[lead dropcap=”yes”]If you find it difficult to stay awake for the full ninety, make sure you at least pay attention to these ten:[/lead]
1: The First Minute – When a fast-start can take your side by surprise, when an ingenious kick-off routine can undo the more languid of defensive lines, or when a late, two-footed lunge from Lee Cattermole is met with nothing more than a stern telling off and a yellow card, as opposed to the marching orders that it probably deserved. “If it had been later in the game” etc…
2: The Forty-Fifth Minute – Supposedly, it’s the “worst time to concede” – even though there is little statistical evidence to back that up. A first half of relentless pressure but little end product can be completely obliterated from living memory if your opponents pull a fast one on you with seconds to spare before the interval.
3: The Forty-Fifth (plus Five) Minute – Realistically, you’ll have only got to this point if the opposing Enforcer has royally flattened your tricky winger at some stage in the half. As a result, you’ll run over the 45th minute and be left in some kind of stoppage-time limbo, uncertain as to how much longer you’ll have to last without those half time oranges, exactly.
4: The Forty-Sixth Minute – I’m not entirely sure why this isn’t considered the worst time to concede. Your manager has spent fifteen minutes running you through a game plan that would be based around, presumably, the half time scoreline. For that scoreline to be unexpectedly altered within one minute of the restart, your manager’s meticulous game plan is rendered redundant, and you’re left on your own for the next forty-four…
5: The 60th Minute – A moment in time that commentators revel in calling ‘the hour mark’ simply because it is the only point in a football match that fits into the denomination of ‘hours’. Managers quite like making a substitution or two at this point. If things aren’t going well, it’s quite nice if this moment ends up being the turning point. It’s very well-proportioned.
7: The Ninetieth (plus Three) Minute – A period of time so notorious for hosting late goals in favour of one team in particular, it was given its own moniker. Of course, ‘Fergie Time’ isn’t just to be enjoyed by Manchester United alone. A result-changing goal in the ninety-third minute of a football match is one worth savouring for weeks afterwards. If the ninetieth minute is the scripted finale to footballing theatre, then the ninety-third is the spontaneous encore, when almost anything can and will happen, in a rush of unrehearsed hysteria.
8: The Ninetieth (plus Eight) Minute – A similar scenario to the forty-fifth (plus five). You’re only still playing because someone went down with a bad case of ‘bleeding head.’ This time, however, the end of the match is nigh, and only one man gets to decide when that exact end point will arrive: For referees who like a bit of the spotlight, the ninetieth (plus eight) minute is a dream come true. The end of the match is completely down to their interpretation of stoppage time. And don’t they know it.
9: The 105th Minute – Or rather, the end of the first half of extra time. Another period of limbo, when players aren’t allowed back down the tunnel, and instead are brought back to their Under-12 days by having to sit in circles on the pitch whilst their managers bark orders at them in an effort to show the fans that this really is what goes on behind closed dressing room doors. Add to the performance a couple of physiotherapists furiously rubbing some sweaty thighs, and you have the complete façade.
10: The 120th Minute – Or rather, penalties. The pantomime gaffer returns to the field in a flurry of histrionics, pad and paper in one hand, index finger extended and waving in the other, whilst his players, now ashen-faced and wheezing after a full two hours of football, can barely muster the energy to raise their heads and acknowledge his presence.