Tuesday, Mar 26, 2002
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LONDON, MARCH 25. A pint of beer, a bag of crisps and the World Cup live on a wide screen television at 7 a.m.
As the day begins, fans throughout England could cheer their team in pubs if a British company's challenge to a court ruling over extended opening hours is passed on April 12.
The first World Cup in Asia, kicking off in Seoul on May 31, will lure European fans to the screens early in the day as hosts South Korea and Japan are nine hours ahead of GMT. England's match against Nigeria on June 12 kicks off at 0730 GMT.
But with strict opening rules dating back to the first world war when munitions workers needed to be kept from drinking, English pubs generally close between 11 p.m. and 11 a.m.
Magistrates courts, which individually decide on opening hours' extensions, have granted rare permission for cup pub breakfasts, but most courts have denied them due to a 1978 ruling, which the April case in Bristol could challenge.
``Pubs are at the heart of today's football culture and the World Cup is one of the country's most celebrated occasions,'' said Martin Gough, manager of Bristol's white Hart pub, owned by court challengers Scottish & Newcastle retail.
``Why should a ruling made in 1978 be allowed to prevent British football fans from enjoying the atmosphere of the World Cup at their local pub?'' he asked.
The high court in 1978 said that pubs should only open at unusual hours if their clients were participating in a special event justifying the extension.
For the millennium and this new year's eve, the government allowed pubs to be open longer, as they will for the queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations in June. But watching soccer on TV has so far not qualified as ``active soccer participation''.
Jeremy Phillips, licensing specialist lawyer at Osborne Clarke, the claimant's law firm, said times had changed. ``At the time of that ruling, watching football on TV was different to watching it now. You used to have just a small TV at the end of the bar,'' he said. ``Now you have huge screens, and watching the event has become a big event in itself.''
Mark Hastings, spokesperson for the British Beer and Pub Association, said that ever since the premier league started to be televised, the pub had become the most popular place to watch soccer in Britain. ``Three and a half million people are watching football there every week,'' he said.
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