This past Saturday, I managed to watch the Argentina-Belgium World Cup match. It was on the TV in the restaurant where I was having dinner. A part of me wonders if what I actually saw was an edited highlight replay, since if it was all ninety minutes, then my meal took an unconscionable amount of time to get to me.
Now I could blather on about the Great Mystery of why soccer has never really hit it big here in the U.S. (Hint: Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and even the PGA and NASCAR aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future), but that’s for another essay at another time. Right now, there’s another mystery that baffles the heck out of me.
Every match technically lasts precisely ninety minutes – two 45 minutes halves. But then, for some unknown reason, the referee adds an unspecified amount of “extra time” to the game. This is supposed to represent the amount of time when, during the actual ninety minutes of game, play must be stopped for some reason. No one ever seems to know exactly how much of this extra time there is going to be. You just play until the officials arbitrarily decide you’ve played enough.
If that’s the case, then why not just stop the clock during the game while the non-play activities are going on?
Now I understand that one cannot be blowing a whistle to stop the clock every time the ball slips out of bounds. Even I can see that doing so would seriously ruin the flow of the game. But during the aforementioned match, I noted a few occasions when one could legitimately stop the clock without doing any harm.
First, when a goal is scored. After Argentina scored, the players spent at least a full minute celebrating. And also using up the clock. Since you have to take the ball out of the goal and reposition everyone, why not stop the clock until everyone is ready to begin?
Second, for penalty kicks. Twice during the game, the referee determined that a player earned the right to take a penalty kick. Play was stopped while he literally placed a chalk line on the field, and set players up along that line. Nothing else was happening. Surely you could stop the clock when the referee called for the penalty kick, and restart it when everyone was in place for the kick?
Finally, injuries. At one point, I saw an Argentinian player lying down on the field in some pain. I didn’t see what happened, but people were coming out with a stretcher. Eventually, he was able to hobble off the field with some help. During all of this, the clock kept running. Clearly, this is a time when you have no good reason to NOT stop the clock!
Somehow, an official is supposed to keep track of all this time when there is no game play happening, and then add it all up and say “This is how much stoppage time you have to add after the ninety minutes are done.” Would it really kill them, or the “Beautiful Game”, if instead they STOPPED THE D*MN CLOCK whenever it was bloody obvious that they should? And tell me, what in god’s name happens if there’s a situation during that “stoppage time” that calls for more “stoppage time” to be added?
Alas, if they won’t even stop it for an injury, I doubt that anything short of the stadium exploding will get them to even consider stopping the clock. Those ninety minutes (plus the additional, arbitrary “stoppage minutes”) are sacred.