A DISGRACED youth football club chairman stole thousands of pounds of team funds, depriving youngsters of new kits and training equipment.

Chris Thomas raised more than £3,500 through membership fees and sponsorships in order to pay for new kits for his club of young budding football stars.

But instead, Thomas, who originally founded club and has its name tattooed on his back, gambled away the cash in casinos in a bid to feed his gambling addiction.

However, the 31-year-old narrowly avoided an immediate custodial sentence.

Appearing at Southampton Magistrates’ Court, the hearing was told how Thomas set up youth football side Redbridge Wanderers FC in June 2018, charging parents of young players a £90 membership fee to join and secured £900 sponsorship deals with two local firms.

Prosecutor Ryan Seneviratne said Thomas did not set up a bank account for the club and was solely responsible for the money, which he kept in a black lock-box.

Mr Seneviratne said Thomas promised to spend the money on official kits for the club, as well as pay for training equipment and training ground rental fees.

The court heard that in February this year concern began to grow among other club officials who began to “pester” Thomas about the arrival of the kits.

Mr Seneviratne said the defendant promised the kits would arrive soon in an email exchange.

When the kits didn’t arrive, parents continues to question Thomas, who later confessed to stealing the money.

Mr Senerivatne said: “Thomas was in sole change of the money which meant he was in a position of trust, which he abused.

“A lot of people put money in in good faith and for their children to team up and be active.” He said the Crown Prosecution Service viewed the offence as a “gross breach of trust”.

The court heard from a probation employee, who, in a report, said the father-of-three was a recovered gambling addict who relapsed at the time of the incident.

She said this was due to the breakdown of his previous relationship and that Thomas had also been prevented from seeing one of his children from another relationship.

Mitigating for Thomas, Gaylene Coles Thomas had resigned from his job as a retail manager, after an anonymous tip off to his employer about the court proceedings.

She added that her client was “deeply regretful” of his actions.

Thomas, who pleaded guilty to one count of theft, was given a four month prison sentence, which was suspended for 12 months, due to his early guilty plea and previous good character.

He was also ordered to complete 80 hours of unpaid work and pay £3,000 in compensation. Thomas, of Mill Pond, Holbury, was also ordered to pay court costs of £115, an £85 victim surcharge and complete 10 rehabilitation activity requirement days.