Football fans can kick off their drinking at dawn

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The Independent Online

Drinkers usually associate the ringing of a bell with last orders but during the World Cup next year it will be the signal to get out of bed and get in the beer.

Drinkers usually associate the ringing of a bell with last orders but during the World Cup next year it will be the signal to get out of bed and get in the beer.

In a move sure to delight football fans but dismay employers, the Government yesterday announced the country's pubs will be allowed to serve from 5am to make up for the eight-hour difference between the UK and the event's hosts, Japan and South Korea.

Labour's pro-football ministers have agreed to the unprecedented move as matches will be played at 7am, 9am or noon British time.

They began talks with breweries and magistrates shortly after David Beckham's injury-time goal against Greece last month secured a place in the finals for England.

Under the new regime, the first orders of the day could be taken in the small hours, a privilege normally reserved for early-morning meat packers and dock workers.

The experiment will last during the finals, being held from 31 May to 30 June, but how many pubs take up the opportunity is likely to depend on the length of England's stay in the Far East.

Kim Howells, the Tourism minister, said pubs and bars that wanted to open while most of the nation slept would be able to get permission "in respect of this special occasion" from local magistrates.

Kevin Miles, the Football Supporters' Association spokesman, said: "It's good news England fans will be able to get together over a pint. There is no doubt watching football in a crowd adds an extra dimension to enjoyment of big matches.

"Let's just hope the team doesn't turn in performances that will drive us all to drink."

The Magistrates' Association said it would encourage licensing committees across Britain to grant the licences, provided there were no objections from police or neighbours.

BBC and ITV have both won the rights to broadcast the games on terrestrial channels so fans can watch at home if they do not have satellite television. However, after yesterday's announcement millions of fans are already planning to steady their nerves with a pint rather than the traditional cup of English breakfast tea.

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