Michael Bailey: Countdown on to a time when Norwich City and everyone else waste nothing
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So the thing is, with this week’s column I really wanted to get to the heart of such a crucial issue. That’s what I hope, so that when it comes to the crunch and we all think about what things could look like, with our partisan specs and love for the game, which is a really good game of course…
I’ve always loved it. I’m sure you have too. Sometimes just seeing a pitch can make the heart beat a little faster…
What’s that? Oh yes, my original point. So the thing is, with this week’s column I really wanted to get to the heart of such a crucial issue. Have I already said that? Deary me. I wonder if I’ll get to the point before I run out of space.
Oh yes, time-wasting. Procrastination. Game-management. They can be as annoying as those first three paragraphs (I hope you noticed!).
One of the detachments I’ve experienced in switching from fan to journalist is an appreciation for game-management. All sides do it – and it’s only annoying if the referee ignores it until 85 minutes, before dishing out a token yellow card and registering no more than two minutes of added time.
Just last week, Carrow Road had it tough as Burton and Stephen Bywater played the game perfectly to pick up their goalless draw and reaction to that 5-0 defeat at Leeds.
Bywater is the latest in a long line of memorable goalkeeping performances throughout the years, that will be remembered for how long it took them to take goal kicks and how long they could get away with replacing the ball.
And as happens in football, just four days later it was Norwich City doing the honours as they frustrated Sheffield United to and beyond breaking point.
At Carrow Road there was a willingness to criticise their own side’s failings in missing out on three points. At Bramall Lane, it was more akin to myopic disdain for their heretic visitors.
If the Blades don’t play the most wholesome game of football ever seen at Carrow Road come January, then recent history will deserve its mention.
However, the reality is now dawning that it doesn’t have to be like this.
Games of football don’t have to endure an unknown clock ticking by as goalkeepers jog unnecessarily to the other side of their six yard box for a goal kick, or withdrawn players crawl off on their hands and knees to drag out a substitution.
During the summer the International Football Association Board (Ifab) unveiled its Fair Play document, with a whole host of ideas they wanted debating to see if football could be improved – and one such idea was shaking up way matches could be timed.
Effectively, Ifab proposed – and still proposes – altering a match to 30-minute halves with the clock stopped whenever the ball is out of play.
If you’re worried that would mean losing a third of your ticket value each Saturday, research apparently shows the ball is generally in play for only 60 minutes of any football match anyway. Reports that Saturday’s Norwich win in Sheffield took that figure down to 40 minutes are believed to be fake news.
Some may wonder if stopping and starting a clock may add more breaks to a sport that has the wonderful trait of usually being more fluid than most – but in reality, if a side is going to spoil the flow of a game then they will do it, regardless of the way it’s timed. What you don’t want them doing is wasting the time away too.
The move could take time-keeping off the referee’s hands, which makes sense given how hard the rest of their job is. With simple tweaks like the clock counting down and maybe in rugby where a half cannot end until the ball goes out of play, the end-of-game tension won’t go away.
It would mean the loss of a few clichés of course – and if you don’t like the sound of all this because it means football will lose some of its controversy and lively debate, then we’re venturing into the same territory as video refereeing; the integrity of the game should be far more important than the discussions of farce from the pitch.
Which is what seems to be the big draw – making game management about keeping the ball and preserving your lead, rather than being tempted into feigning injury, replacing the ball just one more time, substituting the player furthest away from the dugout or seeing just how far you can push the referee while relying on him to forget where he was in tallying his added time.
All of the above are part of the game as it works now and as we know it. Everyone has to get on with them – and yes, that includes you Chris Wilder.
But that’s not to say football as a sport and its supporters, wouldn’t be better off if things were done a different way.