Football is boring, at least it can be. Some people find it boring because there are not any big hits or massive points tallies, that’s never going to change. People get injured enough playing football without being more lenient on shoulder to shoulder challenges. That’s something that in my opinion we cannot change. What we can change is the amount of time wasted through stoppages. The stoppages in football are goal kicks, free kicks, corner kicks, penalties, substitutions, injuries and to a lesser extent throw ins.
I am just going to rule out a few things first, the timer would not be applicable for injuries. Player welfare should be one of, if not the top priority when considering any rule changes. All injuries require special care and attention. It would be very negligent to cap the amount of time an injured player received treatment for especially for a serious injury.
I am also not talking about a shot clock rule. A shot clock is something that happens in basketball where when the team in possession has the ball, they only have a certain amount of time to get a shot off otherwise it’s the other team’s ball. This would be very hard to police in football, not only that. But the field in football is approximately 8 times larger than a basketball court and would see teams simply retreat to their own box and form a low block in order to play out the clock. So, the shot clock would have to be 3 minutes to be adjusted. I think if this were to occur, we would see a lot of teams revert to just sending the ball long and playing in crosses constantly. This becomes boring and predictable. Especially towards the end of a three-minute spell. Teams would know that time was running out and would set up to defend either long balls, long shots or crosses into the box.
I am talking about a timer like we see in rugby league where kickers have a certain amount of time take a conversion, scrum or dropout. Teams have 30 seconds to take a dropout, 1 minute 30 seconds for conversions and 35 seconds to pack a scrum. This has seen an additional 3 minutes of actual playing time per game. But can it work for football?
FIFA has guidelines as to how long each stoppage in play should occur for. Added time is currently calculated like this. If it takes 30 seconds for a goal kick to be taken but the keeper takes a minute only 30 of those seconds are considered unnatural and are added onto stoppage time. So, they allow a certain amount of time for each stoppage to occur and then anything over that allocated time is adjudged to be excessive and SHOULD be added on. As discussed previously this is often not the case.
Because of how football is played the ball goes out constantly and in addition to this players also foul each other constantly. Foul counts in games can reach a total of 30 between the two teams very easily. That’s every field player committing one foul and half of them committing two. Stoppages are going to happen. But the amount of time that they happen for is reduceable.
I think a timer for stoppages would work well in football, it would increase the amount of times the ball is in play. The more times the ball is in play the more likely there is going to be a goal or some type of action. Football like any sport must constantly evolve its rules in order to keep up with safety, but also to keep the sport interesting and relevant.
Without this the game is in danger of becoming stale and boring. A stoppage shot clock is a more subtle way of increasing entertainment value. Entertainment value being more action for the time and in some cases money you spend to watch something.
FIFA as well as its associations have already tried to reduce the time lost to stoppages in play. For example the multi ball system is used in several UEFA competitions as well as the World cup and even our own Hyundai A-League. Traditionally football is only played with one ball, if it goes out the game does not restart until the ball is retrieved or returned. The multi ball systems purpose is to speed up the game by having ball boys stationed around the field with match balls in hand to quickly give to a player if the ball goes into the stands.
Whilst it works in theory, there have been some criticisms of the system. Ball boys tend to be from home teams and if the home team would benefit from the game being restarted as quick as possible the ball boys may appear to be more proactive in supplying the balls. On the other side of this some ball boys have also been accused of intentionally delaying the return of match balls to away teams in order to waste time and benefit the home team.
In fact, this came to a head in a game at Yeovil Town in the English 5th tier or national league. One of the Yeovil Town ball boys refused to give the ball to a Bromely player and as a result the referee warned him if he did it again he would be dissmissed. When the boy did it again, he and the other 7 ball boys were all dismissed. The referee was then left to get the ball himself throughout the last few minutes of the game the Yeovil ended up winning 3 – 1. Like everything in football, clubs and teams will always look to gain a competitive advantage by twisting the rules whichever way they can.
A more recent change to help speed-up the game is to do with substitutions. Players originally had to come off at the halfway line on the same side as the substitute was coming on. Presumably this was to stop teams simply subbing a player on without one potentially coming off. Meaning that the team that had made the substitution would now have an extra man on the field. In the early stages of when substitutes were allowed there was not as many cameras around and the support for referees was not as good as it is now. So, the traditional system was an easy way to keep track of who went off and who was coming on to replace them.
This, like the multi ball system had its own issues. Substitutes are often used as timewasting methods by teams. Players being subbed on in the final 5 minutes of regulation time or even stoppage time can hardly be assumed to make much of an impact. They do however often waste a good minute or longer in game time. Especially if the player is coming from the far corner of the ground and decides to walk off at a very slow pace.
In response to this referees, can be seen jogging the player off themselves, even going as so far to brandish yellow cards for timewasting if the player continues to take to long.
Under the new rule though, players must now exit the field at the nearest sideline. Therefore, reducing the slow-motion stroll of the pitch of some players. This drastically reduces the amount of time substitutes can waste time, instead of walking up to 70 meters if they were in the far corner, they would simply be instructed to walk off the one meter to the nearest touchline. Now there has been some confusion with this, some players still try to come off at the traditional spot, but these are just teething issues as players adjust rather than actual faults in the system.
Substitutes and balls cleared into the stands aside there is not much in rules that forces the game to restarted overly quickly, and it is largely up to the referee’s discretion to do so. If the referee wants a frenetic free flowing game then the referee may allow free kicks to be taken quickly, warn time wasters early in the game and be more lenient on 50/50 fouls. If a referee wants a slow, very controlled game then they would do the opposite to that listed above. Let’s look at free kicks first. Free kicks according to numerous studies are the single biggest cause of lost dead ball time.
Free kicks often require the ball to be fetched, placed then kicked forward if it is in the defensive half. Occasionally an annoying opposition player gets in the way or the goalie will take the kick if getting players forward is the main objective.
In the offensive zone however, this process is infinitely longer. The center backs who are usually the taller players lumber forward to take their positions whilst the kick is usually taken by the dead ball specialist in the team and more recently has at least a left and right footer standing over it. If the ball is within 30 yards then there is an additional amount of time for a minimum 2 – man chat of who is going to take it. From a defensive point of view an opposition player usually stands right over the ball and waits for the referee to mark out 10 yards from the ball that players have to stay out of. This is compounded further if the goalkeeper must set a wall and the more people in that wall the more time it takes to set up.
But what if there was a time limit on how long teams had to take a free kick. Currently the average amount of time it takes to take a free kick is 30 seconds. With an average of 20 fouls per game this adds up to around 10 minutes of wasted time. By dropping this time to a fixed 15 second cap you would instantly reduce the amount of time lost by 5 minutes.
Now, there would be strict set of rules around this. The clock would only start once the referee has placed the ball where the foul occurred or allowed a player to do so. Once this has taken place the referee would mark out the required 10 yards for the wall to be taken back. This would all take a max of 5 seconds the players then have 10 seconds to take the kick. Keepers could set up walls prematurely and players could have their pre kick meeting whilst the referee is doing all this, or it could be something pre-determined before kickoff.
If the defensive team purposely delays the restart by constantly creeping within 10 yards or not giving the ball back, then they would receive a delay of game warning. This could be a verbal warning, followed by a yellow card to the offending player if it continues and potentially a send off if that player is already on a yellow. If it is the wall, then all players within the wall would go through that process listed in the sentence before.
If the offensive team takes too long, then one of two actions could take place. Either the free kick could be reversed similar to foul throws or in futsal when players fail to take restarts within 4 seconds. Alternatively, the ball could simply become live after the 15 seconds is up similar to AFL where a player who has taken a mark only has a certain time to play the ball before the umpire waves play on.
This system could easily work for corners and goal kicks where the clock starts when the ball has gone out. It would need to be adjusted for the different match ball systems. I think 30 seconds for single match ball leagues and 15 for multi match ball leagues (allowances for dodgey ball boys would be up to the discretion of the referee). Personally, I am a fan of the live ball scenario. This system could also be used for throw ins however instead of a live ball, the throw in would simply swap sides.
Penalties require more time to set up, especially if it is a VAR reviewed penalty. So maybe 30 or 45 seconds for penalties. Anyone found to be encroaching or the keeper coming of his line would go through the same delay of game warning process above.
Lastly, This could be seen as an alternative to the “Why does stoppage time still exist?” question I answered in my very first blog. You do not need to stop time or add time on if the ball is live after the normal amount of time that FIFA considers natural has past. Therefore eliminating stoppage time except for injuries, substitutions and goal celebrations.
I have intentionally left goal celebrations alone because that is something that the fans enjoy, take part in and is honestly the best part of the experience of watching football. As long as it’s your team that’s celebrating of course. If the changes lead to more and more goals, then yes maybe goal celebration times could be limited to say a minute. After the minute has passed the other team is allowed to kick off something like that. But only if the celebrations were dragging on for ridiculous amounts of time or copious amounts of goals for some reason started to be scored.
That’s not to say you couldn’t have both though. Having both would not only ensure the game flowed at an up-tempo pace but also ran to the correct time. The shot clock in this instance would be used outside the game clock with the game clock continuing as the shot clock ends. This would ensure the maximum amount of entertainment value. The ball would be in play more often and none of the time the ball spends “dead” would run down the game clock.