1) In general
Time play in general is a most annoying matter, as the reader can certainly confirm. First of all, it is necessary to describe a few observations and, as usual, to get to the bottom of the matter – even if it is a psychological one.
First of all, it is almost a certainty in modern football that it is recognised – especially by the players on the pitch – that a goal is extremely difficult to score. The differences in performance have become very small, there is rarely great superiority, and the frequency of goals is low. So as soon as a team has scored the 1:0, it is far more than half the battle. The signs are clearly pointing to victory. This applies internationally almost exclusively and has long since ceased to be the domain of the Italians: from the moment a team scores the opening goal, the administration of that goal begins. Behind the concept of management, however, there is a promising tactic: everyone – let’s call the coaches first – knows that it is so difficult to score a goal. Moreover, the understanding has long since penetrated to the coaching bench that the chance of scoring a goal increases as soon as the opponent is forced to attack. This is the case from the moment the leading goal is scored. Theoretically. Because the opponent also knows this law. Having to attack means almost certain doom. Especially the “unconditional attack”. In this respect, the opponents are also tactically clever (in the sense of pure results sport; they both scare away spectators) in that they do not attack unconditionally. They try to keep it tight at the back and hope – long since sensed through intuitive perception – for the miracle of a goal action at the front, which then even brings success.
The game rumbles along as we all know it. Some don’t want to (any more), others can’t. The score is 1:0, the second most typical of all football results (directly after the 0:0, which occurs at some point in every secured game, for example at kick-off). There is actually nothing to watch. The leaders hope for the stupidity that will occur as soon as possible, that the opponents will risk too much too soon – and thus lower their chances due to the unfavourable ratio of chances to score a goal to chances to concede another one –, those behind lurk for the one single chance. And prays for it.
Basically – see headline – this whole phase of the game is already running under time play. True, it’s only the 35th minute. But we easily get through the few minutes to the break, and then it’s not long either. In the last 15 minutes, the hoped-for, the forced happens. The team behind brings in an extra offensive force (!) and ventures further forward. Now there are three possibilities: This team succeeds in building up the pressure, it does not succeed, or the leading team scores the 2:0. In the last case it becomes completely uninteresting, but it often happens late to very late.
So if the trailing team succeeds in building up pressure, the most typical of all cases has occurred: Now it’s really time to take time off the clock. Of course, there are eight cases here: There is a home team and an away team, there is a favourite and an underdog, and once the latter leads with that characteristic, once the latter with such. However, the behaviour displayed differs only slightly. If a favourite has home advantage and is trailing, it can happen that the pressure built up becomes very strong, and with it the spectator support and with it the referee support, who then here or there interprets the game in favour of the home team. On the one hand out of a sense of justice, on the other hand under the perceived spectator pressure.
In any case, the phase begins in which time is seriously played for. A leading home team, nominally the weaker one, has the most motives and the best chances here. The crowd – useless to mention: it consists of supporters of this team – supports the underdog to the best of their ability, puts up with everything, cheers, even cheers unfairness and play-acting, as they become even more indifferent to the means, especially in the underdog role. The referee becomes more helpless, at least in the sense of justice, because he simply does not succeed in stopping this spectator-supported behaviour.
The main means are as follows: Staying on the ground at every opportunity. If you want to include a statistic to prove this, in the sense of an evidence technique: If a player is lying on the ground in the last 10 minutes, the observation is that 90% of them are wearing the jersey of the leading team. They roll around to their heart’s content. And if the referee has the audacity just once not to blow the whistle, not to stop for obvious play-acting, he is guaranteed a gauntlet. This concert of whistles – during the game; after the game it gets worse if success has been forfeited – then forces the stoppage of play. There is no chance, the actor succeeds.
Referees, who often indicate that they will mercilessly allow the battered seconds to be replayed, still make a big mistake. For not only — see also chapter “What is a penalty?” — that it would in no way be a penalty if these 20 seconds were added on 1:1, two much more important points would be added: one is that it is not even 20 seconds, the other is that the more important element is often the interruption of the flow of play during the game. The attacker has just sent off a real avalanche, throw-in, corner kick, throw-in, goal kick, corner kick. A kind of power play. Suddenly a player is lying on the ground. Some kind of header duel, whatever. He lies there. The flow of the game is broken. Even if 20 seconds were added: they won’t be. If 20 seconds it would be too little in terms of a penalty. But you don’t get the flow of the game back much more than that. It’s sad to watch. But success is almost assured. And this justifies the means as long as everyone around plays along. Those who are still in the game are doing it. But you don’t win anyone over, and it would be so easy to do so in a game as beautiful as football could be…
By the way, one must and may differentiate a little between other countries and Germany. In Germany, the phenomenon can also be observed, but in a more moderate way. The reason is that the media also use their enormous influence here. In this case, however, the power is characterised by naivety, which in principle does little to weaken it. Here, the 50s or 60s thought continues to be blown into the microphone with fervour, that after a 1-0 lead, one should not go out to hold it. This would inevitably be penalised and would be plain stupid. Only the reporter is stupid – he will surely say that he said it that way to create tension — but the players and coaches are still sufficiently influenced that they seem to believe parts of it. In Germany, people often continue to storm. However — but only with limited malice — according to my own observations, there is also no country in which leads are surrendered so frequently.
The behavioural patterns remain unpleasant, as they are becoming more and more prevalent here, too. However, they increase as soon as…
2) The injury time
begins. Because one thing is certain: the leading team has saved the last change option for itself. Yes, yes nightingale, I hear you… And in practically every game it happens that right at the moment when the injury time is displayed, the substitute trots to the sidelines. The official waits for a favourable opportunity, for a stoppage in play, and waves the substitute over. The player on the field expresses his surprise that he, of all people, should be the one to be hit? He did not realise that it was he who was in the position furthest away from the substitutes’ bench at the time of the substitution, which in itself is a good argument for a substitution. After it has been painstakingly made clear to him by the coach and his team-mates that it should really be him, he realises that the coach really did have an excellent reason for substituting him, because apart from not registering his position on the pitch and not being able to recognise the substitution number, he has another, hitherto unnoticed malaise: he is totally exhausted. The moment it becomes clear to him that he has to leave the field, he realises that the distance to the bench is basically inhumanly far and that he basically needed a stretcher, which is, however, flatly not made available to him.
As long as he is wearing the home jersey, he uses the last remaining strength on the way to the changing bench to be hugged by each spectator individually via … well, at least clap his own hands. He thanks everyone, everyone sees that he immediately belongs on the drip, which increases the enthusiasm even more, because the man has now really given everything, up to the last second, for his club. Because those 45 seconds that separated his team from victory were his and his alone.
The continuation of the game now results in a panic attack by the losing team – even the announcer has long since realised that they “woke up far too late” — which leads to a loss of the ball, the counterattack promises a lot, but the audience is in a conciliatory mood when, instead of heading straight for the opponent’s goal, the ball suddenly takes a completely different direction: He has a flirtation with the corner flag, because he is heading for it – and here one can safely say “unstoppable”. Having arrived at it, he plans to embrace it, but in doing so he has no intention of letting the ball leave his feet. The opponents – as an observer of such scenes, one suspiciously approaches the overflow phase of a pressure cooker – try desperately to at least play the ball out of bounds, which they succeed in doing, but only at the cost of a falling opponent, who is not only seriously injured, but energetically demands a yellow card for this rude and unauthorised boarding. The referee, however, the one with the good eye, decides “only” on a throw-in — despite the mercy of the spectators, he still deserves his little whistle, because what is right must remain right and the poor striker at the corner flag has merely tried, on honour and conscience, to claim the ball, in order to sink it in the next moment by a side-kick with an outside-ice kick from the corner flag into the far corner of the goal, which everyone in the stadium feels, except the nasty man in black — , the throw-in is taken by the throw-in specialist, after the first three players had carelessly run past the ball, which had been made available with difficulty by the home ball boys, and only two opposing players had been cautioned in the meantime for improperly trying to draw the ref’s attention to an injustice they incomprehensibly felt, when the left-back is finally ready to take it at the right corner flag. Now one can observe that even a specialist has his weaknesses. For within the next 13 seconds, he does not succeed in tracking down a single free teammate, until finally – note that he has noticed the evil eye of the referee in the corner of his eye, who indicates that he will not put up with many more such spirits without adding another 3 seconds to the announced injury time at the end — the specialist finds the addressee: He is two metres fifty in front of him – yes, a real specialist, the one for the long throw-ins -, he stops the ball, puts his foot on it and – strives towards the corner flag again! There he continues his rendezvous (it is the same player as before), but is abruptly torn from all expressions of love when he is really rudely knocked down from behind. This time the referee wavers, because for such a tackle there can only be red. He looks mercifully at the clock – and blows the whistle! It was only 2:57 of injury time, but the losers shouldn’t complain: Otherwise they would have lost another man, and the game anyway.
If you read through the text again, you realise that, viewed from the right angle, injury time really does provide plenty of drama. With a little more intuition and powers of observation, a whole book could be written on it alone. The title: “The previously unrecognised drama in injury time” or something like that.
In any case, one thing is certain: the display of injury time, which is considered to be an advancement of the rules, has drastically reduced the tension in the same. The unanimous view was that arbitrariness should be curbed. At first, the idea sounded quite good. However, practice soon showed – an argument never heard before — that it was not suitable for increasing tension. As soon as this becomes apparent – may the small text above contribute to this – a new modification of the rules is recommended. After all, a drop in tension cannot be favourable in itself?
To get to the root of the problem: The above-mentioned everyday substitution has, as one can easily imagine, a reason: there are no exhausted players and there are no tactical requirements that would justify it. There is only one reason to do it: It buys you time. Once this realisation has been made – and that shouldn’t be difficult for you? – it would be time to put an end to this nuisance. The frequently used, but so exceedingly trite argument that “others would do it the same way” simply doesn’t hold water. It is the child dancing on the table. It is such an absurdity that such obviously single-minded behaviour should be successful that one’s face should blush with shame if one were responsible for it.
Here, too, the following applies: The substitution must under no circumstances bring about the desired success in the sense of gaining time. If one were to simply double the time that has elapsed until the substitution is made as injury time – the man has struggled for 45 seconds to get off the pitch, so 2*45 =90 seconds are added to the indicated injury time — then he would perhaps get wings immediately, no, wrong, the coach would already see to it that if he still had a change in mind, he would make it in good time. That the referee instead watches the whole spectacle and usually doesn’t add a tenth of a second is unbelievable.
But the fact that the attacker strives towards the corner flag when in possession of the ball is also unacceptable, but has become accepted in practice. Incidentally, this was observed for the first time – one might like to consult archive records of this game – when the Polish team had to play against the USSR in the 1982 World Cup. The group constellation was that Poland needed a 0-0 draw and the USSR needed a win. But it was the years of the Polish uprising by Lech Walesa and Solidarnoscz that brought Poland the Russian embargo. In a way, this game became a war and the 0:0 was grudged to the Poles worldwide. Only in this way can it be explained that at that time Polish players were already aiming for the corner flag when in possession of the ball and thus making fools of the Russians, the referee knew no remedy but possibly felt protected by the world. The second time, by the way, was in an elimination match between Trinidad and Tobago and whoever else, for the 2006 World Cup. It was the last match of the World Cup qualifiers and Trinidad and Tobago only needed this draw, which was also forced by this means. Since then – the great role model Trinidad and Tobago? – it has been used on all football pitches in the world – with the small restriction that the leading team should please be the home team.
In any case, success seems guaranteed for this manoeuvre. The ball simply cannot be won. Just take a look at the game situation or think of it vividly: An excellent footballer who can do just about anything with the ball intends nothing more than to claim it on the intersection of two outlines. He places his foot on it and puts his body between himself and the ball. How, pray tell, other than with a foul play, are you supposed to win it? The only remote possibility is to kick it out of bounds under the sole of his shoe. The speculation, which one may indulge in, that logically it cannot be clear who actually touched the ball last, is only mentioned in passing: the decision would be clear. Throw-in for the person with the ball. And this goes on for an endlessly long period of time.
The players’ realisation is clear: it is better to go for the ball – which, according to the above description, is almost certain to be successful – than to launch a counterattack with serious intentions of scoring. For if one should proceed in this way, the chance of actually succeeding is still small, while the danger of losing the ball is so great that the opponent for his part would still have an opportunity to attack, with an open outcome. The ridiculous “corner flag skirmish” has given way to a goal attack for the purpose of forcing one’s own line.
Apparently no one has said or noticed this yet. Because as soon as you realise it, there is only one thing to do: intervene, change something, something has to be done, this is not to be watched, it is unbearable, it scares away spectators.
Suggestion first: The battered time is at least doubled. In general, time play in injury time is quite exaggerated, not only in the two situations described. The terms “obviousness” and “referee’s discretion” may very well be included in the rules: If it is obvious time play, as simply cannot be recognised otherwise above, it is up to the referee to simply stop it. On the one hand, it could be punished with a free kick, on the other hand with the corresponding increase in injury time.
Nobody wants to see such actions, except for these few fans (who, admittedly, outnumber the home supporters in the vicinity of the referee). However, it is emphasised again and again that football could be a sport that is attractive, exciting and beautiful to watch for everyone, even without fan passion. Apart from that, on average these fans are opposed by the same number of opposing fans, whose feelings are just the opposite – while the neutral spectator could basically not care less who benefits from this behaviour, who is only annoyed by injustice in general, chased away –, and with whom, analogous to the outburst of the unfairly treated player, one can certainly count on inarticulate, but therefore no less restrained anger, which happens often enough in practice. The press is all over the nasty rioters, but they don’t realise that this fan rage often has its roots in obvious injustices which, even if they are competent, cannot/should not be voiced. The anger, the aggression has to come out. And it makes its way out.
Even if one can observe a digression in the argumentation again and again, here in the text, it is still allowed to emphasise again and again that things are all connected. The reader might gradually become sensitised to the numerous inconsistencies – of which he has certainly tracked down a sufficient number himself, unless he has already turned away and waved them off – to that extent the digression is quite intentional. The arguments recur and are applicable in many places. Apart from the fact that, as an author, you sometimes get yourself into a rage by writing in this or that place, but unintentionally.