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Proper time, improper time, Fergie time, PGMOL time. Time to stop timewasting

By Tony Attwood

If you have ever studied physics you will know that there are two types of time: proper time and improper time.  Proper Time is experienced by the traveller, and Improper Time by the person who is not moving.  In normal everyday events it is hard to see any difference.  Start travelling at somewhere near the speed of light and you really do know the difference.  A person venturing to the stars might age 20 years on a trip to the Centuri system, and come back to find the Earth 1000 years older.

Quite what time Sir Alex Ferguson measures I have never worked out, but it seems to be a third type of time – Fergie Time.   When the Tiny Totts beat Manchester U he claimed that not enough stoppage time was played.  It is a regular claim of his when things go wrong.

And this is what links physics with football: what sort of time are we talking about when we discuss football matches?

Are we talking of the minute or so that teams take to celebrate a goal and return the ball.  The 10 seconds or more that some keepers take to release the ball once they have picked it up.  The 30 seconds to two minutes that they take to find the ball, find the area, put the ball in the right place, take a sip of water, kick mud off the boot, run up, decide the positioning was wrong, shout at the defenders, and then kick the ball out.

Then there are stoppages for free kicks.  Experts in time wasting take them very quickly and then get hauled back by the ref, who claims he was not ready, and then strangely they take a long old time to take the kick again.

Some time-wasting is legit.  There is nothing in the rules to stop a player taking the ball into the corner and trying to stop anyone else getting up.  But the time wasting of keepers etc is surely against the spirit of the game, if not the laws.

At the Emirates, the north bank fans have at last started to draw attention to these matters, by counting seconds the goal keepers take to kick the ball out. It tends not to speed them up, but it does alert the ref.  Sadly the ref usually does nothing more than wave to the player and ask him to hurry up.  The most we have ever seen is a keeper being given a yellow in the 93rd minute of  the game.  An automatic red card for time wasting would help matters a bit.

Subs are another problem area.  Count up the time it takes for a sub to get off the field – it can be up to a minute – sometimes two or three.  Watch it happen.  The manager or an assistant gives a sign to a player, who then trots to the point furthest away from the point where changes are made.   Then when the whistle goes for the substitution to happen he finds himself looking the other way.  Eventually his attention is drawn to the fact that he is going to be a sub.  Amazed and incredulous he stands still and points at himself in utter amazement.  When the board is shown in his direction he looks at the ground, shakes his head sadly, waves to his supporters and then slowly, very slowly walks off.

The amount of time considered lost for all time wasting and other activities is judged by the ref, and only the ref.  And since it is obvious that refs are not allowing time in relation to the time that should be allocated in relation to the game itself, clearly the refs are not doing their job properly.  If PGMOL was doing its stuff, it would warn all refs of this matter and start penalising them for failing to act properly in each game.  The fact that PGMOL does nothing is another indictment of that organisation.

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Further the refs should be sued by supporters who come to see a game properly refereed, and yet never do.  They are after all guilty of misrepresentation – the game is no longer 45 minutes each half – indeed it is nothing like.

The obvious answer is to have a master clock in the stadium where it can be seen by supporters and officials alike, and which is stopped when the ball is out of play, and started again when it is in play.

There’s one other point here.  Newspapers out to knock Arsenal regularly report about the fact that Arsenal is the most expensive team in the league to watch at home.  (It isn’t as we have shown time and again).   But supposing we actually measured the time wasting of each team, then we could balance cost against time played.  That would surely give us a much more interesting measure of value for money.

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18 comments to Proper time, improper time, Fergie time, PGMOL time. Time to stop timewasting

  • Ugandan Goon

    Lovely stuff!
    I wonder if it might help if the PGMOL started paying the refs by the minute of work?

  • Ugandan Goon

    value for money, don’t you know!

  • Sammy The Snake

    All points you mentioned are good and valid, but the game with the stop clock you refer to is football, American Football!

  • nicky

    The most irritating waste of time in my book, is Corner Time, practised by all clubs, Arsenal included. When in the lead, close to the final whistle, this tactic of taking the ball as near as possible to the opposing corner flag tends to inflame players and crowd alike.
    The answer, of course, to all forms of timewasting must surely be the Time Clock, similar to that used in US football games.
    Simply operated by the 4th official (he doesn’t seem overworked), the game’s lawmakers have the opportunity to rectify an annoyance which if not curbed, will almost certainly continue to escalate.

  • Matt Clarke

    What you really want is referees and players who play the game fairly.

    Nothing else will work – cheats will find a way around any device that is introduced.

    Still, I do not mean that as a denigration of your article – I, too, hate all that cheap and nasty behaviour.

    Good to hear that the North Bank are doing something about it too.

  • STG

    I put this up on a arsenal forum last week

    if you took your partner out for a set 3 course meal for say £40 per person and you had to pre pay, how would you feel if you received only 2 courses. in football this happens every match. you pay for 90 mins of football but if you lucky you get 60 minutes of football. the other 30 minutes the ball is out of play, stopped for injuries, free kicks, goal kicks, throw ins, substitutions, even goals and the celebrations.

    it is now time to change football for 2 reasons

    1, sponsors

    2, value for money

    there should be a official time keeper in the stands who stops the clock whenever the ball is out of play.
    because this will extend the amount of time a match will be played over, the game should be reduced to 80 minutes, 40 minutes a half with a 5 minute break after 20 minutes. at the 20 minute mark, teams will not be allowed into the dressing rooms but the managers and coaches can address the teams. this would allow extra advertising for tv companies.
    each team will be allowed 4 substitutes, but only a maximum of 2 can be used in the 1st half. half time will be 15 minutes long, with the 2nd half kicking off exactly 15 minutes after the end of the 1st half. any team failing to be ready for the 2nd half kick off will lose the option to use a substitute. 1 for a 1 minute delay and if the delay goes into a 2nd minute then then the team will lose a 2nd substitution. this would stop the so called gamesmanship of keeping the other team waiting out in the cold or rain.

    these measures would be very unpopular in stoke, sunderland, west ham, newcastle where running around, closing down teams, slowing the tempo of games is given the maximum priority in team talks.

    these measures give advertisers more time to advertise their products and so ensure the revenue continues into the game
    these measures give the paying supporters value for money. you pay for 80 minutes of football, you will get 80 minutes of football.

  • nicky

    @ Matt Clarke,
    What you want, Matt, is Utopia. Professional sport today is, I’m afraid, big business and equity mustn’t interfere with success.
    Even the game’s lawmakers can’t be wholly trusted.
    You and I and others like us can continue to strive for all that’s good about the game but it’s an uphill struggle and no mistake.

  • FunGunner

    Very interesting points, Tony. It’s a tactical tool like winning free kicks.

    Corner time, not sure that counts as timewasting in the sense of taking ages to take a goal kick etc, because the ball is still in play during “corner time” and the opposition can get the ball off you, in theory at least, and launch an attack. It’s a negative tactic but not cheating or gamesmanship.

  • STG

    Last season the average time the ball was in play was 64.42 mins Fulham had the best at around the 67 min mark Stoke were the lowest at 60 mins . Does this give value for money??

  • Gouresh

    hang on a minute….no pun intended……what about Shock Citys, ball cleaning? next they will have dryers around their field….player can take a drinks break whilst the ball is being dried……
    time added on???? only if they have have to hove the ball in the opponents box……….

  • WalterBroeckx

    If I only had time to find the solution 😉
    Or time to write my take on this. But being exhausted after having to answer a lot of questions today I decided to go to bed and pass the rest of the night time sleeping… 😉

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Good points that you’ve brought up ,Tony ,and I fully agree with you .If the powers that be turn a blind eye ,then its up to the fans to take matters unto their own hands.
    The loud counting at goalkicks and when the ball is in the keeper’s hands is a good start and this can be extended to unduly long freekicks, throw ins ,fake injuries and substitutions .
    In wrestling the fans count when their heroes punch /kick/thump
    their opponent just in case he forgets the number !
    Chants of ,” Why are we waiting ?” ,”Get on with it !” or just very loud booing would rile the players .Or for the more dignified , slow clapping ?

  • insideright

    Using multi-ball in the EPL would make a significant difference. It’s very noticable that time wasting in European matches (where multi-ball is obligatory) is virtually non existent.

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    I thought you meant as in scores level at ninety minutes, add a second ball and play two halves of five minutes, then add another etc.

  • jax

    Way, way back in the ’60’s (I think) BBC or ITV showed a recorded match with all the stoppages edited out, just the live action, and fitted it in to a 60 minute programme. It made uncomfortable viewing really, but showed how much action is lost for various reasons.
    The most obvious solution to the trudge off at substitutions would be to make the outgoing player leave the game at the nearest point on the pitch.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Another things that makes me as a ref angry is when a player goes down and needs treatment. Specially a defender of a team leading 1-0 in their own penalty area being hit by that fly passing by. Holding his head, KO,… Ref comes over, player holding his head, so no risk: assistance on the field. After a long spell with the magic sponge, the defender stands back on his feet with still visibly shaking knees. He is 5 meters away from the goal line and it would take him 6 steps to get out of the field. And what do they do? They walk to the side line… the whole 30 meters away. Of course with the shaky knees it takes a while before they get out of the field there.
    And the ref… they don’t say a word. They don’t send him off to the line nearest by. This is absolute madness.

    Oh and then the keeper suddenly realises that he has to bring the ball back in play. And then after 2 minutes of treatment the search for the ball starts…. And well you all know how that story goes I think….

  • WalterBroeckx

    In fact writing that down went quicker than the time the action on the field has taken. 😉

  • jax

    Stopping the clock (as suggested by STG) seems a good idea. It works perfectly in rugby where they end each half when the ball goes dead after 40 mins. Certain injuries are treated on field during play and not a second of play is lost for any reason whatsoever.
    I’m not against teams playing for time like taking the ball to the corner or passing it around the back or any other method as long as play is continuous and is within the rules as they stand.