We have written much about football and its peripheral activities and now one subject comes up that takes place in each game and at times continues to be as vexatious as ever: Timekeeping.
The rules of the game say that each team must supply a timekeeper and the reason for this is simple. It ensures that the time each quarter, breaks and match itself is timed correctly and stops cheating.
The rules also say that each timekeeper must have his or her own timepiece with which they should maintain the times of those periods.
The president of the History Society, Ian Granland, is a person with undoubted credentials in this area, after he told us that he first began to keep time for a first grade match in Sydney at age 17.
“Like many struggling clubs, there was no-one else. I was handed the clock and team sheet and told to go and sit in the press box with someone from the other club and keep time.” Granland said.
“What? That’s not my idea of a fun day at the footy” I thought. “That’s for old blokes who can no longer play or who don’t want to pick up the jumpers after the game” but, he went on “I was stuck with it.”
“I was a quick learner and soon found out that a good timekeeper can win or lose you a game. I went on to work with some solid shonks in the local football fraternity, an area you probably don’t think counts.”
“First, I was told, ‘look, you write down the goalkickers and I’ll keep the time, don’t bother using your clock’ (I never could work out why there were two clocks in the first place – but there was a reason).
So on a windswept day at Erskineville Oval in Sydney, a naive young Ian Granland sat in the back seats of the grandstand (there was no pressbox) with his opposition number to keep time. “It didn’t take me long to realise that although my colleague feigned stopping the clock (for time out) when my team was kicking with the wind, he didn’t and the reserve was the case with his side. My education in timekeeping had started. And there were and still are, other lurks to the caper.”
There is nothing like a good club timekeeper, who comes along to the game does their job, interferes with no-one and goes home. For every club, that’s one big and important job out of the way.
But of course on the other hand there are other disorganised clubs, many of whom are college teams, that just sit an injured player on the seat and expect them to perform. No, it doesn’t work like that.
Umpires and their signals are another question. If there is a prolonged stoppage in play, the officiating umpire must signal time out by raising their hand in the air and blowing the whistle. Some forget and it’s not the timekeeper’s job to take on that responsibility, so if you see the clock ticking away while a stretcher is on the ground it’s maybe because the umpire is a bit lax.
But, the rules do provide for umpires who forget to signal ‘time back in’. Should the umpire fail to do this the timekeeper/s can take it upon themselves to restart the clock. Sometimes umpires just raise their hand. You have to watch the game.
Then of course, if you are at a match where a timepiece, more likely digital these days, is able to be viewed by the public, you might see the clock either stopped or operating when it should not and in fact the game stoppage has been addressed by the umpire. This could be because of slack timekeepers. Or if a timekeeper has been taken short and there is no-one to replace him or her….. and so the list goes on.
Every league will have bad timekeeping stories, there are no good ones because no-one notices the timekeeper if all goes well. And, as an aside, did you know that many local rules provide for if and when the two goal umpires cannot decide on the score, they must consult with the timekeepers, who too, are supposed to be noting the score each time a point or goal is kicked.
But here’s a great story: In 1961 Newtown FC protested the result of its six point loss in the preliminary final to Sydney Naval when it was revealed that the siren sounded 12 minutes early to end the first quarter. This came about when the president of marching girls team (which was to perform at half time), plugged her music into the power board and in testing it, pressed the wrong switch which sounded the siren. Nothing could be done because the players stopped and changed ends (there were no quarter time huddles then).
This certainly caused a conundrum with officials quickly deciding to spread those lost 12 minutes over the next three quarters. However they failed to tell anyone. Was that a wise move? Was it within the rules? Maybe a situation like this had not been considered possible?
To add insult to injury, at the end of the game the sole central umpire failed to hear the final siren with both teams level on 88 points. Sydney Naval player, Jack Harding had marked 40m out but his kick failed to reach the goal just as the siren sounded. Oblivious to this, umpire Colbert called “play on” which allowed Naval player, Alan Waack, to gather the ball and boot a goal. Sydney Naval had won by six points! The umpire even returned to the centre of the ground for the bounce before he finally acknowledged ‘time’.
Now you’re not going to believe this but a few weeks later in the grand final between North Shore and Sydney Naval there was a further timekeeping issue.
When starting to pack up towards the end of the of the match, acting league secretary, Joe Boulus, in dismantling the public address system, accidentally sounded the siren eight minutes before the end of the last quarter. Vice President, George Henry, jumped the fence and ran to tell the umpire but it was too late.
Let me tell you, similar things still go on today around Australia, we just don’t hear of them.
One thing I often see on the TV at times, is the clock being stopped in AFL games because of a complication in the game, when clearly the umpire has not signalled time out. Have the rules changed?
Hail the long forgotten administrator in our game, The Timekeeper. Lets have a Timekeepers Round for the thousands each weekend who perform that duty.
(We were going to publish a story about the introduction of the timekeepers clock into VFL football in 1923 but that can wait for another day.)