aFor amusement, or indeed lifestyle, time wasting is underrated. Doing nothing requires real imagination; To produce nothing requires a strong moral core. An unemployed person does not, among other things, perform unnecessary plastic surgery or release an album with swing covers. The most courageous way to test time is through inaction – to remain completely still and feel the minutes creeping across the face. Wasting time in football, however, is the preserve of scammers and scammers.
The problem is that while wasting time in everyday life is seen by capitalist orthodoxy as weak and suspicious, in football it lends its practitioners a level of sophistication. The deliberate act of slowing down or breaking the game, when in the lead, is identified as the opposite of naivety. It’s been given a new name, Game Management, and has elevated stealth subversion into something worthy of a college degree.
It is now understood that good game management is an advantage that the successful side must possess. The dictionary definition of wasting time – not producing any benefit or expending any energy – does not apply to its application in football. So much energy is spent keeping the ball calm and what could be more important than three points?
Taking the ball to the corner flag is the soccer equivalent of a medieval celebration of leading the devil away from the village and into the wilderness. For the lazy rudeness, the flag-wasteer of the corner occupies a place somewhere between a cow on the road and anyone using the crying emoji with laughter on social media by refuting an opposing view. The diagram, shown by the BBC, of the ball’s position in the final 10 minutes of the Euro 2022 final is a design homage to this tried and tested practice.
Throw-in has a long chapter in this story. A serious attempt to throw the ball back into play before finally accepting defeat and leaving it to a teammate had to be added to the Laws of the Game as a yellow card offense because it happens so often. With a throw-in, everyone can enjoy the fun – the home team’s ball player delays the handover, or the crowd hits the ball out of the frantic opponent’s reach, close to tears of helpless rage.
However, pretending or exaggerating the injury is where the damage occurs most of the time. When Mark Noble picked the dressy Ander Herrera and took him off the field, it was a tasting moment for football fans everywhere. Herrera’s astonishing deference, as he was dragged into the seam like a bag of coal, played his part in making the scene so memorable.
Just as there are artists in the most unpromising environments—think war poets and keyboardists at Inspiral Carpets—so there are those who produce great solo work in the relentless pursuit of running the clock. One of the first time-wasting martyrs, Jens Lehmann, was booked in the 2007 game for his unique versatility in retrieving the ball from behind the goal. Lehmann, while impersonating a man in a hurry to take a goal kick, Confess to throw the ball into advertising hoardingThe ball bounces behind him and forces him, in a mirror image of innocent confusion, to follow in his footsteps.
In another fantastic miniature, the referee warned Ryan Giggs and David Beckham for standing up to a corner kick together as the vital seconds approached. They both pointed to the ball, outside of the “D”, which Giggs had sprayed several seconds earlier while no one was paying attention. It is this kind of vision that really evokes a reprehensible and reprehensible act into something that everyone can enjoy. Because, in the right hands, wasting time approaches a central concept of the Dadaist statement. By going to the football field and trying not to play football, the creative waste of time shows the absurdity of a meaningful experience in a meaningless activity.
Lehmann has been leading his own business in an area where fellow goalkeepers have always shown special competence, whether it was pausing to kick the mud off the boot onto the post before the goal kick, or 20 seconds of holding the ball while waving. Teammates forward, or, with the introduction of the four-step rule, exploiting the loophole that three steps followed by putting the ball on the ground and catching it again was something that was impossible to punish. Reading the modifications to the Four Step Rule gives an idea of how instantly resolute and enthusiastic goalkeepers were to the breaking point.
Most recently, we have the Pickford Flop, an emotional breakdown on the ball trying to convince referees with a strong sense of the stage that this, dramatically, would be the perfect ending.
The most annoying aspect of this racket – late double substitutions, alternating to go down with cramp, delaying free kicks by pointing out some non-existent hurdles to restarting the game – is that everything is handled in a vaudevillian style of commitment which suggests we can’t guess the deeper motivation to the perpetrator. Football time-wasting has been internalized as an inevitable part of the game, just as signs like the “Walking Festival 2022” are now appearing in our cities without a doubt.
None of this trick trick would matter, though, if the match officials kept track of time. In practice, the ball remains in play for only 55 minutes of most matches, however injury time routinely remains three minutes, or slightly less if the ball is in the air. As the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, from memory: “It is not a matter of a short period of time, but that we waste so much perversion to shake hands with judgment after its replacement.”