FIFA’s new World Cup added time policy is bonkers, long may it continue

It’s time to talk about time

William Faulkner once wrote: ‘Clocks slay time... Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life’. I didn’t much care for The Sound and The Fury, in truth. I thought it was dense and it gave me a bit of a headache. But if there’s one demographic who have clearly been lapping up Willy F’s views on the great equaliser, it’s World Cup referees.

Football is a game of 90 minutes... usually. But in Qatar, once the officials’ meticulously-calibrated watches (one on each wrist, and a special third one that they swallow before the match like Houdini would a set of handcuff keys, in case you were wondering) have ticked past the end of regulation time, then the real fun has begun. All bets are off, all reason is abandoned. Only when the clock is meant to have stopped does time, and seemingly the imagination of whoever has been entrusted with the mystical power of the whistle on any given day, spring into gleeful, anarchic life.

By the end of the group stages, referees had added an extra 563 minutes of stoppage time to matches. That’s equivalent to over nine hours, or six entire games. (Assuming said games had no stoppages of their own, preventing some kind of exponential Groundhog Day loop of torment.)

Now, there’s a lot you can do in 563 minutes. You could watch the entire, non-extended Lord of the Rings trilogy, and still squeeze in a five-minute bathroom break somewhere - maybe just before Helm’s Deep or something. You could walk from Gateshead to Sunderland and back again, which I wouldn’t recommend, but which is still probably a better option than the number 56 bus - a service that stops with the arresting consistency of a musical statues world champion. You could even do something no human has done since at least 2016; get a good night’s sleep.

But none of those things, except perhaps the Middle Earth marathon, would be as beneficial to the soul as FIFA’s newfound obsession with scrimping and saving on every precious second has proven to be. The cackling, novel delight of seeing a fourth official hold up a board signalling 14 added minutes has not, and will never, grow old. Waiting for that lofty, unhinged LED indication has become a sport unto itself. It’s like spinning the Price is Right wheel and getting a blue shell on the last lap of a Mario Kart race all rolled into one. 2-1 ahead in a tense quarter-final knockout clash, or desperately throwing everything at a stoic defence in an effort to squeeze out of a suffocating group of death? Have an extra 10 minutes to gnaw your fingernails down to bloody stumps of pulp and bone! Why? Well... just because!

At the start of the World Cup, when FIFA was desperately trying to get a transfixed global audience to ignore all kinds of things, including, chiefly, their own moral compasses, one of the fragments of collateral ignorance that sneaked through the net like a flurry of plankton was their new stance on added time.

As referee committee chairman Pierluigi Collina, a man who looks like the protagonist in a Tim Burton-directed adaptation of Dom Littlewood’s life story, explained: “We told everybody to not be surprised if they see the fourth official raising the electronic board with a big number on it, six, seven or eight minutes. If you want more active time, we need to be ready to see this kind of additional time given. Think of a match with three goals scored. A celebration normally takes one, one and a half minutes, so with three goals scored, you lose five or six minutes.”

It’s a very simple logic, but it’s one that is hard to argue with. Time-wasting has been a niggling bugbear of football since the beginning of, well, time. Anything that leads to a greater proportion of active play, and that discourages unnecessary melodrama is alright by me. And in a show of solidarity with Collina and his scrupulous clock-watching, I propose that we change the name of this website entirely. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to 33 Added Minutes.

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