England grinds to a halt for crunch match

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The Independent Online

Schools, offices and factories around the country ground to a halt today as England's footballers made a desperate bid for World Cup survival.

Fans gathered in pubs, clubs and in front of giant screens as the nation nervously awaited the outcome of the crunch match against Slovenia.



Power firms were expecting a surge in demand for electricity as many people left work early for the 3pm kick-off.



In Birmingham, two crown court juries were allowed to halt their deliberations while the match took place.



And some councils gave employees the option of using flexi-time or holidays to watch the game.



But troops in Afghanistan had to wait to see the action.



A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman said servicemen and women were involved in a "vigil ceremony" at Camp Bastion, in Helmand Province, to remember recent casualties of the conflict.



He said troops not required for operational duties would be able to watch a recording of the game about an hour after it finished.



Fans at Wimbledon were also facing a wait to see the match, with tournament officials deciding not to screen it.



Many tennis followers were relying on hand-held radios and mobile phone updates as the action unfolded in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.



In Dover, Kent, council chiefs faced the ire of England fans by refusing to screen the match on the Big Screen in the town's Market Square.



The district council said the decision was taken to avoid disruption that safety measures would pose to local businesses and residents.



But the move was criticised by fans, who pointed out that England's two evening games against the United States and Algeria were shown on the giant screen.



Fan Peter McHugh said large numbers of supporters watched those games without trouble.



He told the BBC: "We are appalled. They have let the people of Dover down very, very badly."



The district council said should England progress in the tournament, their next game would be shown, along with other World Cup matches.



Elsewhere, many towns and cities, including Bristol and Manchester, were showing the action on big screens.



In Newcastle, around 500 fans gathered in front of a screen in Times Square.



Most appeared to have taken time off work and many were decked out in England team colours.



Companies across Bristol also let staff watch the vital group game while at work.



At insurance firm AXA, bosses have hired a 61-inch flat screen TV for its employees to watch the game.



In Bristol a booze ban and ticketing system were brought in at Queen Square following disruption during the England versus USA match.



The British Chamber of Commerce said about two thirds of bosses (60%) had decided not to allow their staff time off to watch the match, leading to the possibility of a flurry of last minute absences and sickies.



But Kellogg's decided to lay on big screens for more than 600 of its staff at its Manchester headquarters.



A spokesman for the Department for Education said it was down to individual headteachers whether they allowed pupils to go home early or watch the match at school.



And a Ministry of Justice spokesman insisted the majority of courts were running normally.

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