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Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: Mad-cap idea thankfully booted firmly into touch

Nothing should come as a surprise in the realms of football governance, but if the International Football Association Board – the game’s lawmakers – had approved a request this week to extend the half-time interval to 25 minutes then even the most cynical eyes would have widened in disbelief.

Hull City manager Phil Brown gives his team talk, on the pitch during the half time interval.
Hull City manager Phil Brown gives his team talk, on the pitch during the half time interval.

CONMEBOL, the South American football federation, had asked IFAB to discuss the potential for an extension to the half-time period, currently limited to a maximum of 15 minutes, in the belief that it would boost the appeal of its competitions.

“Several members shared their concerns, particularly regarding the potential negative impact on player welfare and safety resulting from a longer period of inactivity,” an IFAB statement said, following their Annual Business Meeting on Thursday, chaired by FIFA.

Various media outlets speculated on CONMEBOL’s request, with reasons ranging from improving the opportunities for coaches to make tactical adjustments to their teams, to introducing half-time entertainment shows, which have been staged during the half-time interval in the NFL for many years.

In truth it was a non-starter. It is hard to think of anything that could make half-time more tedious than it already is, other than by extending it. Supporters don’t want to be entertained, they just want the second half to start.

Anyone who has attended an NFL game will tell you that the event is primarily based around distracting spectators from what is happening on the pitch. Seats with food and drinks holders large enough to stock with provisions to feed a small family for a week, vendors prowling the aisles touting for business, cheerleaders waving frantically on the touchline, stoppages in play every 30 seconds. The last thing they want you to do is pay attention.

American football stadia are tailor-made for such distractions. Once inside the venue the franchises want to keep you there as long as possible, spending as much money as possible.

Football grounds across the world are only just latching on to that concept. The new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is perhaps the best example of a stadium where the designers actually want fans to spend time in, where the facilities could be described as respectable.

But most other grounds are best entered close to kick-off and left as soon as the full-time whistle blows. For those not spending vast sums in hospitality, the concourse facilities are generally unappealing and understaffed. The idea of keeping fans loitering around for another ten minutes during half-time is not welcome.

There are tangible benefits for some. The slack-bladders will inevitably need the toilet, so in that respect a lengthier interval would ensure a more leisurely dash for the bogs.

For those with an appetite that needs sating every hour then there is more time to eat. But surely the advocates of a lengthier half-time are clutching at straws here.

Just think of how many would simply head for the exit. “Two-nil down at home and you expect me to hang around for the best part of half an hour to see us try to limit the damage in the second half? No chance.”

Not all half-times drag interminably for supporters. On Boxing Day, 2008, Hull City were trailing 4-0 away at Manchester City after the first 45 minutes. Tigers manager Phil Brown decided to resist the comfort and warmth of the visitors’ dressing room and instead hauled his players over towards the away end and sat them down on the pitch where he conducted his team talk.

Fair enough, the performance might not have come up to scratch but Hull had only lost one game away from home all season before that fateful 45 minutes. In defence of Brown’s approach, the match ended 5-1, with a goal apiece for the teams in the second half.

“It was nice and cold and I thought I would keep the boys alive because they looked as if they were dead,” said Brown. “Our 4,000 travelling fans deserved some kind of explanation for the first-half performance and it was difficult for me to do that from the confines of a changing room. We owed them an apology.”

Delia Smith also had the supporters in mind when she gave a unique half-time performance of her own back in February, 2005. After seeing her beloved Norwich City squander a two-goal lead inside the opening 45 minutes, the Canaries owner marched down from the stands and onto the pitch armed with a microphone.

Possibly slightly intoxicated, she proceeded to address the fans for failing to provide an atmosphere in keeping with a team fighting for its Premier League survival.

“A message for the best football supporters in the world,” she shouted. “We need a 12th man here. Where are you? Where are you? Let’s be havin’ you. Come on!” The non-plussed natives could not rouse their side as Delia hoped. Norwich went on to lose the match 3-2. The opponents? Manchester City, of course.

In Scotland, the standard period for half-time used to be 10 minutes. Older readers will recall the Scottish results coming in first on the Grandstand vidiprinter before the English league scores kicked in.

It has been suggested that one benefit of this was to keep the electricity bills down, as floodlights were needed for much of the season. Whatever the reason, if IFAB was ever to change the interval timings, you can be sure that most fans would be looking to shorten half-time rather than extend it.

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