Giant TV screens and huge expectations for 'working' millions

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The Independent Online

Millions of football fans are expected to stay away from work today to watch England's World Cup game against Argentina at home or in pubs.

Millions of football fans are expected to stay away from work today to watch England's World Cup game against Argentina at home or in pubs.

An estimated 20 per cent of the workforce will take the day off to catch the game, which England need to win to improve their chances of surviving the first round.

Most of the absent employees were expected to take time off legitimately, but business leaders feared a small number would call in sick at the last minute. The CBI said many employers had heeded government advice to allow staff to watch the game away from the workplace. A spokeswoman added: "There will, however, be certain areas, such as manufacturing and emergency services, who will not be able to watch, and don't forget the silent minority who simply don't care."

Many big employers have made plans for staff to follow the game. The pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has brought in two large-screen televisions for up to 1,500 workers at its site in Barnard Castle, Co Durham. At the Nissan plant near Sunderland, about 3,000 of the 4,900 workforce are expected to pile into three canteens with giant screens and special viewing areas.

Officials of the trade union Amicus will watch the game on a giant screen at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, where the union's annual conference is being held. The management firm Accenture is giving more than 7,000 staff time off in return for a donation of an hour's pay to a campaign led by Cancer Research.

Odeon cinemas will screen the match live in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and its flagship Leicester Square cinema in London, which has a capacity of 2,000.

The mood among the 5,000-strong Argentine community in Britain is expected to reach fever pitch. A spokeswoman for the country's embassy in London said: "I don't think much work will be done after 12.30pm."

Bookmakers William Hill and Coral estimate that £12m will be placed in bets ahead of the lunchtime kick-off, although patriotic fervour has driven the odds down rapidly in recent days.

William Hill has England at 11-5 to win, while Coral has Argentina as 11-10 favourites. David Stevens of Coral said: "The nation's patriotic punters look sure to pile on Sven's men as they attempt to avenge the defeats of 1986 and 1998. Although Argentina are 11-10 favourites to win the match, England have been backed in to 2-1 from 3-1."

As well as the World Cup action, bookmakers are preparing for a bumper betting weekend, with the Derby and the Oaks being run at Epsom and Lennox Lewis's showdown with Mike Tyson expected to push turnover above £150m over the next three days.