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Ding dong! Austrian priest 1, Man City 0 in battle over early church bell-ringing

07/13/2012 09:58 EDT | Updated 09/12/2012 05:12 EDT
VIENNA - They're England's best football team. But as they end their first week at an Austrian training camp, Manchester City is down 0-1 in the battle of the bells against a local priest whose early-morning church chimes are waking squad members earlier than wanted.

City, the English Premier League champion for the first time in 44 years, is spending hundreds of thousands of euros on the 12-day exercise in the Tyrolean village of Seefeld and it wants the players to train hard — and rest well. To that end, it has reportedly flown in special mattresses from Rome at a cost of €1,000 ($1,200) each. With a population of just over 3,000 people and its stunning mountain vistas, Seefeld itself is a bastion of tranquility where there is little for the team do after training but relax.

Except for the bell. The players' hotel — a former monastery — is attached to the medieval St. Oswald's Church, which rings its bell at 7 a.m. each morning. The consequences are predictable.

"Yes, they are loud," said hotel owner Alois Seyrling over the telephone. He suggested the chimes added to the local charm.

The team doesn't think so.

Austria's daily Heute newspaper cited coach Roberto Mancini as complaining that the bell is preventing the players from getting enough sleep. A team official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the issue told The Associated Press Friday that an advance team scoping out the site had requested that it be either stilled or rung later.

But St. Oswald's priest, Egon Pfeifer, says he was never directly contacted by the club, adding he first heard of the problem from an Austrian reporter.

In any case, he says the bells will continue ringing "even if the queen of England wants them to stop."

Ringing the bells for the early morning call to prayer is an ancient tradition, Pfeifer said on the telephone. "I think the bells are acceptable to everyone, and should be acceptable to football players as well."

And so, the bell keeps ringing. But Seyrling, the hotel owner, says it doesn't have to.

He suggests a face-to-face meeting between Pfeifer and the squad to ease tensions.

"Perhaps if he gets an autograph he'll stop for a few days," British media cite him as saying.

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