ENGLAND international footballers and Premier League stars are among those who have signed up for an online FIFA tournament which is aiming to raise money for the NHS.

The initiative is the brainchild of York City fan Chris Chelin and his Aston Villa-supporting friend Dave Adie, who decided to turn to the football video game in the absence of any action on the field due to the country's lockdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The York-based pair were inspired a similar idea by Leyton Orient, who ran a 'QuaranTeam' tournament last month, which featured a mix of fans, footballers and E-Sports players.

However, the pair's incarnation - the 'Stay Intertoto Cup' - encompasses solely footballers. And while at first the task of signing up professional footballers to a FIFA tournament may seem a difficult one, the idea quickly gained traction.

The tournament's Twitter page has reached over 12,000 followers and England internationals James Maddison and Andros Townsend are among the high-profile names of 64 players to have signed up.

The games are being streamed on Twitch and have seen thousands tuning in.

"The entertainment is in supporters watching players who play for their team, playing games of FIFA," explained Chelin, who lives in Clifton.

"The issue that we had was that me and Dave don't know any footballers!

"I started the Twitter page to chat about the Orient tournament because I found it interesting and within a couple of days, I had 5,000 followers.

"I then asked my followers whether they'd be interested in us starting our own tournament and they said 'Yes', very quickly.

"We then started the process of trying to contact footballers and football clubs.

"I know (York City midfielder) Paddy McLaughlin and he gave me the details of a couple of players.

"Other than that, it was just a case of asking people.

"A lot of the footballers that I now speak to regularly, that are massively into their gaming, they were just telling that they were bored.

"This tournament has been a way to relieve the boredom of the players and of football fans and to engage between fans and players.

"And, obviously, we're looking to raise money for the NHS where we can as well.

Social media often gets plenty of bad press in the media, mainly for enabling people to abuse others anonymously.

But, Chelin and Adie's innovative has seen plenty of interaction between supporters and players, the latter being open and friendly, Chelin says.

"Footballers get a bad press and I've probably criticised footballers myself in the past," he said.

"I hear a lot of people complain about celebrities or footballers not replying to their messages.

"Even on a page with 12,000 followers, I can't keep up with the notifications.

"And it's not a case of ignoring people's messages, you just don't see it!

"All the guys that are involved have been spot on and they've been happy to message.

"Footballers and social media gets a bad reputation, but hopefully this shines them in a positive light on both.

“Everyone I speak to has been up for a laugh and everyone is just looking for something to do."

And while conversing with Premier League and international footballers may look like an enviable task, the logistics of such organisation can be tricky.

The tournament started on Sunday and with 16 groups of four players, that means that there's 127 group games in all.

"I didn't think it was going to be this big and I never intended for it to be this big," said Chelin.

“I’m waking up at six in the morning to get some stuff done before I start my day job at nine and then I’m still working on it at ten, eleven at night.

“Trying to get 64 footballers to do something at a certain time, it’s not been an easy task.

“But the guys have been really good and they’ve all been really helpful.

Most significantly of all is the cause in which the tournament is being played in aid of.

Money is being raised for the NHS Charities Together charity, which is supporting the health service during the coronavirus crisis that currently grips the nation.

So far, the 'Stay Intertoto Cup' has raised almost £3,500, a third of the way to their target of £10,000.

"I've been onto some bigger organisations about a potential sponsorship or donation," Chelin added.

"And, now I'm really trying to push the JustGiving page.

“We’re supporting the NHS and with what’s going on in the country at the moment, it’s so important.

“I’ve got the NHS to thank for my little girl’s health. Without going into too many details, she’s here because of the NHS.

“It’s always a cause that I will support in anyway that I can."

l To support the 'Stay Intertoto Cup', visit: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/stayintertotocup