Sir Alex Ferguson complained that not enough injury time was played at the end of Manchester United's 3-2 defeat to Tottenham at Old Trafford on Saturday, and amid the predictable guffawing about "Fergie time," he was right. Roughly, 30 seconds were lost for each United goal, a minute for the Spurs goal, a minute for the Rooney free-kick that hit the post and two minutes for substitutions. So, close to five minutes total, in a game that last only 94min 28sec – and that's without factoring in the time-wasting that went on every time the ball went out of play for a Spurs restart.
That is not to denigrate Spurs, who were understandably trying to kill time – ticking away, the moments that make up a great football match, Pink Floyd might (not) have sung – but it's the duty of the officials to account for it. Similarly so at Anfield last week: three goals, two substitutions and a long injury break should not equate to five minutes.
The laws of the game are liberal and nebulous – some might say badly drafted – with regard to this point: allowance is made in either period for all time lost through substitutions, assessment of injury to players, removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment, wasting time and any other cause.
The amount of time considered lost is at the sole discretion of the referee. Or, in other words, there's no stipulation as to what referees must do, meaning that application is arbitrary, random and unpredictable.
This also means that supporters are short-changed, often seeing very little of what they're there to see. If one team has the advantage, it's easy to slow down restarts and substitutions, and there's nothing that the other can do to prevent it. This should not be part of the game, even less a skill, and it should not matter whether and how quickly a player is able to retrieve the ball from the net after scoring a goal.
It would be easy to eliminate this problem, too. Stop the clock every single time the ball is dead, and if this means adjusting the amount of time played, then fine. It's more important for a game to last as long as it's meant to than operate for an undefined an inconsistent period within a traditional 45-minute framework.
Also, display the time on scoreboards, so everyone would know how long was to go – anyone caught counting down at the end could be handed a lifetime banning order – and have an official solely responsible for its administration.
Most potential improvements to the running of the game have a downside. This does not, and gives us precisely what it is we're here for – actual football.
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image: © tomjoad