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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 17:35 GMT
Bishop denies football club 'exorcism'
Exorcism graphic
The Bishop said he blessed the ground
The Bishop of Oxford has denied reports he performed an exorcism to lift a curse at a football club, but admits he held a ceremony to bless the ground.

The Right Reverend Richard Harries said a service he performed at Oxford United's ground had been blown out of proportion.

He admitted he held a small ceremony to bless the new 15m Kassam Stadium and help improve the club's fortunes but denies it was an exorcism.

Gypsies evicted from the site when the stadium was being built are reported to have put a curse on the ground.

The bishop's spokesman, Richard Thomas, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the "curse" was not the reason for the visit.

He said: "What the bishop did was what many clergy do, which is bless the ground. He used a prayer which said 'Bless this place and protect it from evil.'"

Several players joined the bishop and the club chairman, Firoz Kassam, for the blessing.

The club, relegated from the second division last season, believes a curse was placed on the site five years ago, before construction on the new stadium began.

Side lifted to draw

Oxford United's chaplain, the Reverend Michael Chantry, said the farmer who originally owned the land allowed gypsies to stay in return for helping him with harvesting and hay-making.

But when the field was sold to the club, the gypsies were evicted and cast the curse, he said.

Mr Chantry said: "I don't want to give the impression I'm a great believer in gypsy curses but I think to say prayers of blessing in a positive way is a better way of putting it than lifting a curse."

Oxford United, who had lost 13 out of 17 games, responded to the ceremony by managing a 2-2 draw at home to York City on Saturday.

The club, managed by former Liverpool and England defender Mark Wright, remain sixth from bottom of the table.

But Martin Brodetsky from the Oxford United supporters group, FOUL, said the team should point the finger at themselves for their poor performances, rather than blaming a curse.

BBC News' Daniela Relph
"Some fans believe that travellers cursed the ground"
The Rev Richard Thomas, spokesman for the bishop
"The story in this morning's Sun is virtually unrecognisable"
See also:

05 Nov 01 | England
Churchmen call for stone exorcism
24 Nov 00 | Europe
Vatican lays down exorcism law
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