Unprofessional Foul


September 21, 2009

The Old Trafford Timekeeping

Big Hand, conferring with Little Hand

Big Hand, conferring with Little Hand

So did anyone happen to catch the Manchester derby yesterday?

Wasn’t much to talk about there, really. Just seven goals, injury-time drama, talking points galore, and the irritation of a win for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side at the death.

We’ll slot aside the fact that overall, United probably deserved the victory for their consistent attacking purpose (though Craig Bellamy deserved something for his renaissance, including that first goal… oh my), and focus entirely on the clockwatch at the end of the game.

To say that it was controversial is a bit of an understatement, but I’ll attempt to play Devil’s Advocate and explain things a little.

Ultimately, the extra “phantom” 90 seconds ought to have happened, and here’s why.

We’ll begin in that 90th minute itself; as the seconds ticked off towards the 90:00 mark, we witnessed two events: the ref’s assistant holding that sign up flashing 4 minutes to be added (seriously, besides that and babysitting managers, what else does that poor flack do?), and the Bellamy equalizer. Officially, it’s timed as the 90th minute; by the TV clock, it looked to be happening around the 89:55 mark if we were following at home. The official timekeeper clocked it at 89:54.

Bellamy, as you’d expect from a passionate individual and in such a highly-charged atmosphere, ends up on a :55 celebration that appeared excessive, though no bookings were issued (Bellamy was already on a yellow at the time). Once the game restarted, we’re already past minute 91 and heading towards minute 92 on our watches.

A Man United sub in the 93rd minute takes a further :30 to complete, so we’re up to almost 90 full seconds of additional stoppages that begin and extend past the 90th minute itself. Can you see where I’m going with this?

The stoppage time board, handled by the 4th official, is merely an advisement from the referee as to the additional time required to finish a full 90 minutes of game time. It’s not gospel, by any means, though we’d love to read it as such; ultimately, the ref’s discretion will take the added time as a minimum to be played, and in doing so, we can infer that the 90 seconds of stoppages during added time were simply added onto those 4 minutes in order to satisfy the referee that a full, sufficient period of added time had occurred.

Sure, it’s splitting hairs, but Atkinson is allowed to make that judgment. The 4 minutes was a starting point; taking into account those extra stoppages, we’re up to roughly 95:30 on the game clock. Naturally, United lucked into this situation but took full advantage; Owen’s goal came around 95:20-95:25 on the game clock, meaning that if we’re following the timekeeping to the exact second, it’s technically within the boundaries of what we should expect of added time: the 4 minutes, plus the :90 for Bellamy’s celebration/the Carrick substitution, and we’re there.

Then, we end up running into the 6th minute as United’s celebration took a while also, and thus, we have our bloated allotment of added time explained away. Hughes has it timed at :45 for their third goal celebration, but the point is they’re still cognizant that some extension was to be made by the referee in that situation.

Simply put, Atkinson was holding valuable seconds for every lackadaisical throw-in and goal-kick during added time (and to be fair, he reffed a decent game, playing lots of advantage and trying his best not to disrupt the flow of a feisty, pulsating contest) and adhering to his desire to play 4+ minutes at the end of the game.

It goes without saying that had United not scored a 4th, no-one would be griping about Atkinson’s watch, but them’s the breaks. Plus, it’s only natural for Hughes to shield his team from scrutiny (not that they deserve much) and to deflect criticism onto the officiating for what is a difficult derby day defeat.

I hate seeing him happy.

I hate seeing him happy.

Sure, it hurts, and yes, it pains me to side with the Reds for once, but in the aftermath, the referee is merely that deflection.

Of course Hughes and City have every right to feel aggrieved; they’ve just played their hearts out for 90 minutes and come back from a goal down on three separate occasions despite playing less than their best soccer and playing it without three of their best players in order to secure what they thought was a point at Old Trafford. If you’re a Citeh fan, it doesn’t get much better than that given the circumstances.

However, I’ll be the killjoy that points out United’s possession, shots on goal, corners etc. as being a more accurate representation of the match, as well as the shambolic, sleepy defending from Citeh that dug their own grave time and time again. Allowing Darren Fletcher to score twice is hardly a glowing review of your defensive capability, and that Rooney goal, while well-taken by the striker, was set up on a silver platter by some shockingly lax man-marking early in the contest.

For Giggs to pick out Owen like that… well, there are few players making that pass to begin with, and credit all round to the Reds (this is unbelievably painful to write) for that determination late on. From a nothing situation, the Welshman’s vision conjured a goal from nowhere.

If you’re a fan of an EPL contender, you can take solace from the fact that United aren’t what they used to be. Sure, they have a coterie of defensive midfielders they can deploy in bulk at any time, but Ferdinand’s injury history has caused him to lose a fair bit of pace, and Foster’s clearly no first-teamer just yet (one might argue he’s still better than the fading Van der Statue).

In spite of all this, they pulled off a derby victory, and they did so within the bounds of reasonable play. I just hope this doesn’t happen against Liverpool, as I don’t want to have to write another piece like this ever again.

About the Author

James T


  1. ebullientfatalist

    I missed the game, but the goal highlights aroused me as a footie fan. That last pass by Giggs couldn’t be replicated in FIFA.

    The stoppage time, like you say LB, is not “gospel,” but merely a starting point. This needs to be kept in mind re: future matches with injury time goals and subs.

  2. you disgusting ManUre apologist

  3. Ryan

    Your logic is infuriating and disgusting.

    Unfortunately it’s also correct. Lots of issues on our end besides the timekeeping. Although it doesn’t help matters when SAF is telling funnies to the 4th offical.

  4. phil

    I demand that LB no longer be allowed to make sense.

  5. Keith

    Ryan- as I said yesterday, I’d worry more about the fact that Sparky sold his best defender and captain for peanuts right after bringing in an overrated defender for about four times the sale price of said captain.

  6. hockalees

    And meanwhile that team East London just keeps on quietly winning every game.

  7. phil

    Sorry, hockalees, I’m not sure of whom you are speaking.

    I only know of one team in London.

  8. WhiteSpeedReceiver

    Your logic makes me feel slightly less dirty about the win yesterday. Thank you, LB.

  9. hadley

    East London, hocaklees? No, we keep losing.

  10. hadley

    by the way, i was okay with the stoppage time, with the goal and the subs. I hate Man United, but I kinda hate Man City now, too.

  11. hadley

    It should surprise exactly no one that Bellamy allegedly punched a ManU fan.

  12. whizalen

    @ hadley — I read that today and my immediate reaction was, “of course he did.”

    Hughes didn’t complain as a player benefiting from “Old Trafford Stoppage Time” which he rightly admitted to today. I watched the final 10 minutes of that game and you could see the extra time coming. Giggs’ pass was ridiculous. I hate Citeh so much right now, I actually leapt from my couch to celebrate the goal. It’s funny, when Carrick came on the announcer said it was likely a ploy by SAF to get an extra 30 seconds tacked on. Sly fox that one.

  13. Ryan

    @ Keith- And I don’t disagree with you, our defense has been shambolic many times this season. Although I’m not sure Dunnie was our best central defender.

  14. Lingering Bursitis

    And to think I was worried about coming back to UF this afternoon and facing an angry mob!

    Make no mistake; writing this article was so painful to write. But the point had to be made. Ugh.

    Also, if this ever does happen in an LFC/Man U game, expect me to show no such calmness or logic.

  15. Georger

    I cannot get on board with this. I’m sorry. After not getting the full stoppage time allotment in Athens, I don’t believe for a f**king second that refs really add on time in their head.

  16. Lingering Bursitis

    I do. This time has to be accounted for. They used stopwatches and have earpieces connecting them to official time, not to mention LCD displays around the ground. They’re more than aware.

    And the game’s come a long way since Athens, though it was fairly recent…

  17. Georger

    It still just seems so arbitrary to me. Sure it can be accounted for, but the decision to keep the game going or not, to me, has always seemed like a coin flip.

  18. Lingering Bursitis

    That’s the point; it’s entirely arbitrary. Referees can advise the 4th ref — and in turn, the masses — as to how much added time should be played, but it’s all up to his discretion. The number on that little board is just an estimation, and it’s not the officials’ fault that so many take it as gospel.

    When you factor in the never-ending ways that teams can timewaste and dawdle once the clock passes 90, games like yesterday’s derby are a reminder that you should be playing 100% up to the whistle, regardless of when you think that whistle should come.

    If they were defending like a team worth a toss, that pass would never have found a wide-open Owen 10 yards from goal and not a defender in sight.

  19. Georger

    I’m sure City didn’t deserve to win and would have been lucky to get the point, I’m not saying they got robbed.

    I’m saying that even if the time is accounted for, I think the only reason it was added is because of who was behind and where the game was being played. But the number of games I’ve seen people waste minutes feigning injury and no extra time is played, well I just don’t think the fact that it was accountable means that it should have been played.

    F**k both teams though.

  20. Lingering Bursitis

    I’d normally agree with you, as United do have an irritating history of succeeding in “bonus minutes”, but this was one example where the ref appears to get it right.

    For what it’s worth, Atkinson was pretty good yesterday, and is one of the better refs currently trolling around the EPL. Very rarely did he cave in front of the Old Trafford crowd, at least in my opinion. Some refs are careless and less detail-oriented, but Atkinson does his job properly and pays attention to such details (makes sense as he and the 4th official used to be police officers before becoming refs).

    By contrast, it’s a guarantee that Webb would have done his utmost to gift the home side a win, and would have been transparent in doing so.

  21. Lingering Bursitis

    And no-one was behind! It was 3-3 heading into added time.

  22. Georger

    Goddamnit you know what I meant they were about to drop points.

  23. Georger

    “as United do have an irritating history of succeeding in “bonus minutes””

    Exactly. If this were an isolated incident, sure, no problem. But because of that history, I can’t believe that the ref was acting outside of the United factor. An appearance of a conflict of interest is enough to establish a conflict of interest.

  24. Lingering Bursitis

    If it were Webb, or Poll, or some other sop, I might be inclined to agree. Atkinson’s one of the few decent refs we’ve got, and has shown no such deference in his reffing history.

    As I said earlier, if he plays those 5-6 minutes and there are no more goals, does anyone care? It’s a lame duck talking point obscuring the bigger picture: Citeh fell asleep at the wheel. What do they say on a Hail Mary in american football? Knock the ball down!

  25. Georger

    City kind of suck, that’s for sure.

  26. Georger

    Though I’d imagine the City fans watching it would be getting super pissed as the fifth minute kept going up until the final whistle. It’s not something that goes unnoticed.

  27. Lingering Bursitis

    I said in my 1st comment, I already know I won’t be able to maintain this level of decorum and objectivity should we get screwed against Man U, or any team for that matter, in this fashion.

    That said… gotta keep playin’ until ref says no more playin’

  28. Georger

    Yep. I don’t even remotely feel bad for city.

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