Injury time – time for reform?

by Steve

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.