Employers will pay the penalty if the big match goes into extra time

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The Independent Online

England is preparing for what could be the most momentous three days so far during this summer of long weekends.

England is preparing for what could be the most momentous three days so far during this summer of long weekends.

After the jubilee celebrations and early-morning excitement of the World Cup, England's clash against Brazil could trigger the biggest bout of absenteeism to date.

Although employers' organisations have claimed there has been little evidence that productivity has been affected, early stock market trading has been down on match days and unions called yesterday for offices to remain shut for the duration of the match.

While England fears Ronaldo, Rivaldo and co, employers are concerned about the game running into extra time and penalties. The golden goal now becomes a factor in the start of the working day.

Even an Old Bailey judge has allowed a jury time off to watch the game. Judge Martin Stephens said his court would not begin sitting until 11am on Friday. "I see at least 11 nods of agreement," he told the jury.

The GMB union said members had told them that their managers had allowed them to watch games at home as long as they were in by 9.30am. "If Beckham is stepping up to take the final penalty, people won't be hurrying into work for 9.30am," said a spokesman.

Tony Banks, a former sports minister, urged the Prime Minister to declare a public holiday if England reach the final. Although the final will be played at lunchtime on Sunday 30 June, he wants the following day designated as a holiday to allow fans to celebrate, or drown their sorrows, without having to worry about getting up for work. He also wants the holiday to be offered to the other home nations.

At Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, Mr Banks asked: "In the event of England beating Brazil on Friday, we stand a very good chance of going through to the World Cup final. It would be a national event of great significance."

The Prime Minister said he would "consider carefully" what Mr Banks said, but added: "Let us just get over the hurdle of beating Brazil on Friday, all right?"

The London Chamber of Commerce dismissed the idea as "silliness". It said businesses had already captured the national mood installing television sets at work.

However, after the 3-0 victory over Denmark in the last round, a mood of optimism appears to be sweeping the country. Sainsbury's has already sold more than 100,000 large England flags and more than 5,000 smaller ones for cars. Asda has shipped in 80,000 extra bottles of beer per store for the match, and expects to sell 20 million bottles of beer tonight.

Television sales were also up, with the electrical retailer Dixons opening early to cope with demand. Replica football kit is also selling well, with an extremely brisk trade in England's red away shirts at £35.

Marks & Spencer has set up big screens in 15 of its stores and is having to bring in fresh supplies of patriotic merchandise such as T-shirts emblazoned with the St George's cross.

The BBC last night re-ran the last World Cup meeting of the two sides from 1970, which the Brazilians won 1-0. If the result is the same this time around, the RNLI will have wasted its time. It has put back the open day for lifeboat stations by a week ­ until after the weekend of the final.

SWITCHED ON WHERE PEOPLE ARE WATCHING THE GAME

TONY BLAIR will watch the big match in Seville, Spain, where he will be attending a summit of European Union leaders. Mr Blair is expected to fly to Spain early so that he will be able to watch the start of the game at 8.30am Spanish time.

Yesterday Downing Street officials were alarmed by intelligence from Spain that the match may not be shown on terrestrial television. But they hope that the Prime Minister will be able to watch on a cable channel. "Sorting this out is more important than the business of the summit," quipped one official.

Mr Blair is expected to watch with officials including Godric Smith, his press secretary and a supporter of Cambridge United, and Sir Stephen Wall, his adviser on Europe. Alastair Campbell, Burnley's best-known fan, will not be attending the summit.

LORD WOOLF, the Lord Chief Justice, whose ruling on pub licensing hours paved the way for landlords to serve alcohol during early-morning World Cup matches, will be listening to the match on the radio. He said: "I will not be watching but will be listening up until the normal time I leave for work and will be kept up to date with the score thereafter – especially if we are winning."

DAVID LODGE, the novelist and critic whose books include Small World, will see the game over breakfast at home in Birmingham.

"I shall be watching it on my own, in my dressing gown, holding a cup of tea because I doubt very much if my wife will want to watch a football match that early," he said.

"I quite fancy England now, but I think it depends very much on the fitness of Owen and Beckham. If they are in top form we have a very good chance, but without them there is very little brilliance in the team."

LORD HOLLICK, chairman of the South Bank complex in London, said he would be watching the match on a big screen in the boardroom of his company, United Business Media. He will be joined by about another 100 people. He will be watching "with my England strip on," he said.

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