‘Course was the easiest three years of our lives in school’
A STUDENT who attended a bogus sports leadership scheme run by an exWales international footballer and former Cardiff City player has described the experience as the “easiest three years of his life”.
A Pontypridd student has told of attending classes one day a week and being told answers to work by former professional footballers Mark Aizlewood and Paul Sugrue.
Former Cardiff City defender Mark Aizlewood, 57, who also played for clubs including Leeds United and Charlton Athletic, and Paul Sugrue, 56 – whose clubs included Manchester City, Middlesbrough and Cardiff City – promised to help struggling youngsters gain an NVQ in activity leadership.
They told colleges across the country they would provide full-time training in football coaching as well as work experience and a £95 weekly stipend to 3,800 students.
But in reality hundreds of the students on their books didn’t even exist, many lived at the opposite end of the country from the training scheme, while others were doing just two to three hours of study a week.
On Monday, Aizlewood was convicted of one count and Sugrue of two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation by offering the nonexistent apprenticeships through their firm Luis Michael Training Ltd, at Southwark Crown Court in London.
Aizlewood was also acquitted of a second count of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
Following their convictions a former sixthform pupil at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen in Pontypridd said he was recruited on the leadership course by the two men nine years ago, after attending a school meeting held by Careers Wales.
The sports student, who did not want to be named, said: “I remember speaking to Careers Wales and one of the men walked into the office and had a chat and asked if I wanted to come on the course.
“I had no idea what it was but I joined and they said it would be a laugh.”
After joining the fulltime course the former student said students soon became wary after being told it would be held every Friday with no further lessons.
He said: “From the start it seemed a bit strange as it was one day a week on a Friday.
“As soon as we began we were given these folders and they said we would be working through it and by the end we would have our NVQs.
“I just remember going in on a Friday and barely do anything. We would go down to the sports hall and play sports for a bit.
“One week it would be football, another week it would be cricket, another basketball.
“Thinking about it, it was absolutely terrible but it all makes sense now.”
As the course progressed students in the Rhondda school were also allegedly “told what to write” in their coursework folders.
The 26-year-old said: “The concerning thing was that they were telling us what to write in our files.
“There was no homework and we never had any tasks. It was the easiest three years of our lives in school – I barely turned up.”
On Monday the court heard that the footballers gave students work experience in their office to complete tests, to make it seem like they had the minimum level of maths and English competency.
The Pontypridd student said that while he can remember filling in the tests, the majority of time in the Newport office was spent doing nothing.
He said: “They would say we’re all going to the office and we would do barely anything, we would just sit around all day.
“Once or twice they would make us do these tests, I remember doing them. Within the whole company I met about four people.”
After two years on the course the Pontypridd group were also offered the chance to stay for an additional year in sixth form to complete a sports assessor’s qualification.
Despite the extra time, however, the Rhondda student has claimed he never received the certificate.
The Rhondda student said: “In our third year we were teaching the other years. At the time I had no idea what I was doing. I never got the certificate.
“We definitely didn’t learn anything, they were just making it easy for themselves.”
During the trial the pair – along with fellow directors Keith Williams, 45, and Christopher Martin, 53 – were found guilty of submitting false accounts to colleges to persuade them to do business with the firm.
Williams was also convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
Football coach Jack Harper, 30, was convicted of fraud and using a false instrument. He was acquitted of another count of conspiracy to commit false representation.
Martin admitted two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation ahead of trial, along with Stephen Gooding, 53, who admitted one charge.
Judge Michael Tomlinson described the case as “very serious” and adjourned sentencing until February 26.
Rhondda Cynon Taf council was contacted for comment.
Former Cardiff City player Paul Sugrue and former Wales international Mark Aizlewood