A HOLBURY man who stole funds from the youth football team he founded to feed a gambling addiction has been blasted by the club for his actions.
Christopher Thomas (31), of The Mill Pond, left youngsters at Redbridge Wanderers Football Club devastated and nearly tore it apart, officials said.
They hit out after Thomas appeared before Southampton Magistrates’ Court and admitted stealing between £3,000 and £4,000 from the club between May 2018 and February this year.
Thomas raised the money by charging a £90 joining fee and securing sponsorship on the promise it would go towards new kits and equipment. But in reality he was hiding a secret gambling addiction, and he used the funds to splurge the cash in casinos in Southampton.
The Bench, however, took pity on Christopher Thomas, noting he was very apologetic and remorseful for his actions despite it being a “serious breach of trust”.
It gave him a four-month jail term, but opted to suspend that for a year, and ordered he do 80 hours of unpaid work in the community.
Thomas, who had also run the club as its chairman, must pay £3,000 compensation to the club and £200 court costs.
Speaking to the A&T, officials from the club were not so forgiving.
In a statement they said: “Although Chris has been ordered to pay the club back the funds, which will go towards ensuring the kids have the best we can offer, the club wishes to no longer be associated with Chris in any way.
“His actions nearly tore apart the safe, happy environment that Redbridge had become – where the children could play and enjoy the sport they love. Despite his apology he still has a long way to go in proving, with his actions here on out, he has the remorse he can so easily put into words.
“Although Chris has done what he has to the club, we wish the best to Chris’s family who continue to be innocent in these horrific circumstances we found ourselves in.”
Because of what happened, the club has made changes to its governance: now it is headed by a committee that gives members, parents and children all a say in how it is run.
“We have also liaised with the FA over the situation so they can ensure this does not happen to another youth football club in the future,” the club statement added.
Explaining the background of the offence, the officials became concerned in February when no kits arrived despite Thomas giving them “multiple promises”. They pushed Thomas over what was happening and were met with “silence”, they said.
“The next day we received a confession email from Chris confirming our worst fears, that he had taken the club’s money and spent it,” it continued.
“An hour later all club representatives called an emergency meeting and put together a plan with the sole priority of ensuring all the children could finish their season and the club would survive.”
To secure the club’s survival the parents organised a successful charity 10-pin bowling day, while it was hugely assisted by donations from members of the local community and other clubs.
“Without everyone involved, the club could not have survived and a massive thank-you to all who supported the club and contributed to our survival,” the statement added.
The club also got a lucky break: Southampton Football Club’s The Saints Foundation had heard about its plight and partnered with sponsor Virgin Media to invite it to the training ground where the youngsters were given kits, equipment, met the players and played matches.