Injury Time: The tale about extra time
A SHORT STORY: John Gardener entertains the readers with a tale of fiction (or is there some truth in it) about referee’s additional time.
What made it confusing at the time was that none of us knew the reason why the game was going on so long. Injury time was stretching and stretching. The strange thing about that was that there had, till then, been no injuries. `Referee’s optional time’ is its high-falutin’ name. Can the referee just give as much time as he likes?
We began to speculate. Perhaps the referee’s watch had stopped. Or he’d forgotten to look at it. The crowd began to grow restive. The curtain was well and truly raised and they’d had enough. They wanted the big match. The curtain-raiser was, in fact, the Rusdorp-Oonddorp annual derby, and for the devout supporters of these two ancient teams their game was the `big match’, but they were equally unhappy for other reasons.
Despite weighty and emotional arguments against the idea, this great derby match had been moved to the Kotie Carelse Stadium. (This was now officially named Joe’s Hamburgers Park, but only the sponsors, their families and one obsequious commentator ever called it that; real rugby people had more sense.) The derby was to be the curtain-raiser to the big match against a touring team. `Big match, hrrumph!’ had snorted the Rusdorp and Oonddorp supporters alike. They had protested, but the mighty men of rugby administration had democratically overruled them. Besides, they said, A Very Important Dignitary would be there. A clinching argument, they believed. So now Rusdorp were playing Oonddorp in the curtain-raiser.
At what should have been full-time Rusdorp were leading 27-25. Rusdorpenaars were shouting for the final whistle, and blowing shrilly through pursed and angry lips. Oonddorpenaars were bewildered, not believing their luck in getting an eleventh-hour extra chance to down the traditional foe. They took it. 30-27 to Oonddorp. Rusdorp supporters were furious beyond the telling of it. Five minutes of injury time gone. But play went on.
After twelve minutes of extra time Rusdorp were back in the lead: 37-35. What was going on? Someone said that the idea of extra time, injury time, optional time – call it what you will – was to make up for time wasted. There’s always someone in a crowd who knows. The same chap was full of a story that he’d read about a stopwatch having been put on a rugby game to time the actual duration of play, cutting out when the ball was in touch, or the players were getting ready to kick off or scrum down, and so on. It came, he claimed, to about 25 minutes out of 80. Perhaps that’s what the ref was up to now, he said.
`Perhaps he’s going to give us 80 minutes of actual play. That’ll kill Oonddorp,’ he cried. The Rusdorp supporters were inclined to agree. That’d work out to about four and a quarter hours altogether. `It’ll be dark,’ said someone with a razor-sharp mind. The score was 54-50 to Oonddorp.
It spoke volumes for the spectators’ sense of orderliness that no one had yet gone on to remonstrate with the referee.
The public address system came on. `Skwaak eh-eh-eh skwaak skwaakle eh-eh!’ it said, as it usually did. Then, as if to make itself clear, `Skwaakle skwaak!’
`Precisely!’ said Razor-sharp, though his companions remained bewildered.
By this time, of course, the players themselves were becoming extremely weary, not to mention obstreperous. There were now numerous stoppages for injuries, some of them entire novelties to the world of medical science. The Noodhulp people had, after twenty minutes of injury time, shrewdly sent out for extra supplies of ice and bandages. Not even the reminder from their team-mates that their injuries were in fact adding to extra time and not reducing it was enough to dissuade the self-selected malingerers.
`Eh-eh-eh skwaak ik skwaak,’ said the public address, repeating the announcement presumably in another official language: `Ik eh-eh skwaak eh-ik skwaakle ik!’
Every time either of the captains approached the referee to protest he blew his whistle and gave a penalty, advancing it ten metres if the protest persisted. That was how Rusdorp recaptured the lead at 59-57 after twenty-five minutes of injury time. That referee who blew the Springboks-Ireland test in 1970 would have been emerald-green with envy.
At this time both Rusdorp and Oonddorp had used up all their substitutes. The story soon spread that some Rusdorp supporters had been togged up and sent on illicitly – but no one seemed to care too much. Some brave players who had been replaced had trudged back nobly, again illicitly, for second stints. The quickest thinking players, mainly props of course, had been the first to organise themselves into the receipt of crippling wounds.
The sun went down behind the grandstand after thirty minutes.
You need not imagine that the two herds of bulls waiting beneath the grandstand for the big game had been idle all this while. They had been through their pre-match talks and exercises just before the anticipated end of the curtain-raiser. The incense of embrocation and the horses’-hooves sound of boot studs on cement floors were rising to the seats above where appetites for the main course were at their keenest.
But the delay, the prolonging of the Rusdorp-Oonddorp encounter, began to get on the nerves of these finely-honed athletes in ways that no moonlight training camps in cold water could come close to. The captains gave their pep-talks all over again, which pleased some of the heavier forwards who’d not understood the first time. Some shouting broke out, especially after the third public address announcement, which was also beamed into the changing rooms: `Ik ik ik skwaak eh-eh-eh skwaak a skwaak.’ Then repeated, as before.
The president of the union left his seat at The Very Important Dignitary’s side and stumbled down to the players’ rooms, as pigeon-toed as he’d been in his playing days. A wonderful cross-kicker.
`Thez bin a birruva hold-up,’ he mumbled – he wasn’t much of an orator – and he went on to explain to the disgruntled teams the nature thereof, an explanation which trailed off sounding strangely like `Skwaak ik ik ik skwaak’, and which scarcely served to leave them particularly gruntled. Their tempers were not improved on hearing the weary applause that greeted Rusdorp’s 75th point.
Rumours, both mild and bitter, were flying around the crowd. The referee was a certified madman; many of them are, you know. The captain and two of the stars of the visiting team had been arrested in a night club – it had been known before – and they were keeping the curtain-raiser on to cover up. There was a bomb scare. The referee had taken a bet. The visiting team had been lost. Had been in an accident. Had been hijacked. Had been bribed. Were asking for more money. Why don’t they tell us?
So they tried. `Skwaakle skwaakle ik ik eh-eh ik skwaak ik!’ Times two.
Oonddorp 84, Rusdorp 83. But by now playing with thirteen men each. `Two short on each side,’ explained Razor-sharp. The fact was that despite substitutes and replacements, even presumably those togged-up Rusdorpenaars, neither side could find a full fifteen players strong enough to play on.
It was all very simply elucidated in the end. Though never officially. You must blame it on the TV. This is what happened.
After about fifty-five minutes of extra time, which makes the 2003 World Cup final look quite tame, a sort of spontaneous breaking point saw the remaining twenty-four players – two more had collapsed – with one accord go on strike. Perhaps it was easier just then because the score had reached 90-all! They all flopped down, the spectators flooded on to help them off – they certainly needed help – and the referee headed for the hills.
The public address system was by now skwaakling without stop, but the teams for the big game were nowhere to be found.
Later the referee, contacted in the hills by cellphone, reluctantly admitted that he’d been told by the Joe’s – er, Kotie Carelse Memorial Stadium Ground and Playing Venue Matches and Fixtures Organising Executive Secretary to keep the curtain-raiser going at all costs until the TV cameras arrived.
The TV unit people said they’d been given the wrong directions to the stadium and had found themselves at a hamburger bar umpteen kays away. And their enormous van had broken down. The hamburgers had been really good, they added. Free drinks, too.
The Rusdorp and Oonddorp captains refused to comment, largely because both were in a state of shock – like participants in a really tough sport such as the Comrades Marathon. But both were known to share a feeling of angry disappointment at the way they’d been treated combined with a unique elation at having made the Guinness Book of Records.
Razor-sharp said: `It’s the longest match I’ve seen.’
The Very Important Dignitary went home in his limousine thankful that he never had to handle crises of such major proportions.
The union president said that, unfortunately, owing to circumstances beyond their control, the big match would have to be played on another occasion, and that he didn’t see why there had to be any problem, and that, unfortunately, it was agitators who were talking about getting their money back, but that he could handle it himself, and that you’ve got to look after the sponsors; they look after you and you had a duty to look after the viewing public on TV ik ik ik, and, unfortunately, … (a lapse into incoherence here)…but rugby was the winner.
The teams for the big game were discovered two hours later in The Hog and Trumpet, a well-known local social centre.
***John Gardener, a Rhodes Scholar in the early 1950s, became a scholarly schoolmaster, the headmaster of Kingswood and then the principal of Bishops. As a schoolmaster, Gardener was enthusiastically involved in sport. He has written several sporting short stories, fiction but with many truthful elements. One real memory: when at Oxford, playing for Magdalen against Hertford, his immediate opponent in the lineout said something rude in Afrikaans, to which Gardener replied in Afrikaans, and so he and Piet Koornhof got to know each other.
**NB This will no longer happen with televised matches as teams in such matches are allowed 45 minutes or more to have the field to themselves so that thy can warm up.