Injury time – time for reform?
I don’t know why anyone was surprised when Manchester united scored a last-gasp winner, in last Sunday’s derby against Manchester City. Just as Alex Ferguson will look at his watch and complain about a lack of stoppage time when things aren’t going his way, time and again his side will score at the death, with the clock run out and the referee musing over when to blow his whistle.
Still, there continues to be something irksome about this.
Twohundredpercent does make a valid point about the semantics of stoppage time – four minutes means at least four minutes, not ‘no more than four minutes’. This is fair enough. The referee can add as much time as he sees fit.
But the Guardian’s analysis of Opta’s injury time stats puts events in a whole new light.
Over the past three years, referees have played more injury time when Manchester United have been behind than when they are leading. Here, finally, is the evidence of what many of us have suspected for many years.
Sure, Manchester United may be deadly in the last moment of a match. Maybe teams waste more time when they are beating Manchester United, to protect their slender lead, hence that added time. But these numbers do suggest more than this. Referees give them more time when they need it – fact. That crowd and that manager, pointing at his watch, are intimidating referees.
What is to be done? Referees need to be stronger. If that is too simple, all managers should be disciplined for making any gestures or comments about time-keeping. Really, any intimidation should be looked at very, very seriously.
If all of this doesn’t work, then have an external timekeeper, or a set formula for stoppage time.
While leaving the amount of stoppage time to the discretion of the referee is lovely in theory, in practice it leaves too much ambiguity. If players and managers knew there would be say, 30 seconds for each substitution, they could take that into account. If a player wastes time, book him, and add 30 seconds (or however long is necessary) to the clock, or at least inform the captains. Then there can be no dark conspiracy theories or nasty surprises.
If referees are more open to explaining their processes, and less susceptible to influence, perhaps we can cut down the ugly scenes of Sunday. And maybe the game will be just a little bit fairer for all.
Very funny that the stats are only for Man U and that they only used 4 matches that Utd were losing and 15 when they were winning. this is not an even stat.
Hi Paddy. Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
I thought the stats in the Guardian were a bit more comprehensive than that, as they showed the average stoppage times over three seasons, not just a few games.
Still, I’d certainly be very interested to see similar stats for the other Premier League sides over the same period, and see who has benefited most from injury time over the past few seasons. I’d suspect it is the bigger clubs who have benefited the most…
On Match of the Day they worked out the time needed to be added on after Bellamy’s goal celebration (and fan altercation) plus a substitution by City. The total came to one second less than the referee allowed. If we’re to castigate refs for being one second out then we really ought to be replacing them with androids. Or Swiss watchmakers but lots of England fans would have problems with anyone Swiss refereeing in the Premier League.
Fair enough, then.
But I do still think that there needs to be more transparency over injury time. On too many occasions players and coaches complain about too little/too much injury time. If decisions were articulated more clearly it would help stop this.
One of the columnists I read in the papers this weekend (I can’t remember which) suggested that it is absurd to give the responsibility of injury time to the busiest person on the pitch – if there’s a goalmouth scramble, should he be looking at his watch? I have to agree. Why not give the injury time responsibilities to the fourth official, or another official, to free up the referee a little and make stoppage time just a little less controversial.
By the way, thanks for the comments!
I think the fourth official route sounds very sensible but we’re not only dealing with common sense, we’re dealing with UEFA, who seem so reluctant to admit we’re living in a digital, multi-camera age that they’re probably afraid to delegate time-keeping to anyone but the referee. After all, if they did so, they’d have slightly shakier ground beneath them when it comes to resisting the extremely sensible step of having video referees check penalty decisions or whether the ball has crossed the goal-line.
Steve, I believe what Paddy was refering to is the fact that in comparing averages derived from as little as 2 matches against as many as 17 (as they did for the 2007/08 season), the figures are never going to be fairly comparable. The way that the Guardian journalist listed only the average rather than the complete figures for stoppage time given in all the matches (while neglecting completely to include the same average stoppage time figures when the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal etc are not winning at home) was really quite disingenuous.
The way in which the Guardian writer tried to infer the same conclusion he had made about the previous seasons to the three home matches United had played at the time of writing speaks volumes:
“The pattern has continued in the first three games of the season. In the two games United have led they have played an average 304sec of injury time. On Sunday, Atkinson allowed the game to go on for 415sec.”
The average from the two previous winning games was indeed lower than the average from the derby, but when examined individually, you will note that Mike Dean actually blew the final whistle in the United Vs Arsenal game at 97:08, 13 seconds longer than Martin Atkinson allowed during the derby. Because only 3 minutes were added against Birmingham, a much lower average of 304 seconds is produced and then compared against the 415 seconds given in the one game against City.
This shows the obvious flaws in comparing averages from such unequal numbers of games, not to mention only including such figures for one team.
Just for clarity, the averages are derived from the following matches:
Matches where United were not in winning position on entering stoppage time: 4 (Vs Arsenal, Chelsea, Middlesbrough & West Ham)
Goals scored during stoppage time in those matches: 0
Extra points secured during stoppage time in those matches: 0
Matches where United were not in winning position on entering stoppage time: 2 (Vs Reading & Man City)
Goals scored during stoppage time in those matches: 1 (Carrick Vs City @ 91:03 minutes, United lost 1-2)
Extra points secured during stoppage time in those matches: 0
Matches where United were not in winning position on entering stoppage time: 5 (Vs Newcastle, Sunderland, Liverpool, Villa & Arsenal)
Goals scored during stoppage time in those matches: 2 (Vidic Vs Sunderland @ 90:01 minutes – United won 1-0 – and Macheda Vs Aston Villa @ 92:04 minutes – United won 3-2)
Goals conceded during stoppage time in those matches: 1 (Dossena for Liverpool)
Extra points secured during stoppage time in those matches: 4
Hardly controversial when you look at the facts, is it? The total number of United goals scored in stoppage time at Old Trafford over those three seasons was 3. The latest goal scored in extra time in those was Macheda’s at 92:04 minutes – well within the average amount of stoppage time given in all other Premier League matches. The total number of extra points picked up by United in stoppage time at Old Trafford during those three seasons was 4.
The article also implies that more time than is justified is given when United are not winning at the end of normal time, but that is also misleading. Here for example is the detail of time added on for the two games in 2007/08:
The stoppage time given against Reading and City was 4 minutes and three minutes respectively.
The 4 minutes stoppage time indicated by the fourth official in the match against Reading can be explained upon watching the match: (5 second half substitutions = 2:30 minutes added. Injury to Duberry = 40 seconds stoppage. Kitson’s red card/Evra injury = 1:40 minutes. Total = 4:50 minutes of stoppages). Actual time of final whistle: 94:58 – delay caused by Reading conceding a free kick at 94:00. Referee blew whistle as soon as Ronaldo’s free kick went over the crossbar.
3 minutes stoppage time indicated by the fourth official in the match against City: (6 second half substitutions = 3.00 minutes added). Carrick scored on 91:03. Play resumed at 91:26. Actual time of final whistle: 93:23.
The total amount of stoppage times in those two games was 8:21 minutes (501 seconds). The average is 250.5 seconds. Though all of it was justified by events in each match, this will obviously not compare well against an average taken from 17 matches where stoppage time anywhere between 2 minutes and 5 minutes are given. It really is a totally misleading and unscientific way of reaching a conclusion.
Many thanks for the extensive, and informative, comment.
I certainly think it would be interesting to look at the trends over a longer period, and to compare on a club-by-club basis – not only to see who has the most injury time, but who benefits the most from it, through equalising/winning goals scored in injury time.
The Guardian piece was clearly a little rushed. The above sort of analysis, and meaningful reading of it, would take time.
Even so, I think that decisions on injury time are controversial and difficult enough that they should be removed from the referee’s duties.
I also think that managers should be disciplined more strongly for challenging such decisions, and others, made by referees. It makes a mockery of the Respect campaign when the highest profile and longest-serving Premiership manager is allowed to continually question referees’ authority with very little come-back.
I disagree that the Guardian article was rushed, I think it deliberately set out to imply (or as you and many others seem to have taken it “to prove”) that United are helped out by referees. Looking at the individual games in question as I have done, anyone can see that is not the case. The article fails to mention the basic fact that only three goals were scored over three years in the matches in question! The reader is instead left to interpret the article as they would like, without the full facts.
I agree that timekeeping should be taken out of the referee’s hands and given to a timekeeper, but then the rules for adding on time would need to be changed, particularly this clause: law seven: ‘The duration of a match’.
Time may be added on for assessment of injury to players; removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment; wasting time: and any other cause.
Added time is at the referee’s discretion.
Clearly there is only a common consensus about adding on time for other factors such as goals scored and substitutions – and one referee may give 30 seconds while another will not. The same applies to the taking of quick free kicks. In one match the likes of Thierry Henry will take a quick one and score before the opposition have had chance to organise themselves while in another, Mikel Arteta will attempt the same and receive a booking because this is another matter that is not specified in the rules and again “at the referee’s discretion”. It is matters like this that need to be changed so that the same rules apply in all matches rather than playing to a different set for each referee.
Until the FA removes these ambiguous rules, teams, players, managers and supporters will feel they are vicims of injustices and that is why I feel the “respect campaign” is doomed to failure.
Also, the dialog should be opened up so that when a manager makes comments about a referee’s performance, instead of the manager being “asked to explain their comments”, the referee’s are also asked to explain their decisions. Why, for example, in the wake of the Merseyside derby in 2007/08 did David Moyes have to answer to the FA while Mark Clattenburg did not have to explain a performance that appeared one-sided to all but the most blinkered of Liverpool fans? The FA’s protection of referee’s from any – often justified – criticism also detracts from the respect campain as it is not seen as being fair to both parties and poor referees appear above the law.
As for Ferguson’s recent outburst, I think he was out of line (and quite probably wrong seeing how referee’s have to prove their fitness twice a season and Wiley did just that recently) and a touchline ban is probably in order, but I do not think it was the worst thing said about referees in recent memory either, although it has (typically) resulted in the biggest outcry in the media. He did not bring into question the referee’s integrity as other managers have done recently which I think is a far worse offense.
Also, it should be recognised by now that Ferguson says what he feels at the time, well aware of the consequences and often deliberately in order to divert attention and pressure away from the players after below par (or downright abysmal as was the case against Sunderland) performances. He has done this for years, and received several fines and touchline bans – what more do people want? Execution apparently – according to some views I have read on internet forums over the years!
Back on topic, I think that all sense of injustice can be removed from the game by having a dedicated timekeeper and using readily available video technology to review goal-line and penalty box incidents as the match is played. If players know that the decisions given during the game are the correct ones and not due to poor positioning of one match official, any animosity toward the referee – whether from players, managers, fans or the media – will be eridicated. Unfortunately, we know this is not going to happen in the near future.
If it did, people would have to accept that no matter how irritating it may be to see United scoring a last minute goal or winning another league title, they have done so fairly (at least in the main, we do get the occasional dodgy decision so our way, but so do plenty of other teams – not just those in the “big four”), and not because they have received any help from referees, as tends to be the (lazy) view of opposition fans. I believe this is because it is easier to conform to this opinion than it is to accept that either United were either a superior side who deserved it, or that their side was simply not good enough (the latter is what I believe to be the case over the last two seasons, by the way – Liverpool handed us the title last season, not the referees!). Also it’d save the likes of us two a lot of typing.
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If I were his mother, I’d be hrerifiod at my sons behaviour. Yet if you think about it, this type of outburst doesn’t just happen. There had to have been warning signs and someone missed them or dismissed them.Dropping the young man from the team is a great start, as well as following through in the school board, but the legal ramifications need to be strict yet fair. He is a minor, but his behaviour can and most likely will escalate if not checked. Community service as well as probation would give him a nice wake-up call.Of course I am from Canada, so I don’t know what the Florida courts would decide. I just hope this is truly an isolated incident. It’s scary enough being a mother and a wife without kids sports becoming a battle-zone.
Hi Tim, I guess you can prove anything with statistics! Surely the point still stands that Man U get more injury time when they are losing/drawing than when they are winning? Even if the sample of games is relatively small?
Of course, there are bound to be several factors at play – for instance, teams beating Man U are likely to try and time-waste more. And perhaps Man U are a better-conditioned side and so are more capable than most to win game late on.
I think, however, this fuss about injury time is a result of Ferguson complaining about injury time for over twenty years, yet actually benefiting more than most from added time. He won a European Cup in injury time, you’d think he’d be happy! If nothing else, it does give rise to conspiracy theories, or a particular reading of statistics. And I think there is enough circumstantial evidence over the last twenty-odd years to show referees act differently at Old Trafford than elsewhere.
The Respect campaign is pretty meaningless, as fines and touchline bans are no deterrent. If they were, Ferguson (among others) would have stopped bleating years ago, instead he continues to blame referees as a technique to shield his players.
I’d suggest points deductions for teams that continue to flout the rules and bring the game into disrepute. That would be the only deterrent. It’ll never happen though. The FA are unlikely to do anything to make referees lives easier, or make decisions more transparent.
However, I don’t think the failure of the Respect campaign is purely down to the FA. At some point players, managers and teams need to take some responsibility and act professionally. This is for the good of the game. Not in some vague moral way, but in terms of halting the growing unrest among supporters who are tired of the pettiness and nastiness that permeates the sport. Commercially it makes sense, as far as I’m concerned.
Steve, all the article does prove is that United have a higher AVERAGE amount of stoppage time in those games. As I previously noted, it does not mean that they are given more added time in games thay are losing than in games they are winning. Nor does it mean lengthy stoppage times are not given when United are in a winning position at the end of normal time.
Some reasons that teams may be given more stoppage time in matches when they are not in winning positions may be that the opposition are timewasting as they await the final whistle, more substitutions are made in an attempt to change the game and – particularly in the closing minutes – they will take more time to organise free kicks and corners knowing that it may be their last chance to score. I’d imagine that the “anomoly” the writer finds in United games would be the same for other teams for the exact same reason. As he failed to quote the equivalent average times for any team other than United (when doing so would only have strengthened his case for pro-United bias), I can only imagine it is because they would have disproved it.
As for “circumstantial evidence”, well that is all it can be: circumstantial. People have a habit of remembering “dodgy decisions” at United over the years while forgetting all of those that benefit other teams (something which happens throughout the league on a weekly basis) or indeed those that actually cost United.
Case in point: The Pedro Mendes “goal” in 2004/05. Everyone watching on TV saw it cross the line. Everyone in the K stand saw it including all of the away fans adjacent to the goal. The incredulity arose because it seemed that the only person NOT to have seen the ball cross the line was the linesman. This is most likely because the shot was taken from over 40 yards out and the linesman (who was level with Mendes as he took the shot) could never have tracked the ball and could not be sure it had crossed the line from where he was at the time. Often wrongly said of this (at least I’ve read as much from people commenting on such debates) is that the decision cost Spurs a Champions League place that season – when in fact they finished 9th and had the goal counted they’d still not even have qualified for the UEFA cup. United also finished the season trophyless and in third place, 16 points above Everton. Never the less, it is often spoken of as a defining moment in the “referee’s helping United” debates, rather than an isolated but obvious piece of poor linesmanship that ultimately meant very little to either side.
Fast forward two years and Mendes returns to Old Trafford with Portsmouth in the FA Cup and after clears a Vidic header from a yard behind the line. The perfectly positioned linesman fails to award the goal. In the second half (with the score still 0-0), the same linesman rules out a stunning Henrik Larsson volley by wrongly flagging him offside. How many non-United supporters bring this up in these debates though? None, because they are all too easily forgotten while opposition fan’s memories form collections of all the other incidents they percieve to have favoured United over “twenty years”, while also forgetting those which have favoured other teams in the same period of time.
As far as the “pettiness and nastiness” in football, as far as I am aware, that has been part of the sport since the early 1970s at least, but it is dressed up as though it is a problem particular to the present day. Perhaps this is because of the way that almost every incident is captured on film and replayed constantly on the likes of Sky Sports News, with pundits and viewers asked to give their views. The same effect most likely explains why future non-United supporting football fans will regard Sir Alex Ferguson much less favourably than they would Brian Clough – a very similar character prone to his own brand of outburst over match officials and opposing teams, and why opposition fans believe in some FA/United conspiracy. Any penalty decision at Old Trafford is scrutinised over and over while one at Goodison Park or Craven Cottage is given a cursary review and then instantly forgotten about. When United getting an injury time winner receives weeks worth of TV and newspaper coverage while (for example) a similar 94th goal by Steven Gerrard for Liverpool is reported as little more tha typical Liverpool resiliance and quickly forgotten about, it can only be because football fans and writers would love for United to be knocked off their perch. Which I suppose is fair enough as reporting on United winning for the best part of two decades must get pretty boring.
I don’t really see the problem in working from those averages, apart from a small sample size and the need to take in other mitigating factors. However, it would be interesting to see what the averages are for other clubs, and if the bigger clubs appear to have an advantage or not.
I know the Guardian worked from Opta stats. Does anyone have any idea where a member of the public could obtain data on injury time to look into this in more depth? I’m no statistician, but I wouldn’t mind a play around with the figures…
Of course there has always been pettiness and nastiness in football. But times have changed. The Sky and Premier League ‘revolution’ have changed the game considerably. Now everything is scrutinised and discussion in far more depth, players and managers are under the microscope more, and so the game is at far more risk of reputational damage.
The ‘revolution’ also changed the make-up of the football fan who watches a top-flight game on a Saturday afternoon. The average age has shot up. So has the average salary, I’d suspect. The traditional fans and the younger fans have been priced out.
I would argue the current football audience, who go to Old Trafford, or subscribe to Sky Sports, are far more likely to turn against the sport if it doesn’t clean its act up. And the traditional and younger fans are already looking elsewhere.
English top-flight football could find itself in real difficulty, at least in terms of attendance levels, in a few years. There aren’t the younger fans to take the older fans place. And people are getting tired of the greed, the cheating and the poor sportsmanship. The likes of Ferguson, the elder statesman of the Premier League, do not help in the slightest. At least Clough had some charm and wit…
The Opta stats are irritatingly difficult to get hold of – particularly at the moment as their website is being redeveloped. Even so, I’ve no idea how much it costs to see the raw data as they tend to sell their service as packages for real-time match tracking on various websites.
As I side note, I had to re-watch the old United games to find my information above ( really don’t fancy doing that for the other teams, even if I did manage to find the individual matches). How stats as simple as the amount of stoppage time announced, the actual time of the final whistle and actual times (rather than rough minutes) that goals were scored are so hard to come by I do not know. This information is actually much harder to come by than more obscure details on pass completion, shots on target etc.
As for football fans staying away if it “does not clean it’s act up”, I think you are being a touch overdramatic. Football is not at a low ebb in my opinion, it’s certainly not as dirty as it was in the 70s and the fans are a lot safer in the stands than they were then. It’s not like there is an incident in every game or anything. What does keep away the traditional fans (particularly at Old Trafford) is the price (United were one of the only clubs to increase prices this year and consequently have sold fewer season tickets than before and no longer have a waiting list for them with tickets going on general sale for every game – including the match against Arsenal this season which would previously have been very difficult to get a ticket for) and the feeling that they are no longer valued – even as “customers” – because the club knows they are easily replaced.
I go to football matches regularly and there never seems to be a shortage of young fans though.
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Thanks for the info on the Opta stats – that’s a shame.
I don’t think I’m being overdramatic at all. If fans are pushed too far by a club’s actions, they’ll go elsewhere. AFC Wimbledon is an obvious example. As is, to a lesser extent maybe, FC United. If the sport as a whole fails to improve its public relations, things could easily get worse.
Price is clearly a factor, and leads to a different sort of fan attending. Perhaps one who is a little less loyal than the die-hards of the 70s and 80s, who will soon find other entertainment if football continues to leave a bad taste in the mouth.
The average age of a Premier League supporter was reported in 2007 to be 43. Only 9% of supporters were under 24. That is not a healthy position for football to be in. At that rate, attendances can only really go down in the long-term. Price must be a major reason. But I think the pricing issue is tied in with the poor attitude and lack of respect those in control have towards football supporters and the sport itself.
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