Published: 7 February, 2013
by WILLIAM McLENNAN
A FAILED professional footballer lied about his “dramatic fall from grace” and spent almost £25,000 on champagne that he could not pay in an attempt to live up to his friends’ expectations, a court heard this week.
Medi Abalimba, a former Derby County and Oldham Athletic player who was once tipped for Premier League stardom after winning trials with Liverpool, was handed a six-month suspended sentence, an order for 150 hours unpaid work and banned from entering West End night clubs for a year at Southwark Crown Court on Monday after pleading guilty to fraud.
The 23-year-old, who lives in Burton Street, Bloomsbury, persuaded staff that he had already put his credit card behind the bar at the Cirque du Soir burlesque club in Soho last June. When a waiter could not find the card, Abalimba convinced him he was a Premiership footballer and was “good for the money” by showing photos of himself posing in football shirts with Premier League stars.
He then racked up the five-figure bar tab entertaining a table of 10 guests.
Daniel Robinson, prosecuting, told the court: “A gentleman of some standing at a table next to Abalimba ordered a bottle of Cristal that cost £5,000 a bottle. Abalimba then took to overspend the gentlemen at the next table.”
Abalimba ordered two jeroboams of Cristal, each equivalent to four regular bottles, and used a microphone to invite the entire club back to his house for an after party.
At the end of the night, it was discovered he could not pay the astronomical bar tab and police arrived and arrested him. Mr Robinson told the court that the night had left a lasting impression on the waiter and said: “Everybody in the industry knows about this and it looks as if he became a bit of a laughing stock.”
Abalimba was arrested again on September 11, while on police bail, when he attempted to pay a £5,000 bar bill with a fake American Express card.
Barrister Sean Caulfield, representing Abalimba, told the court that his client had gone out that evening with childhood friends from Camden who did not know about the “quite dramatic fall in his professional life” and he attempted to maintain the illusion.
He told the court that Abalimba’s career as a professional football player had left him with a “wholly unrealistic” understanding of money.
Mr Caulfield said Abalimba had begun his career in the youth teams of Crystal Palace and Fulham, before moving to Southend United where he was paid £1,000 a week at 16 years old and “lived within that culture that for most people would be completely alien”.
He spent time on trial at Liverpool and Manchester United and eventually signed for Derby County in 2009 for £1.2million.
The court heard that Abalimba was paid £4,000 a week and received an appearance fee of £1,000 as a substitute and £2,000 for starting a match, which was an “amount of money that most young men in his position would have no concept of”.
Mr Caulfield added: “It would appear that perhaps his understanding of adult life and finance was wholly unrealistic”
When Abalimba suffered an injury at Derby County his form dipped and he became disconnected from the other players. He went to Oldham Athletic on a free transfer in January 2011.
Last August, he was signed by Farnborough Town with a wage of just £300 a week and was forced to supplement his income with part-time work.
Mr Caulfield said: “I think that gives a window on his fall from grace, that he had to work as a taxi controller.”