Published: 00:01, 21 September 2018
| Updated: 12:36, 21 September 2018
Young footballers who had their dreams of watching Tottenham dashed by a thieving coach will still enjoy a trip to Wembley after the Premier League club stepped in to help.
Players at Chartham Sports under-9s were left devastated after trusted club stalwart Clinton Hunter swiped thousands of pounds forked out by parents to pay for the trip in May.
But their smiles returned this week when Spurs offered to put Hunter’s wrongs right, at the same time as the 34-year-old begged magistrates not to send him to jail.
KentOnline sister paper the Kentish Gazette contacted the London club and told them of the plight of the youngsters, and they were more than happy to help.
They have provided Chartham with 50 free tickets for their home clash with Cardiff on October 6, with the young players even invited to go pitchside.
Rail firm Southeastern has also offered to provide free train travel for the club after being alerted to the story by the Gazette.
A Tottenham Hotspur spokesman said: “When we heard of the unfortunate circumstances that occurred last season we were keen to ensure that the young players from Chartham FC didn’t miss out on the opportunity of attending a live Premier League football match as they were promised. “We hope they enjoy what should be a fantastic experience when Tottenham Hotspur face Cardiff City at Wembley October 6.”
Diane Burke, commercial director for Southeastern, added: "When we read in the Kentish Gazette how disappointed the parents were at what happened, we were determined to step in and do something to make sure that the children were still able to go to the match regardless.
“Supporting our community, including through sport, is very important to Southeastern and I’m delighted we’re able to supply complimentary travel for the children and their parents so that they can still enjoy their day trip to London as planned.”
Twenty parents had stumped up a total of £2,520 for the original trip in May, but on the day before the match Hunter cancelled the outing, blaming a tour company.
Parents grew suspicious after they failed to receive their money back and Hunter then spun a web of lies to cover the theft, saying he had contacted the bank, believing himself to be a victim of fraud.
He later admitted he had stolen the money to pay off debts, and this week narrowly avoided a prison sentence.
Margate magistrates were told many parents had considered Hunter to be a family friend and felt bitterly betrayed by his actions.
Speaking after Hunter was sentenced on Tuesday, Chartham Sports chairman Mark Mowbray was keen to draw a line under the whole affair and look forward to next month’s trip. “I don’t really want to comment on the sentence because people can make their own judgement on that,” he said.
“I’d rather praise the people who have gone out of their way to help the club, like the Gazette, Tottenham and Southeastern, for doing what they have done to ensure the kids can have a trip still. “All the parents are really pleased and the kids can’t wait.
“People have a different mindset when it comes to children. If it’s 50 blokes getting mugged off, you take it on the chin, but the kids are innocent in this and thankfully they’re getting a day out they really deserve, given what has gone on.
“All we want to do is give memories to the kids and we’re grateful that out of all this drama they’re going to get a happy ending.”
Hunter begged not to be sent to prison when he appeared before magistrates on Tuesday.
The father-of-four, of The Hyde, Chartham, pleaded with the bench to spare him jail time, saying: “I will get on my hands and knees.”
He squirmed in the dock as magistrates carefully considered the mitigation offered on Hunter’s behalf by probation officer Mike Hamlyn.
Mr Hamlyn said Hunter had alcohol issues, often downing 10 cans of beer a night, five times a week, and also took cocaine.
The landscape gardener was said to be suffering emotionally after losing a child at birth in 2006 and was on medication for depression.
He failed to attend work due to being incapacitated through depression and as debts began to spiral he “dipped into” the football money.
Mr Hamlyn said: “He tried to find a solution and wanted to get a loan to pay the money back. He is very remorseful and was during his interview with police.”
"I would do anything if I could just get back to my partner and children tonight - I will get on my hands and knees and beg you..." - Clinton Hunter
Hunter had earlier declined a solicitor; but when informed by the court clerk he faced a custodial sentence and prison officers arrived to take him to cells he begged to be heard.
He told the court: “I have three young children and the middle one suffers with anxiety. My partner uses crutches and has crumbling vertebrae in her back, sometimes she cannot walk - this will destroy our family. I would do a million hours [unpaid work]. I would do anything if I could just get back to my partner and children tonight - I will get on my hands and knees and beg you.”
Chairman of the bench Chris Mackenny said Hunter escaped jail by the skin of his teeth. “We have had to consider a whole range of issues,” he said.
“This offence warrants a custodial sentence and is 240 days’ imprisonment, but after hearing all the submissions the bench has decided to suspend the sentence for two years.”
He added: “You must do exactly what you are told - you have come as close to anyone I have seen in 23 years on the bench of not going to prison.”
Hunter was also ordered to pay £2,520 compensation to the parents, attend 25 rehabilitation treatment days and undertake 300 hours of unpaid work.