hardly on an upward curve, having flitted between 17 clubs in five years, leaving a trail of short-term deals and unsuccessful trials behind him. At the time of his arrest in April 2008, he didn’t have a club at all, having just left Cambridge City, then in the Blue Square South, after several poor performances.

That lack of career success appears to have been a significant factor in his downfall. During his blackmail court case in Manchester, Timms’s legal team painted him as a tragic figure who had got used to living a Premier League lifestyle, even though his chances of earning top-flight wages had faded away. The court heard how Timms had been given a taste of the world of fast cars and expensive clothes, and was unable to leave it behind when his playing ability failed to match up. That world was depicted as a depressingly misogynistic place; one in which footballers videoing each other having sex with young women was “commonplace”. When Timms needed some cash, he turned to the video he had made of his friend several months earlier.

Timms demanded £15,000 for the footage, threatened to make it public and did Google searches to look for ways of selling it. Had his victim’s club not called in the police, Timms would not have been short of offers from the Sunday tabloids. After his Bacup setback, though, he must wonder how many more playing offers he is likely to get.

From WSC 273 November 2009