SCHOOLBOY footballers have been left "devastated" after a team representing Knowsley and St Helens has been axed by the English Schools FA.

The two districts have been playing together under the same banner this season, enjoying a run in the National Cup with the side due to play a last 16 tie.

Manager of the Knowsley County side Tony James invited players from St Helens to join the squad last summer due to the district struggling to field a team.

However, players and coaches have been dismayed as they were told last Friday (January 4) that the English Schools FA does not recognise Knowsley and St Helens as an "affiliated county".

Team organisers say the proposed merger had been ratified by the Merseyside County Schools FA but that representations to the English Schools FA were ignored.

The Knowsley & St Helens team had been due to face a last 16 tie in the National Cup this weekend.

Mike Hayman, a parent of one of the players who attends Rainhill High, said: "Unfortunately, St Helens have not had a schoolboys football team for many years and this has disadvantaged talented kids within this borough for a number of years. However, with the merger of the two small boroughs this not only gives kids who have never had a chance to play at schoolboys level an opportunity to represent their county.

"The children who then were selected began the season feeling very proud that they had been selected and rightly so as they are a very talented bunch of kids

"To now have made it down to the last 16 in the National Cup a day before they were due to play we were told St Helens School boys cannot participate in the team, leaving the coaching staff and the rest of team without enough players.

"This should have been a very exciting time for the children and for Knowsley & St Helens as a community, but instead children are left devastated as they can no longer continue and progress in the national cup but more so not represent their county at any level. This decision has now affected all year 8 and year 9 boys within the St Helens area."

St Helens North MP Conor McGinn expressed opposition to the decision on social media.

He tweeted: "I strongly oppose this decision and have contacted the English Schools’ FA to ask them to urgently reconsider it.

"Football is at the heart of our St Helens community and brings out the best in our young people - they should be rewarded not penalised".

When contacted by the Star about the matter, a spokesperson for the English Schools FA said: "Representation from the Associations has been considered in line with all ESFA and FA regulatory processes (including a hearing by an independent panel giving the complainants opportunity to raise issues directly) and there is no further action the ESFA can take in this regard."