Two teams, twenty two players, one ball, two goal nets and ninety minutes of action – those are the generally accepted characteristics of a football match.
But strange times can call for even stranger measures, and PFA chief Gordon Taylor has revealed that shorter matches are being discussed as part of Project Restart, the Premier League’s set of plans to get top-flight football up and running.
Whether that is less than 90 minutes or simply shorter halves – perhaps three sets of 30 minutes remains to be seen, and of course the idea is yet to be signed off by the 20 Premier League clubs, who ultimately will have the final say on how and when the beautiful game will resume in England.
“We don’t know the future but we do know what propositions have been put, what ideas have been put – the possibility of having more substitutes, games possibly not being the full 45 minutes each way, talks of neutral stadiums.
“Ideally, you want to keep the integrity of the competition, and of course, that was about playing home and away and having the same squad of players as before it was suspended.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Football League, Rick Parry, said ‘I don’t think we should be ruling out any creative ideas’ in the pursuit of getting the sport going again.
The idea behind shortening matches would be to preserve the fitness of the players, who will be rather rushed back into action after a significant period of inactivity. There won’t be any pre-season friendlies for them to build up their sharpness in, and they will have to play a lot of games in a short space of time – should Project Restart be given the go ahead, that is.
We will probably find out more on May 7, when the government is expected to ease some lockdown restrictions, and then even more 24 hours later when the Premier League clubs will discuss the possibility of a June return.
Why Are Football Matches 90 Minutes Long?
Football’s genesis dates back to the early 1800s, but the game only really started to become a formal sport in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Clubs began to take shape as did organised leagues and competitions, and that meant more concrete rules were required to ensure consistency across the board.
Prior to 1866, football matches were played out by differing numbers of players – some games were ten-a-side, some as many as 15-a-side – with a pre-arranged duration of play.
But a fixture between London and Sheffield in that fateful year designated the 90 minute time period – and football hasn’t changed since.
The 90-minute rule was latterly written into the Football Association’s rulebook in the early 1900s, reading:
“The duration of each match shall be 90 minutes, except in special cases, provided for in these Competition Rules, where an extra 30 minutes shall be played. The Referee shall allow for time lost in accordance with the Laws of the Game or through accident or other cause and his decision on this matter is not subject to appeal.”
In 2017, an audacious plan concocted by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) wanted to reduce matches to 30 minutes per half, with the clock stopped when the ball left the field of play. Their idea never made it past FIFA or UEFA’s scrutiny.