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Let's all help get poor ex Norwich City footballer Zak Whitbread out of extreme hardship

PUBLISHED: 18:03 19 June 2012 | UPDATED: 18:05 19 June 2012

Zak Whitbread.

Zak Whitbread.

Archant © 2011

Former Norwich City footballer Zak Whitbread has kept his driving licence despite clocking up 17 penalty points after pleading "exceptional hardship" to magistrates.

I don’t think there’s a single one of us that aren’t appalled at the derisory salaries handed out to top flight footballers: some poor devils are subsisting on a few meagre thousand pounds per week. It’s practically Dickensian.

There’s no way on God’s clean Earth that Whitbread could have afforded to save any money on those kind of wages – the poor man would have been living hand to mouth, probably in a cardboard box under a bridge.

And if we need any further proof that here is a man on his uppers, we need look no further than the car he was caught speeding in: everyone knows that Audis are a poor man’s BMW.

Whitbread admitted two speeding offences and was handed eight more points to add to the nine already on his licence, taking the total to 17 – five more than the number that normally leads to a ban.

Had he been in work – as he was when he committed the offences – he wouldn’t have been able to use the exceptional hardship defence and would have had to make alternative travel arrangements for the length of the ban.

A footballer using public transport: no humane society wants to see that.

Whitbread, through his solicitor Simon Nicholls, pleaded that he was now unemployed after being released by Norwich and would not be able to find another job in football if he didn’t have a licence.

I wasn’t aware that Mr Whitbread was driving his car on the pitch, although that might explain why he never really made the grade at Norwich: if only they’d let him drive the Audi on the hallowed turf of Carrow Road, he’d have been unstoppable.

Magistrates accepted the defence, although the chairman of the bench, Amjad Malhis, warned Whitbread that he’d come very close to losing his licence, fining him £780, a £15 victim surcharge and £85 costs.

Just imagine the financial impact of fines and costs like that if you’re only taking home about £4,000 a week. That’s probably a whole day when you won’t be able to fill the bath with Cristal and use £50 notes as toilet paper.

Magistrates never cease to amaze me with the decisions they make: a Premier League footballer with five more points than it takes to ban them from the wheel walks away after emptying out his loose change, while homeless people or sex workers are fined money they’ll have to steal or prostitute themselves to raise and we’re expected to agree that justice has been seen to be done.

It’s not as if poor Zak is driving around to every football ground in the UK to ask them if they’ve got any work: that’s what his agent is for. And when he does find a new club, presumably it’ll be linked to some form of public transport system unless it’s on the moon or in the middle of the Atlantic.

In the meantime, I am fighting hard for the Evening News to launch a Get Zak Whitbread Out of Extreme Hardship campaign so that we can help him through this difficult time: if you’ve got any spare blankets, tinned food or a warm winter coat, do send it in and I’ll make sure he receives it. Actually, he can come and pick it up in his Audi: let’s send him down Unthank Road to see if we can catch him out in the 20mph zone.

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