Aidan Smith: Football must be played to the full 90 so it has peaks and troughs, Andy Hallidays and David Grays

Imagine, Hibernian fans, if your greatest-ever game had finished shortly after 4pm. Your team wouldn’t have won the Scottish Cup and you might by now have given up all hope of the curse ending. And you wouldn’t have been able to make up a song about Andy Halliday.

With a winning header David Gray smashes through the Rangers defence - and the concept of 60-minute games.
With a winning header David Gray smashes through the Rangers defence - and the concept of 60-minute games.

Just over an hour of the 2016 final had been played when Halliday struck the shot of his life. Now, believe it or not, trials could be coming soon for 60-minute matches. Without that additional half-hour at Hampden there would have been no amazing comeback, no requirement for Liam Henderson to deliver, no “Sir” David Gray – and no clumps of Hampden grass replanted at home. (What, you’ve not done this in your back garden? With Subbuteo figures in green and white forming a guard round the sacred turf?).

Instead, Halliday becomes the hero in a Rangers triumph. This would have been a Sliding Doors moment for him (or Sliding Tackles). He wouldn’t then have had to move on someplace else, drifting into obscurity.

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Hopefully, for all of football’s sake, 60-minute games never come to pass. But you never know. Remember before the 1994 World Cup in the United States when American broadcasters complained that two halves lasting 45 minutes each were much too long for a home audience which expected to be bombarded with commercials for deep-pan pizzas and other bastardised foods on a regular basis? TV wanted matches divided into quarters for additional ad breaks. Fifa didn’t sanction that but, you know, they might have done. After all, they’ve handed the next World Cup to Qatar.

The trials have been proposed by the Portuguese Football Federation who want to test the format in an under-age tournament. Reading about the plan I couldn’t find reasons for why 60-minute matches would be a good idea but it’s safe to assume that this is an attempt to prevent time-wasting and make football more attractive. This was the theory when 60-minutes games were suggested in 2017.

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Back then, a stop-clock was to be involved, and it is again. Well, that would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? Suspend the animation like they do in rugby. Claim back these lost seconds, if not minutes, from the play-acting, as-if-they’ve-been-shot, roll-over-eight-times chancers. Crack down on full-backs pondering life’s inner meaning while winding up for throw-ins. Rid the game of goalkeepers who place the ball for kick-outs as if it’s a ming vase, the only one of this design in existence.

But what if all the faffing and malingering amounted to a half-hour in itself. This is perfectly possible because a recent study by the independent research body CIES Football Observatory found that an hour and a half’s worth of football only contained slightly under 60 minutes of ball-in-play action. Unless deliberate acts of running down the clock are consistently punished then we would be back where we were, with “games” lasting 90 minutes. Same as before but, in another way, not. We’d have allowed in the tinkerers and in the words of an old editor of mine who was always mixing his metaphors, this could be “the thin end of the slippery slope”.

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Football is the purest of sports, simple and sleek. Golf has needed hurrying up and so has cricket. Rugby fiddles around with its rules all the time. Some have made a positive difference but the sheer number of them, for the casual observer, amount to a challenge in themselves. If you’re unsure, it’s good policy to sit next to an anorak, a practice followed in the press-boxes as well as the stands, and I speak from personal experience.

There hasn’t been a Scotland rugby team who’ve liked to throw the ball around as much as this one for quite some time. Obviously they haven’t always been successful in this, but even with these good intentions, some recent games at Murrayfield have begun so stodgily that 20 minutes would pass before anything of significance happened. That’s 50 percent of a first half gone.

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Now, a football match’s opening 20 can be bogged down in tactical sludge because of risk-adverse coaches and the fear of losing and be just as mind-numbing. This would be quite a chunk out of a 60-minute game where there’s been minimal use of the stop-clock.

I hope this crackpot, crack-must-have-been-smoked wheeze isn’t prompted by the way we all live now, which is fast, flicking our smartphones constantly, skip-button dependent, no staying power. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it has.

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Impatience is omnipresent. There were grumbles when, before release, it was revealed that the most recent James Bond film would clock in at two hours and 43 minutes. I must admit I wasn’t sure that a franchise which, in the words of the doyenne of movie critics Pauline Kael, relied majorly on “kiss-kiss, bang-bang” could sustain such a length, but No Time to Die was terrific.

This is no time to reduce football to 60 minutes. Who would even want this? Rangers fans itching to get out of Ibrox so they could leave even earlier? I don’t think so. Games have ebb and flow, peaks and troughs, Andy Hallidays and David Grays. I get as frustrated as the next fan with the writhers and skivers (and even more frustrated with the TV commentators who blurt, “He’s obviously hurt”, for how do they know for sure?). But football must be allowed to play out, play to the full. You just never know what’s going to happen and what life-affirming moments you might miss.



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