Why football should be played on a stopwatch

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Statistics and anecdotes have proven the reality of time wasting and verbal abuse in controlling the clock in football matches all over the world. Here is why a stopwatch could fix it.

Perhaps the most irritating element of  stoppage time is the fact no one knows when the game will end.

Despite fourth officials clearly stating the number of minutes of extra time to be played every half, there is no way of knowing the exact thoughts behind the official’s calculation and no countdown is given.

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This becomes most evident in the instance of injury time. Coaches have turned to harassing fourth officials when allotting injury time as a means to get more for their team’s comeback.

This is prominent in the case of Sir Alex Ferguson during his time at Manchester United from 1986-2013. He openly admitted to the BBC in a 2014 interview he would use intimidation of officials to his advantage.

“That’s why I used to go with my watch,” he told the BBC.

“But I never looked at my watch. Honestly. I didn’t know how many minutes, but it gets across to the opponents and the referee. It was just a little trick.”

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And it certainly worked, as 2012 studies from British analytics company OPTA showed Manchester United would receive on average one minute and 19 seconds more injury time when they were losing.

The use of a stopwatch however would prevent such from occurring. By pausing play until the player has either left the field or gotten back on their feet, officials would face less abuse as there would be no debate in the amount of minutes left to play.

In contrast, the opposite occurs when teams are ahead. It is well known among fans and players alike that teams tend to milk time when they are ahead, another factor that could be prevented with a stopwatch.

A 2018 study of the European Champions League by Greve, Rudi and Walvekar demonstrates the severity of time wasting implemented by teams when they are ahead in the game.

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The results proved throw-ins and corner kicks were the biggest time wasting strategies. On average, teams ahead in the game would spend 10-20 seconds on a throw-in while a team behind would spend five-10 seconds, nearly half the amount of time.

Similarly, corner kicks showed teams ahead were spending about five to seven more seconds than teams who were trailing.

Goalkeeper kicks and free kicks were the next influential, with substitutions remaining consistent across the board.

Goalkeeper restarts were also predominantly consistent, although some outliers showed winning teams taking up to double the amount of time compared to a losing side.

Implementing a stopwatch would fix this, as the clock would only continue once the ball had left the hands or feet of the player initiating play. This would eliminate the sense of  time wasting or cheating.

Circling back to the aforementioned point of not knowing how long is left in the game, the use of a stopwatch would motivate players to hustle right until the dying seconds if they knew exactly how long was left to make a comeback.

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How many dramatic buzzer beaters have you seen in soccer? Not many when you compare it to the likes of basketball or AFL that have fans screaming at every little movement in the last minute of play.

By creating this time-crunch incentive there is an added sense of urgency in the atmosphere that would hype up players and fans, and keep them going to the very last second.

Tradition is tradition and while introducing a stopwatch time system would be straying from the norm, there are several positive impacts it would have on the game to benefit players, fans, and officials.

It would prevent the frequency of time wasting strategies and abuse on fourth officials, creating a fairer game that will excite fans and motivate players to give there all right down to the dying seconds.

So where do you stand? Are you a traditionalist or are you open to the change?

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Breanna Redhead
WA based student journalist, covering Perth Glory for the 2020/21 A-League season
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