BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Michael Timlin never reached his full potential as a player – but he’s determined that isn’t the case when it comes to his coaching career.
The 35-year-old midfielder will combine both duties after becoming one of Dulwich Hamlet’s new additions as they gear up for the 2020-21 National League South campaign.
It is a return to Timlin’s South London roots. He was born in King’s College Hospital and grew up in Peckham.
He was touted as a big prospect at Fulham but ended up dropping down the leagues to enjoy success with Southend United and Swindon Town.
Timlin, recently announced as player-coach at Dulwich, amassed more than 450 matches as a professional. But he knows his story could have been so different.
He had been released by Wimbledon – who deemed him to be too small to have a future at senior level – but Fulham scout Barry Dunn took him to Fulham at the age of 16.
Kevin Keegan had just left the Division One side. Jean Tigana would go on to take the rampaging Whites up as champions with a superb brand of flowing football in the 2000-01 season.
Timlin was suited to Tigana’s footballing philosophies.
“He was predominantly based on technique,” he said. “When I was young I was known as a skilful player and it just clicked for me.
“I was earmarked very early to be training with the first team – I was doing that at 16. But I broke two bones in my vertebrae when I was 18 in a reserve game. It was quite a rare injury. I went to see a back specialist and they said I had to rest for six months to let the bone heal – because if it didn’t or something got dislodged then it could impinge on my spine, which could cause a lot of problems.
“I went to see another specialist who said it hadn’t changed and I’d need to rest for another six months.
“It was a tough period. I struggled with it. Physically I looked fine – and that was a problem. People wondered why I didn’t just get on with it – but I wasn’t allowed to.
“It was midway through the next six months that Fulham sent me to another specialist to get his opinion – he said he didn’t think it would change or hurt me going back into training.
“Two weeks after being back I broke my metatarsal. That was another four months out.
“My fitness was completely gone. It took me a whole season to actually get a normal fitness level again – that’s not even playing fitness. The only thing I had been allowed to do before that was the exercise bike. I hadn’t been allowed to put my body under any kind of distress.”
But Timlin doesn’t just blame injuries on him not managing to play higher than League One.
“What I learned is that I wasn’t probably fit enough as a player,” he said. “I had all the ability but I wasn’t in shape enough for the demands of playing at a high level.
“There’s no excuses for players nowadays not to be fit. Especially the modern era – your lifestyle has to revolve around the fact you’re doing everything right to be fit. Whereas the generation I was learning from was probably a heavy drinking culture. Not that it was hard to get out of that scenario, but you felt you had to get involved in it.
“It’s good the younger generation coming through now are probably not going to be part of it, because it is something younger players need to be mindful of. They can’t allow their bodies to be abused as much as the older generations did.”
Timlin won promotion from League Two while on loan at Swindon in 2007. He went on to join them permanently in 2008.
“I had a great four or five years there under Paul Sturrock,” he said. “When he went to Southend I went on loan there and the rest is history. I spent eight years with them and we won promotion from League Two to League One.
“Even in my mid-20s managers thought I was quite wise and acted older that I was. I didn’t achieve as much as I should have done as a player – and that was my own circumstances, not anyone else’s.
“My mindset is that I definitely want to be the best coach I can be.”
There have been suggestions before that Timlin is a Millwall supporter. It’s not quite correct. He did go to matches with his older brother Kevin, whose friend Lewis Nightingale was on their books.
Timlin said: “Millwall are close to my heart – because of where I grew up. I like to see them do well. But I wouldn’t say I’m an avid fan who went to all the games.
“I did go to some though. When I was a youth team player at Fulham I felt it was beneficial for me to go and watch their games when they were in League One and the Championship, rather than Premier League ones – because I probably wasn’t going to get my opportunity at that level that quickly.
“I used to go and watch Charlton, Millwall or even Crystal Palace at that time.”
Timlin recalls agreeing to sign for the Lions in 2007 when Richard Shaw and Colin West were in caretaker charge.
“They had enquired about me,” he said. “Fulham knew my background – Ray Lewington asked me the question and I said yes straight away.
“They said they would sort out doing the paperwork over the next few. But that was when Millwall decided to appoint Kenny Jackett. It got put on hold for a couple of days and then it never materialised. I was gutted, to be honest.
“When Neil Harris was at Southend I was one of his team-mates and we got on really well.
“I used to go and watch Millwall when he was a player there. When he joined Millwall [as manager] there was a possibility I’d be able to go there when we won promotion from League Two with Southend – they were in League One.
“He was interested but as a manager you can’t always bring people in you want to bring in. It has to work in terms of the squad – and I think he had one or two in my position that it might have made it awkward.
“It never happened and is just one of those things.
“It made me want to stay at Southend even longer because I probably only would have left for Millwall at that time.”
Timlin will learn from Dulwich manager Gavin Rose and his assistant Junior Kadi.
And the former Republic of Ireland U21 international reckons he will still be highly motivated when he gets on the pitch.
“People will see in my displays that I’ll be running around like the youngster in the team and fighting for every point possible,” said Timlin.
“I never thought I’d have the opportunity to join Dulwich. I thought I’d go down the route of being a player-coach at Southend. The chairman and old manager had that earmarked for me. But circumstances change and you go from club to club.
“I know I’m still good enough to play in the Football League. You get to a stage where you think ‘what are you doing an extra year in football – just predominantly football – when I want to go into coaching?’
“It will be an added pressure at Dulwich. Even though I’m coming to the end of my career I want to put on displays which my old friends and people I know say: ‘That’s the reason he’s had the career he’s had’.
“I said to the chairman at Dulwich that the big factor [in him coming] is that Gavin and Junior are still involved.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s probably going to challenge me more than going elsewhere for two aspects – I want to do well for myself but also there is going to be no let-off from Gavin. I need to make sure my standards are high, because Gavin is needing me to be an example to the younger players.”
Timlin wants Hamlet’s prospects to heed his advice.
“They have got to realise there are a lot of youngsters who could have had a great career but whether it is down to luck, timing or commitment don’t,” he said. “I know that because of how my career has panned out.
“People say: ‘This boy has got a lot of potential’ – but it’s just a word. I was earmarked to be in the first team at Fulham at a young age.
“I want to become the best coach possible and leave a legacy, because I didn’t as a player. I had a great career, I won a lot of games and had promotions. But I love the aspect of developing players.
“I’ve always wanted to go into coaching and become a manager at some point. The only thing I think about now – after a year of doing so much coaching – is that I have to be respectful of the situation of a coach and a manager. I need to have my schooling in coaching – to develop as much as I can – and see how I get on with that before managing.
“It might be the case that I love coaching so much I want to stay in that.
“The reason I think I might love to become a manager is that I’m quite headstrong. I like to make strong decisions. If I was going to work under a manager who wouldn’t let me be honest and give my opinions, that’s where I think I would struggle.
“So if I couldn’t do that then I’d have to go down the route of managing.
“I’ve seen so many people who have gone down the route of coaching and got their chance of managing so quickly that they haven’t developed as a coach yet. Taking that job so soon has affected them and not allowed them to go further in football – because they had that opportunity and then fell away.
“I definitely want to enjoy this opportunity and when I become full-time coach get better at that and see where avenues take me.
“I’m really happy with the situation I’ve got. I’ve always been told to play as long as you can – now I’m able to do two things in one.”
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