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 admitting trying to steal from 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".
Having heard how Davidson committed the offences 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".
"While life won't lead to the glittering prizes on the soccer field, keep away from the villains and rogues who lent you this money," urged Judge Marrinan.
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 Curry's, 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 for Ballymena United.
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.
In court yesterday, defence barrister Michael Smith revealed that Davidson had been in the magistrates courts repeatedly after his career had come to a halt.
He described his appearance in the Crown Court as a "massive fall from grace".
Prosecuting lawyer Tessa Kitson told the court the incidents all happened within the space of 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.
In his plea in mitigation, Mr 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.
Mr Smith revealed that Davidson's family had paid the debt "for the defendant's own safety" and since then, he had been "trying to reconstruct his life" and find a different career, possibly as a barber.
Sentencing Davidson, Judge Marrinan said his life "seems to have gone astray dramatically over a short period of time" following his football injury, something which was "out of your control".