- Category: Sports Extra
- Published Date
- Written by bbc
It is a well-established idea among football fans that there is something called â€œFergie timeâ€, an extra helping of added time when Sir Alex Fergusonâ€™s team, Manchester United, are losing. But does it really exist?
The final minutes of a football game can be the tensest. If the match is tied, and both teams are desperate for victory, or one side is a goal down with the chance of pulling off a draw, these are desperate times.
Some (mostly non-Man Utd fans, it is fair to assume) accuse Sir Alex Fergusonâ€™s team of getting more added time to score that crucial final goal than any other team and have dubbed this Fergie time.
If it does exist, it follows that referees are not doing their job properly, as it is their responsibility to calculate how much time to add on at the end of the standard 90 minutes.
It is widely believed that referees add 30 seconds for each goal and substitution, and a certain amount for other stoppages such as injuries.
In fact, Fifa has no defined rules on the amount of time that should be added. Referees are supposed to work it out for themselves.
Former Premier League referee Graham Poll says when you are refereeing, you do not believe in Fergie time.
â€œYou dispel it as popular myth of teams that are jealous of Manchester Unitedâ€™s success.â€
But when you take a step back, he says, you realise there could be something in it.
The phenomenon of Fergie time goes back to a game in the very first Premier League season, 1992/3, says Duncan Alexander of Opta Sports, which collates data from the football leagues.
It was Man Utd vs Sheffield Wednesday and the score was 1-1 after 90 minutes. Seven minutes of added time were given, during which Steve Bruce scored for Man Utd, clearing the way for their first top-flight title in 26 years.
â€œEver since then, every time United have been given quite a bit of injury time, it has been flagged up in peopleâ€™s heads and they have said, â€˜Oh United have got more Fergie time againâ€™,â€ says Alexander.
To work out whether there could be anything in it, he looked at the average amount of added time for the second-half of every match. After all, the second-half is where added time is going to matter most.
â€œThis season United have had the most,â€ he says.
So the suspicions about Fergie time are true, but only for this season.
Last season, Man Utd had the lowest second-half average added time.
â€œOver the course of the 20-year Premier League, there is not much consistency. United are not top every season,â€ says Alexander.
But the crucial figure is how much added time Man Utd get when they have been drawing or losing after 90 minutes. Opta looked at the relevant data over the past three seasonsâ€”2010-11, 2011-12, and the current season to date. They compared Man Utd with Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.
When Man Utd were losing, they had an average of four minutes and 37 seconds added time, Alexander says, compared with three minutes and 18 seconds when they were winning.
â€œSo you can see there that in games they lost, they got more time,â€ he says.
But Gabriella Lebrecht of Decision Technology, another firm that analyses sports statistics, has looked closely at the reasons time has been added in matches over the last three complete seasons.
After the time added for events such as substitutions, yellow or red cards or goals, â€œyouâ€™re left over with a certain amount which seems to be affected by the referee,â€ she says.
Her calculations show that if the home team is winning, then the added time is cut by 46 seconds.
Lebrecht calculates whether a team is â€˜strongâ€™ based on their attacking and defensive performances. In the current season, Man City rate strongest, closely followed by Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton.
So Fergie time does appear to exist, especially if one of these strong teams is playing at home. This applies to Chelsea too.
â€œIf they are playing away, it does not seem to exist as much,â€ says Lebrecht.
One thing she has noted is that when a substitution is made in stoppage time â€œa lot moreâ€ time is added to the clock than would be added in normal time.
â€œThe referee feels the [home side] fansâ€™ anger if he does not add on enough time,â€ she says.
Graham Poll bears this out from his experience.
â€œThere is a pressure that is felt, thatâ€™s tangible. You can feel as a referee out on the pitch for that team to come back.â€