IT is a tradition that dates back decades.
Football fans have long gathered at their local to watch England in the World Cup.
But that ritual seemed to be under threat after the Government announced that national licensing laws would not be extended to allow pubs to show England’s opening match in Brazil this year.
With the fixture against Italy kicking off at 11pm, it meant pubs would either have to apply to their local authorities for a temporary licence costing £21, or football fans would have to watch it at home.
But now the Prime Minister has intervened, and it is now likely pubs across Hampshire will be able to stay open until 1am to show the crucial opening match which could feature Saints stars such as Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez.
It is a decision that has left pub bosses and football fans celebrating.
The game had originally been scheduled to start at 2am, but that was moved forward by three hours at the request of broadcasters.
But the 11pm kick-off time of the match in Manaus led to publicans from across the country applying to extend closing times to 1am.
The British Beer and Pub Association, which represents England’s 49,400 pubs and had co-ordinated the bid, believes the extended opening hours could be worth £20m to the pub industry.
The Home Office had rejected the bid, meaning pubs would have to pay £21 for temporary licences from their councils or be closed by the time the Three Lions kicked off their tournament.
Ministers have the power to relax the rules to mark an occasion of “exceptional international, national or local significance”, as was done recently for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. However it was ruled that the World Cup opener did not meet that criteria.
But yesterday Mr Cameron called for a rethink, and announced consultation would begin “shortly” on later opening hours.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “We want the pub trade, police and local authorities to work together to ensure people can enjoy World Cup matches responsibly and safely.
“The Home Office will shortly consult on granting a national extension to licensing hours for late night matches on the opening and closing weekends and for England’s known 11pm matches. Local authorities and police will have the opportunity to raise any concerns about dealing with public disorder.”
The spokesman added: “The Government position is that we are consulting on nationally extending the opening hours as a result of the Prime Minister asking the department to look again at this issue.
“It is right that we consult but, subject to that consultation, clearly our intention would be that pubs would be able to be open for the relevant games, reflecting the fact that it is a major national event.”
England’s other group matches against Uruguay and Costa Rica start at 8pm and 5pm respectively.
If Roy Hodgson’s men make it through the knock-out stages of the competition, the latest they could play a fixture would be 9pm, while the final will start at 8pm on July 13.
The move has been welcomed by local licensees and politicians.
Chris Reich, area manager for JD Wetherspoon and chairman of the Southampton Licensees’ Link, said: “I think it’s a common sense decision.
“When the World Cup was in Japan and South Korea in 2002 pubs were allowed to open at 6am or 7am because of the early kick-offs, and that went really well.
“Everyone loves getting behind the national team and a pub is a great environment in which to do that.”
Southampton City Council leader Simon Letts said: “Now the Government has done a u-turn we welcome that, and even if they hadn’t we were looking into ways to have a city-wide extension of licences so pubs could remain open to show the match.
“It’s part of the English tradition that every four years we get together to watch England lose on penalties in our local pub, so woe betide any attempt to deny us that.”
Winchester City Council’s licensing committee chairman Fiona Mather said: “I think I have every confidence that licensing authorities and the police working together can cope with the effects of pubs opening on a Saturday evening until 1am.
“Certainly in Winchester city centre the police are well-versed at dealing with venues being open late. We will have to see whether the police think they can police rural pubs as well.”
Being open for the football could have a big impact on footfall, and consequently takings.
Chas Stone, owner of Stones pub in Eastleigh High Street, said: “I would expect it to at least double our trade in the evening. “While it’s hard to put a figure on it, I think it may increase our footfall by four or five times from what we normally see.”