World Cup countdown: Here we go

The sun's out, the flags are flying, England are winning and it hasn't even started yet. But there may be World Cup trouble ahead, at home and work
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The Independent Football

And so begins a month of hard tackling, cries of foul, shirt-pulling, and shouting. Not all of it, however, will take place on a football field in Germany. English homes and workplaces look set to provide four, long quarrelsome weeks, if relationship and employment specialists are to be believed.

Relate, the UK relationship support organisation, experienced a rise in the number of troubled couples who approached them during and after the last World Cup, and are braced for an even sharper increase this year. Counsellor Denise Knowles said: "Couples up and down the country may feel the tensions rise as time that would have been spent together gets dedicated to non-stop football."

Several surveys - admittedly not all of scientific exactitude - claim that major sporting events are a peak time for infidelity. Both they and Relate put this largely down to neglect of one partner by a sport-obsessed other. With 43 per cent of England fans reportedly admitting that watching the matches will take priority over their families - the highest figure in Europe - the prospects of domestic strife are considerable.

And it could last a long time. England's 6-0 defeat of Jamaica yesterday ensured that their supporters' hopes of the team's stay in Germany being a lengthy one remain fully inflated for nearly a week at least.

Six days from now, England will face Paraguay in the first of their group matches. It is an examination likely to be a great deal more rigorous than the one they were given at Old Trafford against the side ranked 46th in the world.

Three goals from Peter Crouch, plus one each from Owen and Lampard and an own goal, will go on the scoresheet, but the real significance of the occasion was that there were no further serious injuries. The match was also Sven Goran Eriksson's final home game as national coach.

Tomorrow the squad will fly from Luton airport to Karlsruhe in the Baden-Baden region of Germany aboard BA9200C. For collectors of such omens, it may be reassuring to note that the plane will bear the insignia of three lions, and that a high tea, including scones with clotted cream, will be served. Then, two days later, its most valued member, Wayne Rooney, will return to Manchester for the defining scan on his broken metatarsal. If the prognosis is bad, he will be replaced in the squad and revert to the role of Aston Martin-driving talisman.

Meanwhile, at the workplace, employers' reactions to the event range from hostile to embracing, and the situation is certainly confusing. According to Employment Law Advisory Services, more than 80 per cent of firms are threatening to "get tough" with those taking sickies before, during or after matches. Another expert, finance recruiters Nigel Lynn, say 67 per cent of firms will let staff watch games in work time.

But Tony Bourne, partner at Glovers solicitors, says: "What of those employees who may not wish to watch the match? Do they get time off too? It could be construed that men would get time off to watch football but women would not get equal free time off. It could be viewed as indirect sex discrimination."

Yet even though only one of England's group games falls within normal working hours (a 5pm kick-off), many employers are hiring extra televisions and setting aside meeting rooms for World Cup viewing.

Others will go further. Law firm Linklaters in the City of London, is installing flat-screen plasma TVs, and Bloomberg will erect its giant screen in Finsbury Square, as a sort of "Henman Hill" for City workers.

For those who couldn't give a hoot - stereotypically, and statistically, women - a small industry has developed. Airlines such as EasyJet are selling women-only getaways, as are many hotels.

The most eye-catching offer so far is the Linthwaite House Hotel in the Lake District, which is laying on "soccer widow" breaks. On these, the "F-word" (football) is banned, any guest overhearing a member of staff using it can claim free champagne, and all newspapers delivered to the hotel will have the sports section removed before distribution.

If England's results don't go to plan, then football-phobics may not be the only ones asking for the sports pages to be kept from them.

WORLD CUP SHORTS

Make a Splash

Nuremberg, where England play Trinidad & Tobago on 15 June, has always said it will give British fans "a special welcome". Strange then that at the centre of one of the city's huge fan camps is a 25m-deep lake with strong currents that is full of mercury. Are city authorities going to cordon it off from drunken fans? No. They're just going to put up a sign saying "No bathing".

Desperate Men

Unscientific survey of the week award goes to Braun, which asked men what they would do to get a World Cup ticket. Nearly 10 per cent said they would sell an internal organ; a third said they would sell their partner's shoe collection; nearly 50 per cent said they would give up sex; and more than a fifth said they were happy to take a bath full of snakes.

Cross to Bear

World Cup correspondents' bloomer of the week comes from the Trinidad & Tobago Express. Their man in London wrote about the flags that flutter everywhere. But he may have been confused as to where they buy them, writing: "The red cross of St Michael on the white background that constitutes the England flag is everywhere."

Suite Dreams

Fifa president Sepp Blatter has long been booked into a suite at Berlin's Hotel Adlon. The cost? €15,000 a night - including a butler to iron his daily newspaper.

EXTRA TIME

Bangladesh university suspends exams for World Cup after students storm vice-chancellor's office

Subbuteo World Cup features 1in-high Rooney on crutches

UK gamblers estimated to wager more than £1bn on tournament - triple what they spent at the last one

Mexico's coach puts six players under hypnosis

Portuguese parliament changes schedule to avoid clash with fixture against Mexico

British company launches World Cup vibrator

Scots buying huge numbers of Trinidad & Tobago flags

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