The clock has just hit 90 minutes which is supposed to be the maximum duration of a soccer game but the referee has not blown his whistle to signal the end of the game. Did the referee forget to look at his or her watch, you may ask?
New inductees into the fan club of soccer are likely to find themselves asking this question—especially when their team is winning by a lone goal but facing a last-minute barrage of attacks from the opposition team.
There is usually a heightened sense of anticipation as the game gets close to the 90-minute mark. However, that anticipation can turn to anxiety when the fourth official indicates the amount of added stoppage time using an electronic scoreboard.
Well, soccer is not like every other game. In other games, the timer counts down and stops whenever there is a foul but once soccer has started, the timer never stops until halftime or the end of the game regardless of how many fouls committed or pauses for substitutions.
To make up for these in-game stoppages that rob the game of valuable time, the concept of stoppage time (also known as injury time or extra time) was introduced. This way, both the viewers and players will not feel like they have been denied valuable time.
According to Law 7 of the Law of the Game, the referee is required to make allowance for time lost from;
- Evaluation and/or removal of an injured player
- Time wasting
- Medical stoppages allowed by the competition like water breaks (which should not exceed 1 minute)
- Disciplinary sanctions
- Delays from VAR checks and reviews
- Other causes, including goal celebrations
Thinking about the concept of stoppage time will also lead to a new wave of questions including who decides the amount of stoppage time? What is the maximum stoppage time in soccer? How is stoppage time calculated? Can stoppage time be reduced after it has been shown on the electronic board?
We are going to dissect the topic of stoppage time today and tell you all you need to know about the rules and practices. At the end of this post, you will become more constructive with criticizing the referee’s decision on stoppage time.
What is stoppage time in soccer?
Stoppage time in soccer is simply the amount of time added at the end of each half of a soccer game to make up for a lost time within that half of the game. Since soccer time counts up and never stops until the end of each half, time can be lost from goal celebrations, fouls, scuffles, substitutions, injuries, players’ delay tactics, and so on.
According to FIFA’s Law 7, a referee is not supposed to add stops for corner kicks and throw-ins when calculating delays that will eventually add to the stoppage time. The only exception is when the referee has the conviction that the players have wasted time.
Traditionally, you will mostly see longer stoppage time at the end of the second half and shorter stoppage time if any at the end of the first half. The longest stoppage time in history happened in 2019 during a game between English League One sides Bournemouth and Burton Albion.
That game saw 28 minutes being added at the end of the 90 minutes of regular duration. This was because the game had to be paused three times owing to floodlight failure.
Prior to that game, the longest stoppage time on record was a 2013 fixture between Arsenal and Westham which saw the addition of a whopping 12 minutes 58 seconds at the end of the regular duration.
Now, it is important to mention this to let you know that there is no limit to the amount of stoppage time that can be added at the end of a game. It all boils down to the discretion of the match officials who keep tabs on the amount of time lost during in-game stoppages.
The most popular stoppage time lengths range from 1 to 5 minutes. Any stoppage time that exceeds the 5-minute mark is usually seen as unusual by soccer fans—sometimes it is even judged as a bias on the part of the referee even though it may be accurate.
Referees usually add 1 to 2 minutes for clean halves with minimal stops while halves with multiple interruptions usually see 3 to 5 minutes of stoppage time. With the introduction of stoppage time, soccer was able to eliminate the idea of games coming to a sudden end.
What is the origin of stoppage time?
The origin of the stoppage time goes back to the game between Aston Villa F.C. and Stoke City F.C. in 1891. During the game, Stoke City was losing by one goal to Aston Villa.
Luckily one of Stoke’splayers was fouled within the 18-yard box of Aston Villa and the referee awarded a penalty. The Aston Villa goalkeeper knew that his chance of catching the penalty was low so he decided to pull off a delay trick.
The Aston Villa goalkeeper took the ball and kicked it out of the stadium. Unlike now that so many balls are used in soccer, at that time the number was far limited. In fact, most games only had one.
By the time they could fetch the ball and bring it back to the stadium the time was up and the referee had to end the match. After the game, the organizing body had to review the rules leading to the introduction of stoppage time.
In addition to stoppage time, the new rule was crafted in such a way that even if a team gets a penalty in the last second, they must take the penalty before the referee can end the game. This means that the referee can extend the stoppage time but cannot go below it.
For example, if the assistant referee displays a stoppage time of 3 minutes on the electronic board, the referee can allow the game to stretch to 5 minutes if he or she perceives further delays. However, the referee cannot end the game 1 or 2 minutes into the stoppage time.
We can see an example of this during the 2010 World Cup quarter-final clash between Ghana and Uruguay. The referee will usually end the game when the last action has been completed or the ball has gone out of play.
How to determine stoppage time in soccer?
Stoppage time makes up for the time lost to in-game disruptions in each half. That means that the longer the stops in the half, the longer the stoppage time to account for those stops.
The referee uses a special timepiece with multiple modes and buttons that allows them to track the amount of time lost to in-game stops while the game clock continues to run uninterrupted. With a few minutes left to play, the referee will relay the amount of stoppage to the fourth official.
When the game enters its last minute, the fourth official will raise an electronic scoreboard showing the amount of stoppage time that has been added to the half. Below are some of the steps used to determine the stoppage time in soccer.
Step 1: Number of substitutions
When a player is substituted, the law of the game mandates them to leave the pitch as soon as possible using the closest boundary line—except for injury or security/safety reasons.
However, most substituted players rarely obey this rule and will use it as an opportunity to run down the clock if their team is winning.
The referee usually adds 30 seconds to stoppage time for every substitution to account for the time lost during this exchange. However, the time could be longer if the referee perceives further delay.
Step 2: Fouls leading issuance of a card
Fouls usually account for the most cause of stoppage time extensions in soccer. For minor fouls with quick restarts, the rule of thumb is for the referee to add 5 to 10 seconds to the stoppage time.
However, for more serious fouls that lead to longer stops and earn the player a card, the referee will usually add up to 30 seconds to the stoppage time-or more if the fouled player is injured and will have to be attended to on the pitch.
For fouls where the fouled player will have to be examined on the pitch, the referee can add up to 1 minute of stoppage time to account for the time loss from that examination.
Although 5 seconds can seem small, considering the large number of fouls that are usually committed in a soccer game, these seconds can balloon into precious minutes. The average number of fouls per La Liga game is about 27 while that of the Premier League is 20.9.
Step 3: Goal celebrations
One of the high points of a soccer game is after a goal is scored-and it is understandable considering the fact that goals don’t come easily in soccer. Players often leave the pitch to celebrate their goals.
Even though this is not a foul, ‘excessive behaviors’ during goal celebrations are strongly discouraged. This includes time-wasting, excessive, and choreographed celebrations.
Referees can intervene and caution players in the case of immoderate time-wasting and will usually add 30 seconds to stoppage time for every moderate goal celebration. However, this time can go up if the referee foresees additional time-wasting.
Step 4: Video assistant referee (VAR)
The introduction of VAR also led to more delays during goal and foul checks. Prior to 2017 when VAR was introduced, this was not an issue. VAR is only allowed to intervene when there is a ‘serious missed incident’ or ‘clear and obvious error’. This may include
- Mistaken identity during a caution or send-off
- Direct red card offense (not second caution)
- Penalty/no penalty
- Goal/no goal
The game stops to allow for VAR checks can often stretch to over a minute, especially when the referee has to go over to the touchline screen to have a look for themselves. The referee will also keep taps of time lost to VAR checks.
Step 5: Exceptional injury cases
According to Law 5 of the Law of the Game, an injured player cannot be treated on the field. However, there are exceptions to this rule including when a goalkeeper is injured, there is a severe injury, or the injured player is supposed to be the penalty taker if the foul resulted in a penalty.
For example, during the Euro 2020 game between Denmark and Finland, Christian Eriksen of Denmark suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed on the field. Consequently, he was given urgent medical attention for around 10 minutes before he was taken to the hospital.
In this exceptional case, the time was paused. When the game eventually restarted, the remaining 4 minutes of the first half was played without the addition of the supposed 10 minutes lost to the medical emergency. However, the half-time break was reduced to 5 minutes (instead of the usual 15) to compensate for the loss.
All these lost time pockets are what the referee will collate and decide the amount of stoppage time that will be added at the end of the game.
Once the amount of stoppage time that will be allowed for a game has been displayed on the electronic board, the referee is not allowed to reduce this time. The entire stipulated minutes must be allowed to play out.
However, a referee can allow the game to play beyond what was displayed by the fourth official—and it is unlikely that the referee will abruptly stop the game during an attack. One thing that the referee is not allowed to do is to carry a timekeeping error from the first half into the second half.
When a match is abandoned, the time is paused. If the game is retaken at a later date, the time will start from the exact minute it was paused before it was abandoned in the last game.
One thing is obvious in soccer, the game does not end when time elapses. Rather, the game will only end when the referee decides. For the players, it can be devastating to watch your lead slip from your fingers at a time when the game should have ended.
Accurate timekeeping in soccer is still a mirage because there are times where you will expect more and get less and vice versa. Regardless of the method used to determine how much time the referee should add to the stoppage for each type of stoppage, the last call is determined by the referee.
Thus, the elastic definition of the time by the referee means that no player, fan, or commentator can tell with accuracy when the game will end. Therefore, players need to keep their energy up until the sound of the whistle—and that adds to the ecstatic mood and passion of the game.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!