POLICE and councillors striving to avert football violence have blocked bars planning to serve booze from as early as 8am on derby day.
Northumbria Police has succeeded in blocking two pubs and a club from opening early to give fans more pre-match drinking time ahead of the Wear-Tyne derby on August 20.
It has also emerged that one of the premises – The British Legion in Grange Crescent – was opened early and used as a hide-out by the infamous Seaburn Casuals “problem supporters” before the Sunderland vs Newcastle clash in January.
The Legion applied to open at 8am on August 20, the Colliery Tavern opposite the Stadium of Light applied to open at 9.30am, and the soon-to-be-opened Beer House in South Bridge Street applied to open at 10am.
Superintendent Geoff Logan, who will head up the police operation in Sunderland on derby day, urged councillors on a licensing panel to throw out their applications.
He said police had appealed to the FA to bring the kick-off forward to noon as the later a game started, the greater the likelihood of fans attacking each other.
“We believe alcohol has a major part to play in this,” he said. “Fifty-five per cent of violent crime is alcohol-related. In my experience that’s an understatement.”
Supt Logan said it was the minority of fans that caused problems, but listed a series of violent incidents which occurred at the last derby game at the Stadium of Light in January.
These included fans attacking and damaging the giant metal segregating wall, missiles – including a brick and a steak knife – thrown at fans and police, and police vehicles damaged.
The committee also heard how police found the British Legion club had been open from 8am on the last derby day, in breach of its opening hours.
The front door was locked, but drinkers were using a side door under the staircase into the basement. About 30 “risk” supporters, said to be Seaburn Casuals, were found leaving the premises.
There were 100 drinkers there in total, and councillors on the panel were told the incident had caused problems for police intelligence as officers had been unable find and monitor the group.
“We have a limited amount of resources on the day, and we rely on intelligence to make best use of those resources,” said Supt Logan.
British Legion chairman Paul McIlvany apologised to the committee and said he had not realised the club was subject to such hours.
He said the front door was locked to prevent customers going out for a smoke on the steps and disturbing neighbours early in the morning.
“We’re very sorry,” he said. “We were asked by someone who drinks at the Legion regularly if we would open up.
“We didn’t know they were Seaburn Casuals. There was no hint of trouble. They were nice lads. They even had a whip round for the club.”
Mr McIlvany said the Legion, which serves as a base for the Sunderland Poppy Appeal, was not geared to making a profit and staff were all volunteers.
“We made £1,000 on the derby day, which was a big thing for us. We’re not on our knees, but we are struggling,” he said.
“When Legion clubs close, the Poppy Appeal goes with them.”
John Snaith, who runs the Colliery Tavern, said there had never been any problems at his premises during any of the matches and said he had ran a good, decent premises.
A representative for Paul Craigs, who is due to open the Beer House in the former City Tavern, Bridge Street, on August 19, said some pubs in the city centre already had licences to open from 9am.
He said the Beer House wanted to be brought in line with them.
Councillors rejected their pleas and issues notices banning them from opening for early-morning drinking.
Derby rivalry put aside for charity –