Sunday, 9 December 2012

Is it Time for Centralised Timing?

There have been many innovations in football down the years, some good, and some bad.  Many of them have been brought in purely to improve the spectator experience.  One innovation which works well is the 4th official raising a board to tell everyone how much time there is to be added on at the end of the game. 

But is it time for another change?

How about centralised timing controlled by the referee?  He could stop the clock in a break of play and then re-start when he has ordered the game to continue.  Everyone in the ground would know how much time there is left and so would the viewer at home.

Let’s consider how you watch and react to football.  Imagine the scene, you’re watching your team play an important game, one you really want to win, it’s the 87th minute and still 0-0.  Then you concede a goal, how do you react?  There are 3 minutes to go and you’re probably thinking something like this;

“We’ve got one maybe two good chances to get back level, so we need to throw everything forward to grab a point”

Ok, so how about the goal is scored in the 82nd minute?  You’re not as frantic, but still mindful of the lack of time to go yet now you think you can still win the game.

These days our belief in how quickly goals can be scored has been stretched after games like the Champions League Finals of 1999 & 2005.  In fact, today Everton scored two goals in quick succession to overturn a 1-goal deficit and win 2-1 against Tottenham.  It happens often in English football that plenty of goals are scored in the final 10 minutes.  The Manchester derby and the Everton v Spurs game both contained late goals.

Go back to my question about the timing of a goal.  A goal is scored in the 87th minute, then the 4th official signals 5 minutes of injury time.  So in reality when the goal went in there were still 8 minutes left of play, which is like the goal being scored in the 82nd minute.  Your reaction is different, and so is the reaction of the players.  A goal in the 82nd minute with 5 minutes of time to added on, is as if it was scored in the 77th minute as there are still 13 minutes to be played.

Jonjo Shelvey (or an own goal) today scored for Liverpool in the 78th minute.  Now you’re thinking;

“there are 12 minutes left, we could still lose this so we need to be careful but is a 1-goal lead enough?  Do we need to keep pushing on for another one, just in case?”

Yet in today’s game there were 7 minutes added on at the end of the game.  In reality the goal was scored with 19 minutes still to be played, which is virtually halfway through the second half.

Just think, your team was 1-2 down and then goes 3-2 up midway through the second half, how do you react?  Certainly not the same way you would if there were only 12 minutes to go.

So is it time to allow the spectator and the players to know how much time there really is to be added.  During the injury time in the game between West Ham and Liverpool the home side wasted their own time complaining about a free-kick they’d given away.  As it was the ref added on a couple of minutes to the official 5.  With this new innovation, the clock would stop until West Ham had stopped complaining and then start again when the referee blows his whistle.

No more waiting ages for a goalkeeper to slowly walk back a few yards to take a goal kick.  The clock would only start once he was ready to take his run-up.

The game is already far quicker than when I first started watching.  The abolition of the backpass put paid to that.  Plus, allowing more than one football to be used during a game (not at the same time, of course), also sped up the play as the old trick of the centre-back booting the ball into row Z would prove useless if the little ballboy immediately throws another one back on.

I think the 4th official’s board works well as everyone knows how much is to be added.  The flip side of my argument is that there can be great excitement and renewed belief if the team who is 0-1 down in the 87th minute still has not scored, yet suddenly sees the board go up with 5 minutes still to be played.  It can give a huge boost.  But what if you knew how much time there was left and that was it?  Could it make for an even more exciting finish, as a team would know for definite if there were only 10 seconds to go and a high ball into the area could create much drama?

It would put paid to the tiresome habit of the winning team making a 92-minute substitution.  Rarely is it ever to change or improve the game, but simply a cynical attempt to ‘run down the clock’.  But if the clock had stopped when the referee signalled to allow the substitution, then there is no advantage for the player who strolls off purely to waste more time.

If you look at the stats the ball is in play for less than 70 minutes during most matches and with clubs charging more and more money for tickets, is it time for the fan to get his money’s worth and actually get 90 minutes of entertainment?

Centralised timing would do this.

Other sports invite the spectator into the murky world of the referees watch, such as Basketball and American Football.  Is it time football moved on?

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