Another Friday, another big issue to tackle HEAD ON but also with A SIDEWAYS GLANCE. This week: stoppage time inflation. Yes, in truth, I have used this column to discuss some less than controversial areas of interest in the past—I’m prepared to admit in retrospect that The Sir Alex Ferguson Guide to Cutting-Out Club Stalwarts may not have been as politically important as it seemed at the time—but stoppage time inflation (STI) is a serious issue for a Serious Ethan.
I first noticed that the minutes added onto games was increasing a year or two ago, but wasn’t sure enough about the trend to write about it. Increasingly, I thought, ‘your standard two minutes of stoppage time’ was becoming ‘your standard three minutes of stoppage time’. But was I alone? Was my substantial intellect imagining the whole thing? You can’t account for paranoia, as any health professional will tell you, over and over again until you suspect that you have also made them up too, and I was not prepared to be made a fool of again.
It’s only now that I’m confident enough to bring this up. This season three minutes seems to have turned to four—and on top of that a new Premier League record of thirteen minutes has been set. It’s a fact that not one Manchester City game this season has ended in fewer than three minutes of stoppage time*. With this starker indication of a trend, despite an shameful lack of research and therefore evidence of any kind, I feel justified in bringing stoppage time inflation to the forefront of the footballing world’s imagination (it’s well known the Footy Blog is at the forefront of the footballing world’s imagination).
The newsflash is that more minutes, if in the end they aren’t a symptom of the eternal sunset of my spotless mind, isn’t a positive development. What does stoppage time inflation mean? For a start, it means more football, an abject disgrace. It’s well established that there’s “too much football these days” and that “players are exhausted,” but even beyond the inane ramblings of the undead Match of the Day pub quiz team the point holds: there really is quite a lot of men kicking around a ball with greater and lesser degrees of accuracy going on at the moment. There’s probably some on now, and it’s a Friday night, which is when you’re supposed to be sitting at home alone drinking yourself to death. Do you need football on as you do that? No you do not.
It’s more than that, though. This is more of a very specific kind of football. It’s more late-in-the-game, desperate football. That should be a good thing, because games are best late on: they’re more open, more urgent; the whole world is at stake! It’s crystallised on an anachronistic neon board that there’s no time to spare! But here’s the problem: if that exceptional state keeps being extended and extended and extended, doesn’t it lose its status as exceptional? If there are thirteen minutes of stoppage time in every game, isn’t some of the excitement lost? Do we start to break stoppage time down into different sections: early and late stoppage time? It’s not the same once it’s not the exception.
There is the argument that stoppage time, as things stand, has never been an accurate representation of how much time the ball is actually out of play in a game of football anyway, and that the recent increase only goes some way to closing that gap: so it’s not about excitement, it’s about accuracy. But the thing is, if it has gone up, it’s still not about accuracy. It’s either a deliberate move to interpret the rules in favour of putting on a better show, or it’s a subconscious decision to do the same thing from the match officials, because four minutes remains nowhere near the fifteen or twenty minutes the ball spends out of play. The number on the board remains entirely arbitrary.
And if this is rule-making with entertainment in mind, then doesn’t it take away from the spectacle, not add to it? Extra minutes helped facilitate one of the most dramatic moments of last season, Manchester City’s late goals to win the title against QPR on the final day: those goals would have felt entirely less dramatic had everyone in the crowd been told that, essentially, the game would go on until something worthy of a newspaper headline happened. If stoppage time is on the increase, it’s probably because people like watching it, but artificially enhanced entertainment is never as fun—just look at all American sports. Being aware that you should be entertained slightly ruins the in-the-moment fun of being entertained. I suspect that’s why my work is never given the credit it deserves.
We don’t need more minutes. It’s a sham. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that in some ways I’m intellectualising an argument which has purely practical implications for me. As I have repeated several times in recent weeks, in the text and subtext of these columns, I am a very busy man—a man so busy that the extra minute or so on top of stoppage time is robbing me of precious time which could be spent doing the important things in life, like growing my beard into a pirate’s beard. How am I supposed to become fully self-actualized if my beard is not allowed to grow as such? Stoppage time inflation has robbed me, and continues to rob me, of self-actualization opportunities. I AM BUSY.
So for this, if not any other reason, the extra minutes are an unedifying crock of shit. Case rested, money collected.
*I’ve made this up, but it feels as though it’s true. Which is a kind of truth**.
**Have I used this joke before in these columns? I’m too busy to know.