Delaying tactics ruin the game

4 October ~ Sir Alex Ferguson may have sparked multiple chuckles around "the irony" of complaining about the lack of injury time Manchester United were afforded against Tottenham Hotspur last Saturday. But his grievances underlined a growing problem in football that – to me personally – is proving far more off-putting than the sight of players diving. Timewasting has become a common tactic for teams holding on for a result, and despite the best efforts of a referee clamping down it is something they too often get away with.

From a keeper taking an age with a goal-kick, defenders suspiciously going down injured in their own area and lengthy dilemmas over who should take a throw in, it has becoming a regular occurrence to see a team push timewasting to the limit in a bid to get the clock down to zero.

People often say that time wasting isn’t important because the referee adds it all on the end anyway. Maybe that’s true sometimes, but it still misses the underlying point of why teams do it. Typically when your team is losing but has a period in the game where you’re on top, the attacking momentum is halted by the opposition keeper taking as long as possible to restart play, swapping which side of the six-yard box he takes a goal-kick. Or another opponent continues to delay a free-kick or throw-in under the pretence that none of his team-mates is available to receive it.

Teams do it not in the hope that the referee fails to add on every second of wasted time but to disrupt the opposition’s flow and tempo. Make a game stop-start, and you’ll have a better chance of seeing it out – regardless of whether the fourth official indicates two minutes of stoppage time or 20. But it makes for a really poor spectacle. I hate watching a player about to be substituted race over to the opposite side of the pitch just before the board goes up, so they can then amble slowly to the touchline as though they’ve lost the ability to run. By all means beat our team if you deserve it, but to simply try to stop the game rather than defend your goal is unsightly.

The impotent attempts of officials to prevent timewasting have really hit home to me over the last year. Sure, they can book a player for dallying, but I’ve never seen and rarely heard of a player be sent off for time-wasting. Instead, very often the punishment of a yellow card acts as a licence for that player to procrastinate even more. What can the referee do to speed up a player after he’s put his name into the book? Nothing, apparently, other than to gesture feebly that they hurry up.

As a Bradford City fan, the issue of timewasting appears far more endemic in the lower leagues than the top flight. I’ve seen an opposition striker check to see if the referee is looking, before running up to where our goalkeeper is about to take a goal-kick and booting the ball away. On Tuesday at Rochdale, the home keeper procrastinated about taking a goal-kick; then, just as he was about to go, his manager suddenly decide to make a substitution. Cue the slow walk, but when it was time to go again the same keeper had decided to pick up the ball and walk up the pitch, and so had to prepare to take the goal-kick all over again.

I get why teams deploy such tactics – I’ve seen Bradford do it often too – but it’s time the authorities looked at how they can stop teams from effectively cheating legally by timewasting, before even more of us decide that paying to watch it is a waste of our time. Jason McKeown

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