Wednesday, 24 Jul 2024

Why Soccer’s Clock Keeps Ticking

Soccer Clock

In soccer, time is always ticking. Unlike other sports where teams race against the clock, soccer’s time starts at zero and counts up to 90 minutes. But it’s not as simple as it seems. Let’s explore why the soccer clock never stops and how this unique system works.

The Timeline of a Soccer Game

In both professional and recreational soccer games worldwide, the clock starts ticking when the first whistle blows and continues counting upwards. A standard soccer game consists of:

  • 45 Minutes (First Half)
  • Half-Time (15-Minute Break)
  • 45 Minutes (Second Half)

A 90-minute game is split into two 45-minute halves, with a 15-minute halftime break. However, knockout tournaments may have additional time if there’s no winner after 90 minutes. This can include two sets of 15 minutes of overtime and, if necessary, a penalty shoot-out.

During each timed section, the clock keeps ticking without pause, even for substitutions or player injuries. But where does that time go? It’s not disregarded; instead, it’s added at the end of each half as stoppage time.

What Is Stoppage Time?

Stoppage Time

Stoppage time refers to the moments when the game clock is still counting up, but the game is not actively being played. The International Football Association Board (IFAB), the governing body of soccer, provides guidelines for what qualifies as stoppage time.

These situations can include player substitutions, injuries, disciplinary sanctions (yellow and red cards), time-wasting tactics, field interruptions (such as stray animals or fans), and delays related to video assistant referee (VAR) reviews.

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Stoppage time is allocated for both regulation and extra time segments, and referees cannot add time solely to make up for fewer minutes in the first half. Stoppage time is tracked separately for each half and added at the referee’s discretion.

Who Counts Stoppage Time?

You might expect that someone solely dedicated to timekeeping would track stoppage time accurately in such a critical aspect of the game. However, the burden falls on the referee, who has many other responsibilities throughout the match.

While some referees may have an assistant to help track time and display the minimum added time at the end of each half, the final decision rests with the referee. However, discrepancies may arise, and critics argue that the time added is often inaccurate or unfair.

In fact, statistical website FiveThirtyEight conducted a study during the 2018 World Cup, using a team of timekeepers to track stoppage time. The study found that except for one game, stoppage time was consistently under-awarded.

The Evolution of Soccer Timekeeping

Soccer Head Injury

Clock management plays a strategic role in many sports, building suspense as the clock counts down. However, in soccer, teams and managers cannot directly control the clock, shifting the strategic focus to time-wasting tactics. This includes players faking injuries or using other means to gain an advantage.

The need for change became apparent in 1891 when a match between Stoke City Football Club and Aston Villa Football Club highlighted the drawbacks of relying solely on the 90-minute clock. Stoke City was denied a penalty kick because time ran out while recovering the ball kicked off the grounds by the Aston Villa goalkeeper.

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This incident prompted a rule change, although similar strategies were likely employed even before then. The decision to count up minutes rather than pause and restart the clock was likely made for simplicity and ease of use, especially when matches are officiated by a limited number of referees.

The Impact of VAR

Soccer has always been a fast-paced sport, with players and managers adapting to the unpredictable nature of the game. However, technology is gradually making its way into soccer, including the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.

VAR was implemented to reduce human error and was officially introduced in IFAB games in 2018. While there were concerns about its impact on stoppage time, evidence suggests that VAR has not significantly affected game duration. Video review accounted for only 0.5% of all play during the 2018 World Cup, averaging just 31 seconds per match.

In conclusion, timekeeping in soccer may appear straightforward, but it carries nuances and relies heavily on the referee’s discretion. As the game and the world continue to evolve, we may witness changes in how time is managed. But for now, let the clock run, and enjoy the game!


Q: How does stoppage time work in soccer?

A: Stoppage time is the additional time added at the end of each half to compensate for moments when the clock was still counting but the game was not actively being played. It accounts for situations like player substitutions, injuries, disciplinary actions, time-wasting tactics, field interruptions, and VAR reviews.

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Q: Who determines the amount of stoppage time in a soccer match?

A: The referee is responsible for deciding the amount of stoppage time to be added at the end of each half. While some referees may have an assistant to help track time, the final decision rests with the referee.

Q: Is stoppage time the same as overtime in soccer?

A: No, stoppage time and overtime are different concepts in soccer. Stoppage time refers to the additional minutes added at the end of each half, while overtime occurs in knockout tournaments when there is no winner after 90 minutes. Overtime consists of two sets of 15 minutes, followed by a penalty shoot-out if needed.

Q: Does VAR impact stoppage time in soccer games?

A: While VAR (Video Assistant Referee) reviews can affect the flow of the game, evidence suggests that it has not significantly impacted stoppage time. During the 2018 World Cup, VAR accounted for only 0.5% of all play and averaged just 31 seconds per match.

Q: Why does soccer use stoppage time instead of pausing the clock?

A: Soccer uses stoppage time to manage the game more efficiently. Pausing and restarting the clock continually would be complex and time-consuming, especially in matches officiated by a limited number of referees. The current system allows for a streamlined and accessible approach to timekeeping.