Hot and very bothered England at a standstill

The high streets were empty, the motorways almost silent as 30 million fans abandoned everyday life to bite their nails through a nervy quarter-final match against Portugal
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The Independent Online

As a mini-heatwave hit Britain, a fresh outbreak of football mania brought the country to a standstill yesterday. City centres were deserted before the 4pm kick-off, as more than 32 million fans, pumped up with adrenalin and the effects of more than a few beers, crowded in front of television screens in bars, pubs and front rooms across the country to watch England's World Cup performance.

When the whistle was blown to mark the start of the quarter-final, supermarket aisles were already empty, cash registers had stopped ringing and traffic on the roads was reduced to just a trickle. Apart from a few diehard football phobics who took the opportunity to indulge in retail therapy, the rest of the nation had ground to a standstill by teatime.

Anywhere that did not boast a television screen was deserted. Even branches of the Starbucks coffee chain, where seats are usually hard to find on a sunny weekend in summer, were empty.

Temperatures of more than 30C were reported in some parts of the country which added to the optimistic mood of those patriots who were willing the England team on to reach the last four of football's greatest tournament for the first time in 16 years.

The South-east was the best place for a World Cup barbecue, with temperatures soaring to 33C on the hottest weekend of the year so far.

For many, the combination of football and perfect weather was an opportunity to stay at home. Supermarkets reported record-breaking sales of drink and barbecue food with England fans stocking up for the match against Portugal. Tesco has sold a record-breaking five million cases of beer, 7.5 million disposable barbecues, 20 million bottles of wine, 45 million sausages, 25.5 million lollies and 5.8 million burgers in the past three weeks.

Fans have also picked up half a million St George's flags, 400,000 footballs, 500,000 mini footballs for junior soccer fanatics and 50,000 2.5-pint glasses in the shape of the World Cup trophy.

Sainsbury's was predicting that its stores will sell around half a million kebabs, the same number of strawberry punnets and cucumbers, some four million cans and bottles of beer and a million bottles of wine. The supermarket has sold 300,000 flags, with Tunbridge Wells proving to be the most patriotic place in England.

After England's 1-0 victory over Paraguay three weeks ago, the department store John Lewis reported the worst Saturday trading of the year. But the retailer has seen booming sales of flat-screen televisions - which were selling at a rate of one every 40 seconds before the tournament began - and barbecues.

Other winners in the national team's progression in the World Cup include official kit supplier Umbro, which said the red away shirt had become the best selling England away shirt of all time.

Umbro estimated one-fifth of the population had bought an item from the range in 2006, with more than 150,000 female fans buying the women's shirt.

Bookmakers were also set to cash in on England's fortunes today, with Sky Bet expecting to see punters gamble £30m on the team progressing to the semi-finals.

Not everyone was supporting England, though, with £3m wagered on the team crashing out and £1.5m expected to be bet by Scots on their rivals losing, Sky Bet said.

The football has even inspired one fan to set up a special website in the hope of pressuring his wife into naming their son after his hero, Steven Gerrard.

Matt Evans, from Cheltenham, had his heart set on naming the baby after the dynamic Liverpool captain and England midfielder - but his wife Jenny said no.

Undeterred, the lifelong Liverpool supporter sought the public's help in an attempt to get 28-year-old Mrs Evans to change her mind.

But although the public voted by 577 to 558 in favour of his chosen name, Mr Evans was forced to concede defeat: his son has now been registered as Matthew.

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