Which would be a great name for a football blog. I once saw a Bristol City game at Ashton Gate in League One and a City player headed to the corner flag with maybe 87 minutes on the clock. I exhaled loudly and my friend scoffed at the side’s lack of a moral backbone but the two people to the right of us said that they were all for it: “Look, we’ve got to get out of this division.”. I think that City were leading by a single goal. With added time to come, they’d started ‘leaning for the tape’ with probably six or seven minutes to go.
If you go to a game, and there’s a countdown clock that everyone can see, that clock stops on 90 minutes and the loudspeaker guy says: “The fourth official has indicated that there will be a minimum of four minutes added on.”. Or three minutes or six or whatever. That figure held up is a minimum to still be played. I kind of understand crowds or respective benches getting antsy when the added-on time reaches four minutes but that is the minimum. Added-on time doesn’t then grant free licence for time to now be wasted. Wasted time in added-on time gets added on onto added-on time (tongue twister). One of the main commentators on Radio 5Live in the UK still doesn’t seen to understand this concept and often is aghast when the proscribed period of added-on time has gone by, yet the game is still going on. It also seems to be something not understood by those who get their football fix from the media rather than actually going to matches. TV and radio should do a better job of explaining this.
Channel 5 used to have a great Italian football show and live game on a Sunday afternoon a few seasons ago. One thing I noticed was that Italian games almost never seemed to have less than five minutes added-on time. This makes sense. A substitution is 30 seconds, for example, and in many a game, all six substitutions are made in the second half so that’s three minutes just there. A goal is 30 seconds too so two goals in the second half is another minute. So, that’s four minutes before we’re even in to any actual ‘time-wasting’. If the three players substituted by the leading side took their own sweet time getting off of the field, maybe another 30 seconds on top of each. That’s five and a half minutes and then there’s time taken over corners and throw-ins.
Yet, if there’s four minutes or more at the end, the section of the crowd who’s winning, will look at each other quizzically and proclaim that the world’s against them. ‘Fergie Time’ was more like real time but it was only seemingly applied to Ferguson’s sides. Additionally, added-on time at the end of the first half is always played down. A thrilling, non-stop first half will always lead to one added minute but a first half with injuries will only have two or three. Understandably so because there’s still another half to come and the excitement and relevance of added time comes at the end of the game. An extended injury, though, can’t be hidden. I once missed a cup game for Bristol City when there was a long injury in the first half and another long injury (with even an ambulance driving onto the pitch) within added time at the end of the first half. It took about 65 minutes to get through that first half.
I like to see a rule change in that any added time engendered in the first half doesn’t get played before half time but gets held over to the end of the second half. You’d get a more accurate effort at getting 90 minutes of play; you’d get more excitement at the finale; you’d forestall more overt time-wasting until later in the game (if you know going in to the second half that it’s already going to last 45 + 4 minutes, the finishing line will seem further away). Watching the live TV game at Ashton Gate last season between Bristol City and Huddersfield Town, there was a long injury in the first half that seemed to go on endlessly. My partner-in-crime timed it at 14 minutes and she was right. God knows how Sky or BT filled in the time: maybe more adverts but I like to think that they had to show film of a kitten with the ball of wool. We got that all added on before half time but it might have been cool for the players to start the second half already in the knowledge that the second half will be at least 59 minutes long.
The thing with going to the corner flag, though. You can tell that a player’s going to go there a second or two beforehand so why doesn’t the nearest defender go the scenic route, out of range of the attacker’s outstretched arms and go and stand in the corner quadrant, facing towards the pitch? Never understood why this doesn’t occur. Like if one line of traffic has closed or is blocked, you go use the other lane – going nowhere near the impediment – and get to your destination. A player can’t leave the pitch without permission? Players leave the pitch without specific permission all of the time: taking corners; taking throw-ins; avoiding tackles; taking goal kicks because the goalie’s injured and can’t kick it; backing up to take a free-kick that’s near the touchline or goal line; Gareth Bale’s goal for Real against Barca in the 2014 Copa del Ray. You just go off the pitch, come around the back and stand in the quadrant, with your heels at the very corner of the pitch. The worst thing that can happen is that the player with the ball turns away from the corner which is precisely the idea.
It shouldn’t be difficult to get out of arm’s reach and go around. The only trick is to be counter-intuitive as players are programmed to go to the ball. Any touch on the ‘grown man’ player and they’ll disgrace the notion of football being a contact sport and will hit the deck, thus eating up more time. That’s actually the aim: to gain a free-kick; the second aim is to go into the corner, waste time and then get a free-kick in order to waste more time. Anyway, it seems to me like a blight on the game that shouldn’t exist; a boil that can easily be lanced. Like with any other egregious aspect: ‘parking the bus’; diving for penalties; whatever it is, a combination of opposing play and/or a refinement of the games laws can act as a counterweight to malfeasance and chicanery.
I wish that some creativity could also be applied to free-kicks and corners too. When the odd free-kick is seen as breaking the mould, like the Argentina goal against England “…a wonderfully worked free-kick….” it is more a comment on the rubbish quality of most free-kicks rather than any great new achievement in lateral-thinking. Football, soccer, should take a lead from U.S. sports like gridiron and come up with ‘plays’. There must be loads of possible varieties for any number of free-kicks but so many are just garbage. A shot; a floating cross into the box; erm, that’s it.
Creativity can some from the bottom upwards. I can’t remember who it was but some team came to Ashton Gate a few years ago (Leyton Orient? Brentford?), in a game in League One, and when they got a corner, all of their attackers stood in a tight formation in the ‘D’ of the penalty box. As the corner taker ran forward to address the ball, they then split off in their prescribed directions to take up far post, near post, middle-of-the-box positions. The zonal marking mishegas and man-marking could still try to negate this but the tiresome bumping, pulling and shoving that so often takes places and blocks the success of corners (3% of corners lead to goals overall) might have a harder time of it.
Anyway, as egregious as things can be in football, I’m not sure that humourlessly trying to iron out all the game’s flaws with technology is the way to go. The new law, already in play in Scotland, about punishing divers retrospectively seems productive and positive, though. As with any form of retrospective sanctions, the ultimate idea is that the threat of punishment will act as a deterrent in itself. But the FA cup will see a trial of a video referee assistant, to find out how that all meshes into the game. As we’ve seen recently, even video referees can muck things up. I liked things mucked up, sometimes. Don’t bother to straighten things out, please.