Should Matches be Reduced to 60 Minutes?

It has been reported that the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) are hoping to trial 60-minute football matches at an upcoming youth tournament, shortening halves to 30 minutes.

The caveat is that the clock would be stopped when the ball is out of play. The report, published in the I Newspaper, says that the FPF want to test the format at the Under-23 Revelation Cup in April but needs to be given the green light from International Football Association Board (IFAB) before proceeding with the trial.

A study from The Analyst shows that, in this season’s Premier League matches, the ball is in play for an average of 60 minutes and 59 seconds, meaning that nearly a third of a game of football is effectively lost. Therefore, this new format would not see any actual loss of in-play time based on the study.

Teams that are more noted for their possession-based football, such as Manchester City and Liverpool, are unsurprisingly placed first and second respectively for total in-play minutes. In contrast, Aston Villa came bottom with an average time of 51 minutes and 26 seconds – a little more than half a match.

This would suggest that the new suggested format would not make too much difference to sides like Man City and Liverpool, while the likes of Aston Villa would find that the ball is in play for almost an extra 10 minutes in a match based on those averages.

Would it Make a Difference?

This new suggested format would certainly make a difference as it would immediately mean that time-wasting tactics would become a thing of the past. When players delay taking free-kicks and throw-ins, and coaches make strategically timed substitutions, the clock would be paused rather than winding down as it currently does.

There would also no longer be a need for injury time at the end of each half as stoppages are already accounted for. This, then, would also take away the debate as to whether too much or too little time has been added on and, of course, the fallout if a team scores after the allotted amount of (minimum) time has passed.

Would it make a difference for the better? That is a different argument altogether.

Below the Top Leagues

As has already been pointed out, teams that are more suited to possession-based football have more time with the ball in play. These are the teams that are contesting for titles season in and season out.

Further down the pyramid is where you are likely to find the biggest effect. The Championship, England’s second tier, has an average of 56 minutes and 32 seconds with the ball in play this season – more than four minutes less than the Premier League. Based on the findings, it is suggested that higher-quality teams keep the ball in play for longer, which means that, in theory, the ball would be in play for less time the further down the leagues you go.

Propping up the pyramid is non-league football, which holds a special place in the foundations of the sport, which is where this format is less viable. The new format is not viable because it would force teams to play with the ball for longer, if anything that would only serve to develop the ability of the players at that level, but because it would be a nightmare to keep fans informed.

In the professional leagues, where clubs have large stadia equipped with screens and scoreboards, fans can easily be kept up to speed with the state of play, always knowing where they stand (unless VAR is involved, which is a completely different argument). At non-league level, the vast majority of clubs do not have such capabilities, with fans using their phones and watches to follow the time of the match. With constant stoppages in play resulting in a paused clock, unless dedicated fans pause and start their stopwatches, they will soon lose track of how long is left in a game.

Fan Engagement Concerns

From a fan engagement point of view, it leaves a question to be answered as to how they will be kept informed when venues do not offer a visible reference. The concern for many fans would be seeing their sport turn into something resembling the NFL, where the clock stops and starts countless times during a match.

The likelihood is that this latest idea will not make it past the early stages. It would arguably be the biggest change to the game since its formation, but whether it would be for the better is up for debate. While there are pros and cons to shortening matches, it’s difficult to say with absolute confidence that the positives far outweigh the negatives. At least right now.