Church leaders have clashed with TV and Premier League bosses over the Easter Sunday match between Aston Villa and Everton claiming a 2pm kick-off will make it near impossible to get to worship services on what is traditionally the Sunday with the highest church attendance.
Bishop of Birmingham David Urquart and Archbishop Vincent Nicols, soon to become the UK’s Roman Catholic leader, accused the league and TV channel Setanta of showing “disdain” for the religious traditions of the country.
Setanta will televise the game which was originally scheduled for Saturday before being moved to Sunday.
In letters to Setanta and the Premier League, the bishop and archbishop said: “In rearranging this fixture in this manner you show disdain for the religious traditions of this country, and the sensitivities of many employees and football supporters.”
In a second letter the Aston Churches Working Together group, which includes Aston Parish Church next to Villa Park, said: “Around 1,000 people will be prevented either from worship or spending time with their family by the match.
“Easter Sunday is traditionally the Sunday with the highest church attendance in the year, and many of the local churches’ more elderly and infirm members make a special effort to come to church for the special Easter services.
“It is surely in no-one’s interest for them to be caught up with large crowds of football supporters.”
The row echoes a similar uproar that happened when Villa played Blues on Easter Day three years ago which angered the Rev Andy Jolley from Aston Parish Church.
Setanta Sports marketing director Timothy Ryan said Sunday’s game had already been moved from 1.30pm to 2pm to accommodate church leaders.
He also said: “We pick the games that are televised by a process devised by the Premier League and we are following that process. However, I think there are ample opportunities for those who are Villa fans and church-goers to do both.
“I am a Christian, and I know that most mass times are in the morning or afternoon so if somebody wants to do both, then there is ample opportunity.”
An Aston Villa spokeswoman said the club had done its best to accommodate the wishes of the community.