TWO ex-professional footballers are facing jail for scamming £5 million from schools and colleges, including Sparsholt, through a bogus sports leadership scheme.

Sparsholt was one of the victims of former Wales international Mark Aizlewood, 57, and Paul Sugrue, 56 – whose past clubs include Manchester City, Middlesbrough and Cardiff – 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.

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.

Aizlewood, from Aberdare, was convicted of one count and Sugrue, from Cardiff, of two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation by offering the non-existent apprenticeships through their firm Luis Michael Training Ltd at Southwark Crown Court in London.

Aizlewood was acquitted of a second count of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.

The pair – along with fellow directors Keith Williams, 45, and Christopher Martin, 53 – submitted false accounts to colleges to persuade them to do business.

They told colleges it was the perfect opportunity for “NEETs”, youngsters not in employment, education or training, to gain a qualification.

The court heard the “overwhelming majority” of LM Training’s business was with Sparsholt.

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 said the case was very serious and adjourned sentencing until February 26.

The company enrolled suitable apprentices to claim money from the colleges, which in turn received funding from the Government-run Learning and Skills Council (LSC), later renamed the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

Gooding and Harper, who were employed in the business, helped funnel new learners into the scheme.Some of the bogus students were sourced from a summer football camp run by Harper, who secretly enrolled students to apprenticeships without their knowledge or consent.

When the scam unravelled, the SFA demanded its money back, leaving large deficits in the budgets of many schools.

Aizlewood denied any wrongdoing, telling the jury he had been preoccupied by his late wife’s spiralling mental health problems before her suicide last June.

He told the court he had neither the “time or inclination” to carry out such a complex fraud during the period.