SUNDERLAND fans could be boozing from breakfast after Wearside pubs applied for early licences ahead of the Wear-Tyne derby.
The Colliery Tavern, which has already been given permission to open three hours ahead of the 1.30pm kick-off at the Stadium of Light, could be joined by other venues in the city.
Amid fears of booze-fuelled violence for the crunch match, Northumbria Police had opposed the application by the Monkwearmouth pub to bring forward its match-day opening time from noon to 10.30am a week on Sunday.
However, Sunderland City Council’s licensing sub-committee granted it a temporary event notice.
Other city centre bars, such as Yates’s, in Burdon Road, and The William Jameson, in Fawcett Street, already open early most Sundays.
Now applications from the River Bar, in Bonemill Lane, Washington, the Establishment, in Low Row, Sunderland; the Colonel Prior, in Moorside Road, Doxford Park and Last Orders, in Rotherfield Road, Red House, are expected to be heard by councillors tomorrow.
Today, as a last-ditch bid by police to overturn The Colliery Tavern decision is due to go before magistrates, police and health campaigners voiced their concerns that the temporary event notices could lead all-day drinking sessions and an increase in trouble.
Chief superintendent Dave Pryer, of Northumbria Police, said: “We seek earlier kick-off times for derby matches to reduce the length of time people have to consume alcohol – which can have a negative impact on crime and disorder - prior to kick-off.
“Therefore, for pubs to then have earlier opening hours would negate this.
“The objections we have made form part of a wider preventative strategy aimed at minimising crime and disorder both before, during and after football matches.”
Colin Shevills, director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, said: “Alcohol is already too available, and I’d question whether these licence applications are really in the best interest of our local communities.
“Any extension of licence is unhelpful, particularly around a football match that is known to be emotional and is unfortunately associated with alcohol-fuelled problems.
“The issue here is that the licensing act is not currently fit for purpose. The way the act works, local communities and their elected representatives find it difficult to refuse new licences or extensions and amendments to existing licenses.
“Communities should have more power to decide what is best for the public health and welfare of people in their areas. This is particularly important in the North East where we suffer from high levels of health harms because of alcohol.”
However, some pubs which have regularly been granted the go-ahead to open early without going through the licensing committee have accused the authorities of being heavy handed. Christine Devlin, manager of Last Orders, said: “We’ve been opening early on derby days, both home and away, for years and never had any problems.
“We’re not a city centre pub, we don’t have a reputation for trouble, so why stop us now?
“We only open early to allow our regulars in to claim their usual seats before we start to fill up.
“As far as I understand it, the reason for this crackdown is because a number of pubs have been opening early without official permission.”
Sophie Bell, manager of the The Establishment, said her pub has always had a “friendly, family atmosphere”.
“We’ve never had any trouble at the pub,” she said. “We tend to have a big crowds on matchdays, we’re always busy, but they are always well-behaved. We’ve been given permission in the past to open early, with no problems whatsoever.”
Some fans also support the move, maintaining that the majority of supporters are not trouble-makers.
Martyn McFadden, editor of Sunderland fanzine A Love Supreme, said: “I believe certain pubs have an early licence anyway, so why not other bars?
“It’s a big day in the football calendar and generally Sunderland fans are well behaved, so why not let the bars in the city have a profitable day in these difficult economic times?
“And let’s hope we have something to celebrate over a few beers come the final whistle.”