The players are accused of using avoidance schemes to avoid paying tax owed, according to the Guardian.
HMRC has challenged a number of schemes that, it argued, took advantage of reliefs aimed at boosting investment in the British film industry.
Two of the film schemes being disputed, which were set up and run by the London firm Ingenious Media, had around 70 former and current footballers signed up, including David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Gary Lineker.
Those stars are all thought to be wealthy enough to cover any HMRC demands but the investors also included lesser famed and earning players, some of whom are seriously struggling to pay.
Xpro, the welfare organisation for former players, is representing 40 of those in dire straits, according to its chief executive Geoff Scott, who echoed some of them in blaming their financial advisers for targeting high-earning footballers and getting them to sign up to the schemes, which gave them large reductions in tax bills.
“I blame myself for trusting advisers – and I do think something should be done about them – and probably for being greedy as well, making a few grand from the taxman,” one player told the Guardian.
The footballers were among hundreds of wealthy investors who signed up in the early 2000s for similar investment schemes.
One such scheme, run by Ingenious Media, which the company is defending through the courts, attracted investors, including footballers, to the British film industry.
Investors’ money was often matched by twice as much in the form of a loan. The value of each film was written down substantially in the first year, on the basis that films are risky ventures, and this produced a tax relief at the then higher rate of tax, 40%, of that first-year loss.
This tax relief could be as much as the actual cash the investor had put in, and could be used to reduce tax owing on other investments.
The tax reliefs paid to a total of eight schemes, which included those of Ingenious Media, now being disputed by HMRC amount to £1bn, which the tax man is demanding be repaid.