Amateur minnows stunned by financial penalty which they fear could force them to close doors
FIFA, Kilrea United, an 18-year-old who was signed in a barber's shop owned by the club chairman, player registration and an extraordinary fine that could lead to a team folding.
This is the staggering story of the most powerful body in world football and a humble team from the Coleraine and District League.
The only other time locals from Kilrea can remember having anything to do with FIFA was when hometown hero Martin O'Neill captained Northern Ireland in the 1982 World Cup finals.
That was a cause of great celebration in the County Londonderry village. This latest episode has brought only disbelief, anger and fear, with chairman Davy Shiels, the Kilrea committee, players and fans scared their club could soon be no more following FIFA's decision to fine United 10,000 Swiss francs, which amounts to £8,418.49.
Kilrea will tell you that they don't have the 49p.
They aren't in the game for money. This is a cross-community club who want to bring people together to enjoy their football.
Like many teams at their level, the players raise funds to keep the side going and generous businesses in the village sponsor tracksuits, kits and balls.
Earlier this month, the FIFA Disciplinary Committee met to discuss the case of English teenager Pierce Hill-Worrall, who joined Kilrea in February 2019, having previously played for Bertie Peacocks in the Boys FA League.
After Yasser Al Misehal (Saudi Arabia), Charlie Cuzzetto (Canada) and Carlos Teran (Venezuela) deliberated, they found Kilrea "responsible for the infringement of the relevant provisions of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players related to the registration of players and the protection of minors".
Contacted by Sunday Life Sport, a FIFA spokesperson confirmed: "According to this decision, the FIFA Disciplinary Committee ordered Kilrea United Football Club to pay a fine to the amount of CHF 10,000."
We can also reveal FIFA warned Kilrea "on its future conduct", outlining the "fine is to be paid within 30 days of the notification of the present decision".
Kilrea contacted the Irish FA about appealing.
On Thursday, the club received a letter from the IFA which said that, due to the small-scale nature of the fine - in the eyes of global chiefs, at least - "it does not appear the avenue of an appeal to FIFA is available to you".
The correspondence added: "Unfortunately, this matter is between Kilrea and FIFA and I would recommend that you review the FIFA Disciplinary code sent previously when making a decision on how the club wish to take this forward."
Unsurprisingly, there is disappointment within Kilrea that the IFA have left it at that.
It was last season when the issue relating to the registration of Hill-Worrall first came to light after a rival club made a protest to the Coleraine and District League.
That led to Kilrea being deducted nine points, which saw them lose the league title to Dervock.
They thought their punishment was harsh and claimed that, prior to fielding the teenager in the final months of the season, they communicated with the IFA and Coleraine and District League registrar Johnny Evans about the player's registration following teething problems with the new Comet system (for registering players) and believed the issue had been sorted out.
Kilrea appealed their league's decision to the IFA, whose Appeals Board said in July last year they had "great sympathy" with Kilrea, adding: "While this is a rather bureaucratic system, the club were advised of the process by the IFA in February (2019). When faced with this, the club had contacted the League registrar, who had told them that he would sort the issue out. Mr Evans admitted that he had overlooked the matter and had not followed it up.
"There was no suggestion of any subterfuge in playing the player, which they (Kilrea) had done in good faith, given the assurances of the League registrar Mr Evans. However, sympathy cannot override the rule."
The appeal was dismissed and the decision to deduct points from Kilrea was upheld.
Disappointed by the IFA ruling, Kilrea reluctantly accepted it. They registered Hill-Worrall for this season and received clearance from relevant parties thinking the case was over.
The news from FIFA hit like a ten-tonne truck.
They have written to FIFA's Jacques Blondin, the Head of TMS Global Transfers and Compliance, explaining they are a "small amateur club" and outlining that their committee is made up of five volunteers: Davy Shiels (barber), Shane Coyle (joiner), Benny Cunning (welder), Dan Cassidy (bathroom salesman) and Gabriel Scott (window blind fitter).
The letter states the club's view they did everything possible to sign Hill-Worrall correctly last year, declaring, "We just want to play football on a Saturday and represent our village. Kilrea is a cross-community team which unites our village".
Asked what will happen if FIFA do not relent over the hefty fine, Shiels says: "We will fold. We cannot afford to pay the fine. If they insist on it being paid, there will be no more Kilrea United.
"We took a rap on the knuckles last season and didn't feel we deserved it. To hear from FIFA this month, we were flabbergasted, feeling there must be some sort of misunderstanding.
"We are raging about it and feel it is totally unjust and unfair that we have been hit by this fine. We hope it can be resolved, otherwise it will be the end of our club."
THE teenager at the centre of Kilrea United's astonishing stand-off with FIFA has revealed that when he first heard the club were being fined 10,000 Swiss francs by world football's governing body, he thought it was a joke.
The reason given for the punishment - which amounts to £8,418.49 - set down by FIFA's Disciplinary Committee is that Pierce Hill-Worrall was not registered properly with Kilrea last season.
To put the figure in context, it is the same as the Russian FA were fined by FIFA after a "discriminatory banner" was displayed by their fans in a World Cup game against Uruguay two years ago.
At the same tournament, the Polish football authorities paid the same price for their supporters displaying an "offensive banner", while the Mexico Football Federation was handed a 10,000 Swiss francs penalty for "discriminatory and insulting chants" from their fans during a clash with Germany.
Hill-Worrall (18) is from Plymouth and moved to Northern Ireland in 2015.
He has been playing football here since 2016 at the Coleraine Academy, then for Bertie Peacocks in the Boys FA League and more recently with Coleraine and District League side Kilrea, who he joined in February 2019.
Last season, after Hill-Worrall was deemed to not be properly registered, Kilrea lost the Coleraine and District Premier League title when they were deducted nine points by their league.
The decision was disputed by the club - for whom Hill-Worrall had scored in three important wins - but upheld by an IFA Appeals Board.
If that was tough to take, the FIFA fine has left Kilrea reeling.
"I thought it was a joke when I first heard about it," the amiable Hill-Worrall told Sunday Life Sport.
The IFA community coach added: "We are an amateur side and we have got stuck with the size of fine national federations get hit with.
"I think it shows how out of touch FIFA are with football at our level. How they expect us to pay that is just ridiculous.
"When I was signing for Kilrea, I gave all the documents I was asked for to get registered and I honestly thought everything was fine.
"The rules are obviously there for a reason, but we feel as a club we have been unfairly punished and, to me, the FIFA fine is mad."
Maurice Bradley, PRO of the Coleraine and District League, said: "The magnitude of the fine FIFA imposed on Kilrea United has left me gobsmacked.
"The Coleraine and District League Committee are charged with looking after the interests of all their member clubs, but FIFA have not even granted Kilrea the opportunity to appeal."
Hill-Worrall said: "I really enjoy playing for Kilrea and the other boys feel the same. There are good people at the club and the whole town is involved in the football. It means a lot to us."