Calling Full Time On Halftime

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“Half-time is, half-time was, but half-time shall be no more.”

JAMES JOYCE, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

I’m cursed by a contrary bladder. As long as I'm in close proximity and have easy access to a toilet, I can hold the need for a duration that would impress a dehydrated Bedouin child. Should I find myself outside of my comfort break zone, however, my bladder will squeal and squeal, like a tiny distressed Sheffield United fan within, until I'm forced to search for nearby plastic bottles.

My contrary bladder has had a calamitous effect on my love life. But, more importantly, it’s also ruined my nascent football career, having never been one to suffer lightly the indignity of pissing in bushes.

As a consequence, I have the greatest sympathy for Tottenham player Erik Lamela, who could be seen getting a bollocking from his manager, Mauricio Pochettino, when arriving late to the second half of the recent League Cup match against Brighton. Lamela had needed a wee. Lager drinkers and geriatrics alike know that there's no point struggling against the wishes of a contrary bladder. That way wetness leads.

It's preferable to delay the restart, rather than to pull down your shorts on the pitch as the following players were all caught doing:

  1. Fabien Barthez;

  2. Jens Lehmann;

  3. DaMarcus Beasley;

  4. Mario Gotze;

In recent league games, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has sent out his team early to warm up for the second half, having identified that a slow start to the last forty-five minutes had recently cost the Toon points. This has coincided with an upturn in Newcastle’s form. During their 1 – 0 victory against Liverpool, a skeleton (or, at least, a man dressed as a skeleton) could be seen holding up a banner that proclaimed ‘Pardew: Back from the Dead.’ It was Halloween, and the banner was figurative, referring to the manager’s proximity to the sack earlier in the season. Pardew is no zombie; he is alive.

But this talk of piss and Pardew had me thinking: is the half-time break the last vestige of the dinosaur age of football, an unrefined relic of the Neanderthal 1970s and its associated tea and oranges? Modern players warm up and warm down, sometimes whilst attached to wires. Their diets are monitored and controlled. Managers, Harry Redknapp aside, even prepare tailored tactical systems for individual games, keeping them in leather document folders. The most forward-thinking managers prepare Powerpoint presentations with extremely sophisticated transition effects. It’s a long way from Brian Clough's 'go out and express yourself' attitude:

Tactics played very little part in my method of management. I concentrated 90% on how my team played, in preference to wondering about how the opposition would set out their stall.

I'm not the first to have considered that half-time might be differently used. In 2008, during a league match against Manchester City, Hull City manager Phil Brown delivered his team talk on the opponent’s pitch, following a piss-poor first half performance. Hull lost the game, their previously good form tailed off and at the end of the season they were relegated. In Gary “Ginger Mourinho” Megson's underwhelming time at so-long-a-sleeping-giant-they-may-be-dead Nottingham Forest, he invited a mouthy fan into the half-time changing room. At the time, they were 2-0 down to Yeovil Town. The match finished 3-0. Later that season, Megson was sacked.

These examples might lead you to think that I’m (sorry) pissing up the wrong tree (quite sorry), but in both cases the interval was used only as an opportunity to shout the team to victory. Why don’t managers do something else?

They might start, for instance, by not shouting. Roy Keane's recent autobiography, ghostwritten by a Booker winner, showed Alex Ferguson, a man whose shouting style earned itself its own nickname – the hairdryer, perfectly – had once tried a different approach. When losing to Spurs, his interval address consisted of one sentence – "Lads, it's Tottenham." Manchester United finished the game by beating Tottenham Hotspur.

But even this doesn't go far enough. Maybe the anecdote told by Rodney Marsh is closer to my vision. When threatened with being pulled off at half-time by Alf Ramsey, he responded "Crikey, Alf, at Manchester City all we get is an orange and a cup of tea."

I'm not suggesting that, um, “pulling off” is an appropriate alternative to the traditional half-time bollocking, not for every match anyway, but surely there's more effective ways of spending the fifteen minutes than simply talking tactics? On the occasions that my contrary bladder allows me to play football, I spend the interval lying on my back, sweating and panting. It’s part of my game, and what sees me through to the post-match pint. I’d be forced to drink Coca-Cola otherwise. The break is tailored to my needs.

Maybe teams could seek inspiration from the business world? Journalists tell us that Liverpool’s recent poor form is due to the time needed to integrate their new players. Perhaps they should spend half-time playing that team-building game where you have the name of a famous celebrity stuck to your forehead and you ask yes/no questions of your colleagues until you’ve guess the identity? It would have to be tightly monitored, of course, to avoid the unpleasant biases that elite athletes are often prone to. Anyway, it can’t have a worse effect than Brendan Rodger’s recent team-talks.

Social media has forced the world's TV content interactive. I once tweeted and received a response from UK’s Cathy Newman whilst she was presenting the Channel 4 News. I can't remember what the message was about, probably ISIS or Ebola. But still … couldn't a team respond to a few tweets during half-time? Maybe a fan has a coaching tip or has spotted a weakness in the opposing team that could usefully be exploited? Crowdsourcing is à la mode by definition, so why not apply it to football tactics?

Having failed to win a single game, Burnley are bottom of the Premier League table. A tweet or two from Sean Dyche at half-time could hardly make things worse:

@RonaldKoeman Any tips on scoring?

Why not employ a hypnotist and release him during the break? When Partick Thistle’s Colin McGlashan had been knocked briefly out, manager John Lambie’s instructions to the physio were “Tell him he’s Pele and get him back on.” Wikipedia does not record the final score, although I assume McGlashan scored a hattrick and ended up playing for Brazil. I do not need to tell you how much sense this all makes.

Without fear of contradiction, I am confident to assert that a future manager will customarily have his team out doing calisthenics on the pitch for the whole fifteen minutes and his team will win everything and he will be called a genius. You’ll have read it here first.

Brian Clough may have been irritated by people’s obsession with tactics and systems, but he was unafraid to challenge routine. His Nottingham Forest side were losing at half-time. Returning to the changing rooms, they expected a telling-off from a manager who’d once used the break to punch a young center forward for ‘showboating.’ But there was no sign of Clough. And neither did he show up for the next fifteen minutes. It was only as the team began to organise themselves to leave did his head poke around the door.

“Sorry lads, all my fault. Picked the wrong team.”

Modern football needs more Clough, less Pochettino. Anyway, it couldn’t hurt to try.

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