My coach wrecked my trust

A PROMISING footballer has told how one of his ex-Ipswich Town coaches destroyed his trust in people after cheating him out of thousands of pounds.

A PROMISING footballer has told how one of his ex-Ipswich Town coaches destroyed his trust in people after cheating him out of thousands of pounds.

Adem Atay said Ian Smith lured a string of young players into handing over cash after claiming he was experiencing financial problems.

The 20-year-old, who was released by the club last year, claimed as many as 20 people connected with the football club had lent Smith money, including senior first team players.

Smith, 48, of Great Yeldham, is currently awaiting sentence after admitting stealing nearly £7,000 from Mr Atay and fellow former Blue Matt Bloomfield.

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Last night Mr Atay, who spent two years at the club as a professional, spoke of his shock at being conned by someone he trusted.

He said: “I was devastated because part of the reason why I managed to get a professional contract was because of his coaching. I'm not going to praise him because he's a liar and he conned people. There's a whole host of people he borrowed money off.

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“Because of this I find it hard to trust people. There are people inside and outside the club who lent him money.

“It's not just the money he was messing about with - it was my career. That did affect my last year at Ipswich.”

Although a number of people are thought to be owed money by Smith, only Mr Atay and Mr Bloomfield, 22, currently with League Two side Wycombe Wanderers, were prepared to speak to police.

He said: “I spoke to Bloomers to tell him I was going to the police and he came forward too. The main reason we did was to stop this happening. If it was down to me and Bloomers to put a stop to it we were prepared to do it.

“We thought we would get our money back until we found out he had nothing. Some of the other people didn't want to come forward because they thought they would lose their money. I think some wish they had now.”

Smith left the club in April 2004 by mutual consent but he kept in contact with a number of players after his departure.

Mr Atay said the club were unaware of Smith's dealings until he approached chairman David Sheepshanks.

He said: “I spoke to the chairman but there was nothing he could do. The club were devastated and disappointed, especially when I told them who had lent money.

“He was liked at the club - you can speak to the senior players about that, they did like him. He brought through the likes of Darren Bent and Darren Ambrose and look where they are now. But no one knew about his personal life. I was phoning people to warn them. Some people had lent him small amounts. No one could believe it. He had asked nearly every youth player who had money. He phoned them and asked to borrow from them. A lot of them said 'no'. Some had heard what was going on.”

It is believed Smith, a former Tottenham Hotspur trainee whose career was cut short by injury, is now working as a taxi driver in the Essex area.

It is thought he kept his financial dealings a secret from his family. Following his departure from Town, Mr Atay said his former coach had told him he was struggling to get by because he had yet to receive a pay-off from the club.

The first time he asked for money Mr Atay gave him £500, but Smith was soon back for more. As Smith's debt to Mr Atay gradually spiralled past £3,000, he slowly became more evasive.

Mr Atay claimed on one occasion he arranged to meet up with Smith in Ipswich on the proviso that Smith would pay back some of the money, only for him to ask for some more. He also changed his mobile phone number without telling him and cancelled meetings.Mr Atay said: “At first it wasn't a problem for me because I had a decent income so I thought I would give him some time to pay it back.

“Then a month or so passed and I was not hearing anything from him. He was saying things like 'his pay-off was being dealt with by his solicitor' and that he was 'struggling to support his family'.

“Excuses were coming out but because I was getting an income it wasn't a big deal. He told me I was the only one he could come to and the only person he could trust. Later on, I found he had said that to everyone.” It was only after discovering Smith had borrowed from at least one other person that Mr Atay began to doubt him. He made the decision to tell his family, who live in Cambridge, and his father contacted Smith.

For a while, Smith began giving back some of the money, with about £800 returned. But payments were intermittent and some cheques even bounced so Mr Atay decided to go to the police. On hearing this, Smith stopped paying money back to him.

He said: “I realised I wasn't going to be kept on by Ipswich. I was saving my wages but I needed my money back. Then the summer came, I had injured my knee and my wages had stopped. It was money I had earned myself and I needed it.

“The last day I saw him he offered me a business opportunity. He was going into a sports business. It was a fitness centre and he was going to do football scheme. He wanted me to invest £5,000.

“The fact he came to me with no papers on a Tuesday and wanted £5,000 by the Friday said everything. If I'd have given him that £5,000 I'd have been in an even worse situation.”

At Ipswich Crown Court last month, Smith admitted 14 counts of theft and is due to be sentenced shortly. The offences were committed between May and July 2005.

Mr Atay said: “As far as I know this was going on before he came to the club. It's only now that it has come out into the open. As each day passed we heard of another person who had lent him money. I think it's over 20 people.

“I've got no regrets about coming forward. If it means him going down, he goes down. I won't be sorry if he does. Community service may be a lesson to him but I don't think it would stop him.” Mr Atay said he is considering launching separate civil proceedings but is wary of losing any more money.

Smith last night declined to comment.

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