The English Premier League is under fire from church groups for staging fixtures on Easter Sunday, with Aston Villa’s game against visitors Everton today in the firing line.
In open letters sent to the Premier League, television broadcasters and to Aston Villa, two church organizations in the Villains’ home city of Birmingham blasted the scheduling, saying it would cause “chaos” and showed “distain” for traditions, religious supporters and club staff alike.
They also questioned how the Sunday Trading Act 1994 prevents large stores in England and Wales from opening on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, but does not stop major soccer matches from taking place.
“We understand that Sunday is now a work day for many people. However, Easter Sunday is different ... only Christmas Day is treated in the same fashion,” the body said. “By scheduling matches on Easter Sunday, the Premier League is treating it like any other day.”
On the Everton game, it said: “Around 1,000 people will be prevented either from worship or spending time with their family by the match. This includes the extra police officers, the caterers and the staff at the grounds. Easter Sunday is traditionally the Sunday with the highest church attendance in the year.”
“It is surely in no one’s interest for them to be caught up with large crowds of football supporters hurrying to arrive by the kick-off,” it said.
“Having already taken the decision to alter the kick-off times of both matches on Easter Sunday, as well as the club agreeing to fund additional policing to assist churchgoers, we believe we have done what we can to ensure that those attending places of worship close to the ground are not inconvenienced in any way,” a Premier League spokesman said.
Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers boosted their promotion bid on Friday and deepened the gloom for cash-strapped Southampton with a 3-0 win at Molineux that leaves Saints on the brink of the drop.
The win, achieved with goals in the opening 20 minutes from Sam Vokes, Jody Craddock and David Jones, took Mick McCarthy’s side five points clear of Sheffield United and Birmingham City, the team who had beaten them on Monday.
Southampton, with debts of £30 million (US$44 million) and second bottom of the table, were behind inside a minute after Vokes headed home from a David Jones scorner and then Craddock made it two with less than six minutes on the clock, his first in two seasons.
The opening double salvo meant Wolves were making light of injuries to top scorers Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Chris Iwelumo.
Mark Wotte’s team were undone again in the 18th minute after Marek Saganowski tripped David Edwards and Jones smashed in the resulting penalty.
“It’s three points. It means I can enjoy a bottle of beer tonight and watch everybody else,” McCarthy said. “For today, for this evening, it’s taken the pressure off me and my players and it’s heaped it somewhere else, whoever fancies it they can have it. Then we’ll take it all back on Monday along with everybody else.”
Wotte blasted his team’s performance.
“We did a shit job in the first five minutes and it throws away all the preparations,” the Saints boss said.
Sheffield United moved into second place in the table on goal difference from Birmingham after a 1-0 win at promotion rivals Reading.