Police ordered to tackle truant fans at victory parade

Central London pubs and stores set to cash in as thousands flock to capital to see rugby heroes

By Steve Bloomfield,Andrew Johnson
Sunday 07 December 2003 01:00

Junior Jonny fans who bunk off school to watch Wilkinson and the England rugby team parade the World Cup tomorrow will find themselves back in the classroom quicker than it took their hero to drop-kick his winning goal.

Police officers have been ordered to return unaccompanied children to school, a move that has disappointed members of the England side. "It's a real shame," said Paul Grayson, part of the squad that beat Australia in the World Cup final last month.

Half a million are expected to line the route in London as the team passes in an open-topped bus, but local education authorities will take a tough line on absentees.

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan police said: "Any children present will be dealt with accordingly and questioned ... We don't want to encourage them to come down." Jonnymania was dealt another blow yesterday when it emerged the greatest fly-half in the world - now hailed as rugby's David Beckham - had turned down £1mto appear in Hello! magazine.

The 24-year-old, who has been obsessed with rugby since childhood, says his devotion to the game must come before any Goldenballs-style publicity deals. The drop-goal he scored in the last minute of extra time means Wilkinson is expected to earn £5m a year from advertisers and sponsors.

An official Wilkinson calendar is being rushed out for Christmas, but he insists this is only because several unofficial versions have already hit the shops. And with a silence that is becoming his trademark, Wilkinson declined to comment on the police plans to clear the streets of celebrating young fans.

The Government last night defended its decision to stage the parade on a Monday. A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport insisted that: "It was the only time the RFU could get the whole squad together." For employees, however, there will be no such trouble. Businesses are set to give workers longer lunch breaks.

A spokeswoman for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said: "We hope lots of people get the chance to go but it's up to employers and employees to decide between themselves."

Pubs lining the central London route will cash in once again as fans watch the parade on television while stores expect many of the revellers to do a spot of Christmas shopping once the two buses carrying the squad and trophy have passed.

Rugby fans from across the country are expected to flock to London to catch a glimpse of their World Cup-winning heroes. National Express says coach ticket sales are up 3 per cent over the weekend, with higher demand for travel on Monday. The whole event will be broadcast live on BBC and ITV.

The parade will signal the end of a hectic two weeks in the limelight for England's newest sporting heroes. Bookmakers have closed the betting on Jonny Wilkinson being named BBC Sports Personality of the Year this week, despite an internet campaign led by an Australian newspaper to catapult perennial loser Tim Henman to the top of the poll.

And Wilkinson's club, Newcastle Falcons, have even moved their match on Sunday forward to 1pm to enable the England fly-half to catch a helicopter to London for the awards. Viewers will be able to see Wilkinson's last-minute drop goal after the BBC struck a deal to show footage of the World Cup final. It had been feared that charges of £6,500 a minute would render the BBC unable to show the winning drop-goal.

But world rugby's governing body has accused the BBC of acting "deplorably" in its battle for the rights to screen the footage. A spokesman for the International Rugby Board (IRB) said: "We deplore the fact that the BBC chose to negotiate through the media. The figure that was mentioned was totally wrong."

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