Ex-Irish League footballer jailed for attempted thefts to fund gambling addiction

Jamie Davidson was forced to retire from football because of injury in 2016
Jamie Davidson was forced to retire from football because of injury in 2016

A once-promising footballer who turned to crime to fund his gambling addiction when injury abruptly ended his career has been jailed for a year after he admitted trying to steal cash from three shops.

Ordering 24-year-old Jamie Davidson to spend a further year on licence after his release, Antrim Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan said it was “tragic to see a young man with your gifts as a footballer end up in this situation”.

Jamie Davidson's playing career was dealt a huge blow when  he suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury

Jamie Davidson's playing career was dealt a huge blow when he suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury

It is not the first time he has been in legal trouble. Last August at Ballymena Magistrates’ Court, he was given a two-month jail term – suspended for one year – for stealing clothes from New Look at Fairhill shopping centre, bottles of coke from Marks and Spencer, and other offences.

In his most recent case, having heard how Davidson committed the offences in order to repay a violent loan shark, the judge said given his young age he still had the chance to “get on with your life in a successful way”.

At an earlier hearing Davidson, from Carnduff Drive in Ballymena, pleaded guilty to the attempted robbery of the Polita shop on Lower Mill Street in the town, trying to steal a camera from Currys, damaging the camera’s security cable and the attempted theft of cash from a Save the Children charity shop and from Nik Naks.

Having progressed to the senior team after joining Ballymena United’s youth academy, Davidson was considered to be one of the most talented players in the Irish League and scored against Linfield on his debut.

Father-of-one Davidson, who was being scouted by the likes of Liverpool and Spurs, was playing for Scunthorpe United in the English lower leagues when injury brought his career to an abrupt end.

Prosecuting lawyer Tessa Kitson told the court the incidents all happened within a few hours on November 28 last year and followed roughly the same pattern of Davidson entering the various shops, asking for money but leaving empty-handed.

She said the only time Davidson produced the knife he had was at the Polita Polish food shop but that as he held it so low and far away, the lady behind the counter didn’t even realise it was a robbery until later that day.

The former footballer was arrested when one witness named him and told police he “was a good guy who used to play for Ballymena United but I never knew what became of him”.

In his plea in mitigation, defence solicitor Michael Smith outlined how Davidson’s life “began to spiral out of control” following the injury which ended his career in 2016, including a gambling addiction he could not afford and the break up of his relationship.

“He has fallen into debt to a particular individual in Ballymena who would be known to the police and is known to be violent,” revealed the lawyer, adding that it was in desperation with that debt doubled “for no apparent reason,” that Davidson tried to steal money.

Mr Smith further revealed that Davidson’s family had paid the debt off “for the defendant’s own safety” but that since then, he is “trying to reconstruct his life” and find a different career, possibly as a barber.