THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

The additional 30 minutes is already making way for penalties in some competitions

22 August ~ “No one wants to see extra time.” Late into this month’s Community Shield match, Manchester United and Leicester City locked at 1-1, Radio 5 Live co-commentator Danny Mills expressed relief the game would go straight to penalties. Listening in my car as a vaguely interested neutral, I instinctively agreed. Mills then followed up by claiming all drawn knockout games should go straight to a shootout because, really, there had only been a few decent periods of extra time ever played – in any competition. I almost crashed.

Mario Kempes tangoing through Dutch defenders and Argentinian confetti in the 1978 World Cup final – the first extra-time goal I remember. John Motson, Jean Tigana and Michel Platini combining for the most memorable of European Championship extra times; every armchair neutral in Scotland cheering when the Motherwell v Dundee United Scottish Cup final of 1991 – already providing more goals than the previous four finals combined – saw Darren Jackson equalise on 90 minutes, prolonging the entertainment; Croatia effectively winning their Euro 2008 quarter-final in the 119th minute before Turkey reclaimed it in the 122nd.

Yet, in my lifetime the phrase “The ten o’clock news will follow after this programme” has gone from thrilling to routine to exasperating. I watch too many live TV games because I grew up with virtually none. Consequently extra time, once an existential holiday from the 90-minute routine, now merely ruins my plans for an early night. Twitter tells me I’m not alone in my attitude. Rather than the wisdom of Danny Mills, it’s this culture of impatience – and a general trend towards settling ties quickly – which threatens extra time.

Many of this week’s European play-offs could remain perfectly poised at the end of normal time. Some clubs will have an extra half hour in which to score an away goal. But the biggest complaint is always of second leg hosts enjoying an extra half hour of home advantage.

This season’s FA Cup will feature extra time in the quarter-finals, but only because it’s dropping replays at the same stage. The quarter-finals to the final can now consist of only seven matches: the 1979-80 FA Cup took six just to decide the semis.

Penalty shootouts are killing off replays but this season the Scottish League Cup introduced penalties at the end of 90 minutes for drawn group matches (the winner gets a second, “bonus” point). Plastic drama used to spice up a tournament before it has even entered the knockout rounds, while no cup final has been replayed in Scotland for 35 years.

Increasingly, TV-friendly methods of deciding ties are preferred to simply playing more football. Leagues now dominate – the big five domestic championships and UEFA’s premier club tournament. Administrators want to extend the number of games broadcast rather than the length of any one match. In the 1990s and 2000s attempts were even made to curtail the length of extra time itself with the golden goal (play ends with the first goal scored) and silver goal (play ends at half time in extra time if either side is ahead). 

Yet as well as how implausibly close they both came, it was ultimately the failure of England and Germany to score a golden goal in their Euro 96 Wembley semi final which made it the most dramatic game I’ve ever attended. It also continued Germany’s legacy of epic extra-time encounters. Five of the seven goals in their “match of the century” 1970 World Cup semi-final against Italy came after the 90 minutes were up.

So far this summer eight Premier League clubs have set new transfer records, financed by the very broadcasters who report these signings in the abstract. The occasional extra 30 minutes, for free, would be the least demanded by any other “consumer” whose subscription fees and brand loyalty underwrote multi-billion-pound deals. But today’s continuous feed of live football tells fans that another, fresh, entirely new 90 minutes will be along directly.

When the game never stops extra time becomes redundant. The FA also announced a fourth substitute will be permitted during FA Cup extra time, from the quarter-finals onwards – obviously to reduce the strain on clubs facing far more important Premier League matches. Soon they may also be refunding fans for their inconvenience. Alex Anderson

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