Cup fever grips the nation

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The Independent Online
World Cup fever swept the nation yesterday as millions of football fans found excuses either to stay away from work or leave early to watch the England game on television.

Across the country, one in three men took time off to watch England's most eagerly-awaited match for years. Some staff called in sick, others took the days off as part of their annual leave.

At Southwark Crown Court in London, a judge gave a fraud trial jury the afternoon off because they would not be able to concentrate on the evidence. "I expect your minds are on the football," said Judge Mota Singh QC. And in Bolton, Greater Manchester, more than 40 workers were given permission by their firm to work through their usual half day on Friday and take yesterday afternoon off instead.

Early predictions suggested that the viewing audience could be as high as the 27 million who tuned in for England's nail-biting penalty shootout with Germany in the World Cup semi-final in 1990.

Motoring organisations reported unusually light traffic across the country, but there there were jams in the London area as commuters tried to beat a Tube strike by driving into the capital. A 10-mile jam built up on the A40 - one of the main western approaches.

A total of 25 tube stations were closed down by the action. But London Underground managers claimed to have coped - despite missing 6,000 staff. According to LU figures, more than 55 per cent of the scheduled 450 trains ran.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union claimed, however, that the action had bought the system to a halt and predicted that more services would be cancelled today.