IN the week two football clubs paid a total of more than £70m to break the British and world transfer records, a Cheshire footballer was sacked for earning too much money.
Former Widnes bricklayer Steve Soley was dismissed by Third Division Carlisle United along with three other players despite earning less than £40,000 a year.
The club finished 90th in the Football League last season, three places away from the drop into non-league obscurity.
Carlisle United officials claimed the sackings were forced by financial difficulties.
In a statement the club blamed a boycott by the fans and the media for causing cash-flow problems.
However, the players, Soley, Lee Maddison, Steve Halliday and Carl Heggs, who were among the top earners at the club, have contested the sackings.
A spokesman for the Professional Footballers Association said a player could only be dismissed by a club if he was in breach of contract, not because the club was in financial difficulties, and the players remain under contract to Carlisle United.
All four players rejected an offer of compensation from the club because they said it was worth only half the remainder of their contracts Ð with no money to be paid until October.
The 30-year-old midfielder, who still lives in his hometown of Widnes, finished as top scorer for the Cumbrian club in his first season after transferring from Portsmouth in 1999.
His achievement was all the more remarkable given that he only became a professional player the previous year after being spotted by a Portsmouth scout at Leek Town.
But despite his success on the field Soley's salary and lifestyle presents a sharp contrast with that of Everton's Michael Ball who last week rejected a £1.2m a year deal from the Premiership side.
As a loyal Evertonian, Soley reflected on his own fortune in contrast to those of Ball and former Everton striker Francis Jeffers who earlier this year turned down a reported £35,000-a-week from the Blues before quitting the club for Arsenal.
He said: 'I can understand a little bit that you want to play in Europe, but I couldn't do that.
'If Everton offered me £20 a week I would play for them.'
Soley was injured for most of last season's campaign but returned as Carlisle avoided the drop in the penultimate game against Lincoln City.
However, Soley was called into the office of financial director Andrea Whittaker at the Brunton Park ground on July 5 and left in tears after he was told he had no future with the club.
All four players were sacked with immediate cessation of their pay and were banned from the training ground.
Mr Soley, who is recovering from an injury at the FA centre of excellence at Lilleshall this week, said: 'I was under contract for another 12 months and I have loved my time at the club. I was ready to sign a longer deal and I didn't want to leave.
'I sort of saw it coming because the manager had walked out, the lads had been told not to bother training and we had been called back to see the director in the evening. But it was still a shock.
'I have been up there once since but I felt embarrassed to go back. I feel like I am stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.'
John Bramhall, from the Professional Footballers Association, said Carlisle United had been made aware the dismissals broke Football League regulations.
He added: 'If the club reaches a settlement that is acceptable then the players may well choose to take that.
'At the moment that is not the case and Steve is still a Carlisle player.'
Carlisle United's squad has shrunk to only 17 players, including just four with first team experience.
Manager Ian Atkins officially left for Cardiff City last week and the club sold striker Scott Dobie, regarded as their best player, to Midland club West Bromwich Albion.
A spokesman for the club said: 'As a consequence of the boycott called by [supporters trust] CCUIST there has been and is expected to be a significant reduction in the club's income.
'As a cost-cutting exercise it is with deep regret the club announce the termination of several key player contracts.'
Carlisle United has suffered a series of setbacks in the past year since owner Michael Knighton, who took over after failing in a bid to purchase Manchester United, was banned by the Department of Trade and Industry from being a director of any company for five and a half years.