Ashleigh King (Naomi Ryan) 2005-2006

First Regular Appearance: 9.1 (#357) Phoenix From The Flames  Sunday 16th October 2005

Last Regular Appearance: 10.1 (#388) Dragon Til I Die  Sunday 29th October 2006

Duration: EP: 357 - 388 ½ SE: 9.1 – 10.1

Position: Fitness Coach (2005-2006) / First Team Coach (2006)

Last Seen: Being visited in Harchester Women’s Prison by Lynda, released and quietly goes back to Holland to recover.

Within the coaching world of football, Ashleigh King knew she could do a job as well as any man, if not better. An Olympic hopeful in her late teens, her swimming career floundered and Ashleigh moved on to study sports science. Although this began to be blighted by a weakness that weaved in and out of Ash’s professional career – drinking. By the age of 26 in 2003, her ambitions had led her to a work placement with Ajax, as part of her third year education at Warrick University. It was here she was introduced to Felix Hahn, then Bayern Leverkusen manager, who quickly became her mentor and gave her that final push to graduate the following year. Felix liked Ashleigh so much it was his influence which gave her a permanent job on the Ajax coaching team, and it wasn’t long before they were lovers, as Felix continued to insist his marriage to wife Katrin was over.

During her time in Holland, Ashleigh made regular trips home and was in London after the 2004-05 season had finished. Gate-crashing a party held at the home of businessman Paul Davis, Ashleigh proceeded to once again drink too much and sleep with Roma striker Casper Rose, whose own lover was Paul's wife Annabelle. Before they could take things further, Ashleigh came out of her blur and disappeared from the house before returning to Holland, but Cass wanted more, and was soon finding a way of reuniting them both. Following Harchester United losing all but three players in a coach explosion, Felix is offered the position of managing the Dragons for the new season. He brings Ashleigh to the club with him, working together professionally for the first time, and none was more surprised when Casper himself turns up as a new signing!

Cass continued to pursue Ashleigh, who couldn’t remember them ever meeting let alone sleeping together. Alongside Casper’s persistence, Ashleigh had to endure a team who didn’t take her seriously as a female fitness coach, plus Felix doing little to demand his players respect her, choosing to support her rival Alex Dempsey more. Not to mention moving his supposedly-estranged wife with their children into the Barrons! At Christmas, Ashleigh’s relationship with Felix was revealed, during the same siege in which Casper is shot. As she helps him recover, Ashleigh realises she is falling for Cass, and his chances are improved when Felix is forced out of the club at the owner's insistence, in order for Alex to become Harchester’s manager and Ashleigh is promoted to first team coach.

Ashleigh develops a bond with Ryan Naysmith who has struggled the most with the deaths of his team mates, and one night the two drink too much while Ashleigh innocently stays the night in his hotel room. Casper believes she has cheated on him and is intent on revenge. He sets Ryan up for match fixing, but the incriminating photographs get back to Alex just as Casper is proposing to Ashleigh. He tells her to wait before answering, before being confronted by Alex in his room over the photos. When Casper reveals he is the mystery owner who has been controlling Alex’s life, Alex hits him with an ink bottle and causes his death. Ashleigh was getting drunk while this was happening, and again has no memory of what she was doing, this time while her boyfriend was being killed!

When Lynda becomes the prime suspect, Alex goes to protect the woman he loves and plants an ink-stained towel in Ashleigh’s kit bag, believing she will receive a lesser punishment. A devastated Ash now believes she killed Cass, and confesses to the police who hold her in custody. The police investigation is not closed, as Lynda’s worst (male) enemy Detective Inspector Burrows still believes she is responsible. After three months, Ashleigh is freed due to a lack of sustainable evidence, which gives Burrows his chance to pursue Lynda again. With her life in ruins, Casper dead and her job at Harchester gone, Ashleigh returns to Holland to recuperate and isn’t heard from again.

Ashleigh was quite a remarkable character in terms of professional status; she goes further than any other woman in that she is the closest the club (and the show) comes to having a female manager.

Naomi Ryan's interview with Dream Team Diehard (July 2014)