Business falls foul of World Cup fever

Britain at a standstill: Millions expected to take day off as action halts the Underground
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The Independent Online
THE WORLD Cup may or may not be coming home, but one thing looks certain - millions of England football supporters will be staying at home today to watch the team's opening match.

Employers expect vast numbers to remain in front of their television sets, and for Londoners a Tube strike provides a convenient excuse. The rest of the country will have to improvise, but beer sales at supermarkets yesterday suggested that plans were already well advanced.

Beer sales at Tesco were reported to be up by as much as 150 per cent. "We did expect a hike in beer in sales but the way sales have rocketed is quite surprising. Sales of fast-foods, particularly pizzas, have also gone up," said a Tesco spokesman.

According to a study by the Institute of Personnel and Development, one in three men in Britain will take time off to watch the match. That will, according to one economist cost the economy more than pounds 1bn.

Maurice Fitzpatrick, head of economics at the accountants Chantrey Vellacott, has estimated that the economy will lose the equivalent of a third of a day's output.

The London Chamber of Commerce said the combination of the Tube strike and the football today would cost London at least pounds 35m. Simon Sperryn, chief executive, said: "We in business will be wishing England all the best but that does not mean firms should have to close down entirely for the afternoon.

"This is England's first match and there is hopefully a long way for the team to go in the tournament so it would be ridiculous to give England fans time off every time we play."

Mr Sperryn said many employers were providing television sets or radios for the day, but said workers should not abuse the generosity of their employer.

Businesses appear divided over how best to tackle World Cup fever. While some will not look kindly on workers who neglect their work this afternoon, others are installing television screens at work.

Sainsbury's said it would allow its workers to catch at least a glimpse of the game. A spokeswoman said the company expected stores to be quieter than usual and staff would be allowed to watch the game on a rota basis in staff canteens.

"We don't expect major problems with staff phoning in sick because we are trying to be accommodating throughout the World Cup," she said.

A National Grid spokeswoman said staff will be expected to turn up to work to cope with the predictable post-match power surge as kettles are switched on across the nation. She said: "Our engineers have to monitor TV all day so we're not expecting any to throw a sickie."

The car firm Peugeot is broadcasting live commentary of all England and Scotland games on its factory floors.

The game will also be shown on a big screen at Tory party headquarters in London, and for the 90 minutes England are on the field staff will be "concentrating on things other than the direct promotion of the Conservative Party", a spokesman said.

He added: "Lord Parkinson was always a popular party chairman. Now he's an even more popular party chairman."

The move is believed to have been inspired by the Tory vice-chairman Archie Norman - a keen football fan.