By MITCHELL DALE
INNOCENT young Coffs Coast soccer players have been kicked in the hip pocket after allegedly being swindled out of $125 by an organisation preying on their dreams of stardom.
Elite Sports Program (ESP) advertised a soccer clinic promising players an opportunity for national recruitment for the weekend of December 4 and 5 at Coffs Harbour International Stadium.
The clinic cost $125, which had to be paid in advance, and included a shirt, ball, drink bottle and training by qualified staff.
But on December 3 ESP informed parents the clinic was cancelled, falsely citing wet weather as the reason, and promised another clinic would be held in its place at a later date.
That was the last time people have heard from the organisation and all attempts by angry parents and the Coffs Coast Advocate to contact ESP have proved fruitless.
Council Sports Unit manager Ben Payne said the council was forced to effectively cancel the clinic by keeping International Stadium closed when ESP failed to provide liability insurance or a deposit.
He said wet weather had nothing to do with the council's decision.
"We knew they had a background for not being above board," Payne said. "We chased them constantly but they were impossible to contact, it was just a nightmare.
"The day before the clinic, when they still had not provided liability insurance ? this is after about four months ? we couldn't allow them to use the ground.
"It just happened to be that the next day the rain dumped down, but that had nothing to do with the grounds being closed.
"It sounds like they are trying to cover themselves (with the wet weather excuse)."
So where does this leave the parents and kids who forked out $125 of their hard-earned?
Probably out of pocket. It seems the organisers have disappeared quicker than a David Beckham shot on goal.
Of the three numbers for ESP director Michael O'Neill, which appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate late last year, two land-line numbers have been disconnected and a mobile phone number belongs to a 17-year-old who claims to have never heard of ESP's soccer clinic.
The Holiday Coast Soccer Association (HCSA) also moved to distance themselves from ESP.
"They were not officially sanctioned by any soccer network," HCSA President Jim Graham said.
"It is a private enterprise company wanting to make money out of coaching kids."
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