Ain a pastime, or even a lifestyle, wasting time is undervalued. It takes real imagination to do nothing; to produce nothing requires a strong moral core. The man is inactive, among other things, he doesn’t get unnecessary cosmetic surgery or release an album of swing covers. The bravest way to experience time is through inactivity – to remain still and feel the minutes crawling over your face. Wasting time in football, however, is the privilege of the sycophantic and the shy.
The trouble is that while time-wasting in everyday life is viewed by capitalist orthodoxy as weak and suspect, in football it lends its practitioners a level of sophistication. Deliberately slowing down or stopping the game when you’re in the lead is considered the opposite of naive. It was given a new name, “game management,” elevating crafty sabotage to something worthy of a college degree.
Good game management is now considered a quality that a successful side must possess. The dictionary definition of a waste of time – to be of no use or waste of energy – does not apply to its application in football. Considerable energy is spent on keeping the ball quiet, and what could be more important than three points?
Taking the ball to the corner flag is the soccer equivalent of the medieval ceremony of driving the Devil out of the village and into the desert. For ignorant arrogance, the corner flag time waster ranks between a cow on the road and anyone who uses the crying laughing emoji on social media to refute the opposing point of view. The ball position diagram for the final 10 minutes of the Euro 2022 final, shown by the BBC, is a tribute to this proven practice.
Dumping also has a long chapter in this story. Trying hard to get the ball back into play before finally accepting defeat and leaving it to a teammate should have been added to the rules of the game as a yellow card offense because it happened so often. With a throw-in, everyone can join in on the fun – a home player pulling up a pass, or a crowd kicking the ball beyond the reach of a frenzied opposition player close to tears of impotent rage.
Pretending or exaggerating an injury is where most of the damage is done. When Mark Noble picked up an underdog Ander Herrera and carried him off the pitch, it was a moment for all ball lovers to enjoy. Herrera’s mesmerized silent acquiescence as he was dragged towards the touchline like a sack of coal played a part in making the scene so memorable.
Just as there are artists who can be found in the most unpromising environments – we think of the war poets and the keyboard player in Inspiral Carpets – there are also those who create great individual work in the despicable pursuit of killing time. Jens Lehmann, one of the early victims of time-wasting, was cautioned in the 2007 game for his unique take-off. Lehman, pretending to be a man in a hurry to kick the goal, was able to throw the ball into the billboardthe ball rebounded behind him and forced him, in a commendable facsimile of innocent confusion, back on his way.
In another neat bit, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham were cautioned by the referee for standing together at a corner as the crucial seconds ticked away. Both pointed to the ball outside the ‘D’ that Giggs had thrown there seconds before while no one was paying attention. It is this kind of vision that transforms a dirty, reprehensible act into something that everyone can enjoy. Because in good hands, wasting time approaches the central concept of the Dada manifesto. By going onto the football field and trying not to play football, the creative time waster demonstrates the absurdity of trying to achieve something meaningful in a meaningless activity.
Lehmann piloted his own work in an area where his fellow goalkeepers always showed special ability, whether pausing to knock dirt off the post before a shot on goal, holding the ball for 20 seconds while swinging a teammate forward, or, with the introduction of the four-step rule, the use of a gap, followed by three steps, followed by putting the ball on the ground and picking it up again, was a tease that could not be punished. A reading of the amendments to the four-step rule gives an idea of how the goalkeepers immediately and enthusiastically carried it through.
Most recently we had the Pickford Flop, an emotional collapse on the sword in an attempt to convince the judges with a strong sense of theater that this would be, dramatically speaking, the perfect finale.
The most annoying aspect of this racket – the late double substitutions alternately replaced by convulsions, the penalty delays pointing to some non-existent obstacle to the resumption of play – is that they are all played out in a vaudeville fashion. commitments that suggest we can’t guess the perpetrator’s deeper motive. Time-wasting has entered football as an inevitable part of the game, just as signs like ‘Walking Festival 2022’ appear in our cities unchallenged.
None of these tricks would matter, however, if the match officials were keeping track of time. In practice, the ball is only in play for about 55 minutes in most games, and even so, the usual time of injury is three minutes or slightly less when the ball is in the air. As the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote from memory: “It is not that we have little time, but that we spend a lot of it to shake hands with the referee after the substitution.”