When the World Cup took place in Qatar in the winter of 2022, one of the standout developments was an increase in stoppage time being added to matches by the officials. Of the first 62 matches that were played during the tournament, 43 of them reached the 100 minute mark.
That included England’s opening match against Iran, which saw an incredible 117 minutes being played. The major reasons for this were the number of substitutions being made, given the fact that football now allows each team to make five, alongside the use of the Video Assistant Referee.
The World Cup of 2018 saw 98 minutes being played as the average length of a match, with Euro 2020 actually dropping down to 97 minutes. The World Cup of 2022 saw matches last for 102 minutes on average, with the idea being that football fans would get actual value for money in terms of how long the ball was in play for on average.
At the start of the 2023-2024 campaign, it looked as if Premier League referees were following the lead of the officials in Qatar, adding more stoppage time to games in a move that will have pleased one group more than any other: the bookmakers.
More Time Played Equals More Money Spent
For bookmakers, it is a simple enough equation. The more time that is being played by the footballers, the more of a chance they have to make money. The invention of the likes of In-Play betting means that bookies make decent sums from people having a wager on things taking place as the match is being played out, so they are delighted to see games going on for longer.
For football fans, the entire point of the added time is that it should result in less time-wasting from players. There are more than a few clubs that make it their aim to waste as much time as possible, after all.
Their aim in doing so is to reduce the amount of time that better teams can play good football for, as well as to break up their rhythm and stop them attacking them well. It is also there in order to ensure that any time referees spend discussing incidents with the Video Assistant Referee gets added on appropriately so as to stop the new technology from spoiling matches any more than they already do.
When the Community Shield took place at the start of the 2023-2024 season, so much stoppage time was added that Arsenal ended up scoring an equaliser in the 101st minute.
At the ten minutes past the end of the normal 90 mark, bookies were paying out on a Manchester City win. After the equaliser in the 101st minute, the game went to penalties and Arsenal ended up winning it. There will have been any number of bets that changed thanks to the added time put on the end of the game by the match officials, from the game ending in a draw in normal time through to Arsenal lifting the trophy and Goalscorer bets also winning and losing in equal measure.
The only big winners were the bookies, who will have taken plenty of extra bets.
How Bookmakers Have Reacted
When longer period of injury time were added in the 2023-2024 season, a football trader for the bookmaker Coral made mention of what it was that people were betting on. He said,
“This week, our Goals, Bookings and Corners lines have all gone up slightly.” The decision to move them up was, he said, to counteract the effect of the extra injury time that was being played. He also said, “We’d expect to see a little more interest on live Correct Scores going forward and we have certainly had to adjust our In-Play strategy to reflect the change in the rules.”
Steve Freeth from Bet365 said that the company had predicted an increase in stoppage time, tweaking its models accordingly. They said they tweaked things again as the first matches of the weekend played out. He said,
“I was at Stoke versus Rotherham last Saturday, when ten cards were shown and the Potters scored twice in the seven minutes of first-half injury-time. And in Tuesday’s EFL Cup tie at the bet365 Stadium, West Brom goalkeeper Josh Griffiths was booked for time-wasting despite the Baggies being 2-1 down! We cut the Championship keepers to be carded last week.”
Will It Last?
For punters wondering if they’re going to have more of a chance to place bets on matches that are lasting for longer, the obvious question to ask is whether or not the longer added time is likely to last. We all know that Premier League referees like to do things for a short period of time, as if to make a point, only to abandon what they’ve been doing a few weeks later.
Anyone who remembers players being booked for simulating the showing of a yellow card at the start of the 2023-2024 campaign only to abandon that a few weeks later knows that fact only too well.
One thing that might make a difference is the opinion of the governing body for the sport in Europe. As Premier League fans were experiencing huge amounts of added time being put on their games, UEFA confirmed that it won’t be something that they’re going to do themselves, declaring it as ‘absolutely absurd‘.
The governing body said that it was worried about player safety, in spite of the fact that they showed no such concerns when adding extra games to the Champions League or forcing players to take part in daft competitions like the Nations League.
In spite of UEFA’s concerns, the decision to add the extra time to games was due to a shift in the rules that were implemented by the International Football Association Board, which is the body that decides on the laws of the game. The body felt that adding the extra time was better than using a stop clock, as they do in rugby, which was one of the alternative suggestions.
We had a meeting last week with the FA. They recommended from the referees new decisions and rules.
From the managers and players, we have shared our concerns for many years now that there are too many games, the schedule is overcrowded, and it’s at a dangerous level for…
— Raphaël Varane (@raphaelvarane) August 7, 2023
Some players weren’t happy, with Raphaël Varane posting on social media about it. Players’ welfare has never been a major concern for the governing bodies, though. Is the added time here to stay? We wouldn’t bet on it.