There’s a time and place for time wasting, it’s called work. We all do it. I earn about £1.12 from every sit down wee and sleep through the night like a new-born babe. The difference is that I can’t charge people upwards of £20 to watch me do clerical work. This season, I paid to watch my team hold the ball up at the corner flag at the end of the first half in order to successfully hold on to a 1-0 lead. I never boo my own team because deep down I always worry that someday, in a fit of micro-karmic retribution, I’ll be booed when I return from the photocopier with someone else’s printouts. But I don’t like it when my players sink to that level.
Time wasting is the dark heart of gamesmanship. More evil than Ernst Blofeld, Emperor Palpatine, perhaps more evil than Michael Gove. It is the worst aspect of attending a football match. Opposition full backs who have OCD-like unwavering routines in which they follow before taking a throw-in from inside their own half. The visiting goalkeeper who couldn’t possibly take a goal kick without trudging over to the opposite side of the six yard box, carrying the ball like Harry Enfield’s Kevin, as if it isn’t even part of his job. These are the sorts of behaviours that need to be legislated out of the game in the same way the back-pass rule was introduced, a change in timekeeping would be a universal step forward.
Currently the rules give the referee full responsibility over the timekeeping of the match. The fourth official is a mere mouthpiece, a live version of the clock inverting its colours on TV. This means that the referee, with the help of his team, has to keep track of absolutely every incident on the pitch and provide a time estimate for each stoppage without stopping his watch. Up to one third of the match can easily comprise of not football. One third! And then some bloke in a tracksuit who’s been sat on a stool by the tunnel twiddling his thumbs holds up a board gives you a token four minutes because there was a goal and each team made a couple of subs.
Rather than just scream into the abyss, here’s my proposal: the clock continues to tick for a maximum of five seconds after every break in play and then stops until play resumes. This window would allow teams in possession to capitalise on their momentum with a quick restart, should they wish; allow referees to concentrate on making correct decisions in their own time; but the main reason for introducing a stop clock would be to eradicate tactical timewasting.
Okay, so we’ll lose the drama of injury time and I will concede that seeing ‘Solskjaer 90 (+3)’ written down evokes some incredible memories, but would there really have been any less drama if those goals had been scored in the 88th and 90th minutes instead? The final moments of any tight game would be just as nail biting.
And if the games are stretched out for another 30 minutes from all the suddenly time-wasting, will it really cause that much fuss? Well, yes. An extra half hour will cause problems for fans, police and even the poor journalists submitting their match reports. Travelling to some games would require watertight itineraries. But that can happen at any game, if you factor in serious injuries or the chance of the police keeping you in the away end while they clear the streets for your escape. Why not just relax and take your time coming home? Maybe even stay the night? Enjoy a sunny Sunday in Shrewsbury, safe in the knowledge that you’ve bagged a lucky point with that 89th minute equaliser. Stopping the clock at the football doesn’t mean that clock has to stop on the rest of your weekend.
Don’t just think about the stop-watch for football, think about the British economy. And if you can’t simultaneously improve the economy, the spectacle of football and my blood pressure by suggesting one alteration on the internet, what can you do? Sorry to waste your time.
Is Liam right? Is football ruined by dark skulduggery? Or are Dark Arts all part of the game? Write to us: [email protected]
You can follow Liam Ager on Twitter (@realliamager)