Football-mad bosses are throwing their weight behind England's bid for World Cup glory by turning the big matches into a footie bonanza for their entire workforce.

On-Line Financial Management, which has staff working in Billericay, Southend, Benfleet, Westcliff, Shoebury, Great Wakering, and Grays is planning to pipe England's matches on to a big screen at its Rayleigh High Street office allowing staff to catch the action live.

The time difference between here and Japan means England's three group games will all kick off early in the morning, UK time.

Fears have been growing that the nation's workplaces could be left deserted as patriotic staff attempt to place themselves in front of a television screen to watch the matches - some by taking holidays, others by succumbing to an epidemic of bogus illnesses.

Research by electrical store chain Currys found that nearly half of all men and 19 per cent of women intend to be away from work on June 7, the day of the big match against Argentina.

On-Line managing director Rob Jupp said: "I am a massive football fan myself, and I certainly wouldn't want to miss it."

Elsewhere in south Essex, however, most firms have made no plans for the big event and are insisting that it will be business as usual - World Cup or no World Cup.

Football fan Barry Wiltshire, managing director of Leigh Timber, ruefully admitted: "Unfortunately, we just can't afford to take the time off. We would love to shut for the games, but regrettably builders need to be making money and they need us to supply them."

Published Thursday, March 21, 2002