Bells toll protest at football on Sabbath

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The Independent Online
THE CONSTANT tolling of a church bell mixed with the chants and shouts of a football crowd in Birmingham yesterday, as a vicar and his diminishing flock staged a protest against the encroachment of football on Sunday worship.

The Rev Keith Sinclair was angry about the rescheduling of Aston Villa's televised game against Chelsea to 11.30am yesterday, which he said would severely disrupt services at nearby churches, including his own Aston Parish Church.

With his congregation down to 30, less than half the normal attendance, his five bellringers kept the tenor bell tolling from 10am to 1pm. "We're not trying to annoy anyone, but we feel it is about time football stopped steamrollering everything in its path," said Mr Sinclair. "When TV ratings are seen as more important than people's freedom to worship, we have a major problem."

The peals of protest were led by Don Finnemore, the master ringer, who agreed that it was time to take a stand. "One hundred years ago, Aston Villa were a Methodist church team. They would never have dreamed of playing a match on the day of worship," he said.

A spokesman for Aston Villa said that the early start was not their fault. "We sympathise with the churchgoers, but the rescheduling was completely out of our hands. Sky are pretty much in control."

Vic Wakeling, managing director of Sky Sports, said: "The game was offered to Sky Sports and we informed the Premier League that we would be able to transmit it if the kick-off was at 12.30pm or 1pm," he said. "This was because we were already committed to the Worthington Cup Final on the same day." The Premier League then told them that the game would kick-off at 11.30am, Mr Wakeling added.

The bellringers could be back in action for Aston Villa's next home game, against West Ham, which Sky has brought forward to Good Friday.

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