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Keith Hackett on Timing of Football Matches
Keith Hackett on Timing of Football Matches | Keith Hackett, Sir Alex Ferguson,
Soccer Nation News, Ask the Ref, time keeping, FIFA

Sir Alex Ferguson

Ask the Ref: The Timing of Football Matches – Is It Time for a Change?

How many seconds and minutes are added in professional soccer are often critical to the outcome. How many seconds were lost? How many minutes will be added back in to the game time? Who makes these decisions? Keith Hacket offers his expert opinion and Paul Trevillion's marvelous cartoon of Sir Alex Ferguson speaks loudly... 

The laws of the game are specific in highlighting the fact that the referee decides on the time lost in each period.

An allowance is made in either period for the time lost through: 

  • Substitutions
  • The assessment of players` injuries.
  • The removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment
  • Time-wasting
  • When the play is stopped for different reasons (e.g. critical weather conditions, goal post broken, floodlights failure)

However, many stoppages in play are entirely natural (e.g. throw-ins, goal kicks). The referee is advised that an allowance is to be made only when these delays are excessive. Also, the referee cannot compensate for a timekeeping error during the first half by increasing or reducing the second half.

The modern referee has a great deal of duties to carry out during the course of the game at the professional level. It is my belief that it is time for a law change to allow the professional end of our game to appoint an independent time keeper.

I look at other sports where an independent time keeper is appointed – rugby, ice hockey, hockey, boxing, American football and maybe other sports.

Often spectators and managers look bemused when the fourth official raises the board to indicate added time. Either they think it is insufficient or it is too much, obviously often influenced by the likely outcome of their game.

I can recall receiving the odd letter when I was in charge of the referees at the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL) complaining that the referee had played insufficient added time. Attached to the letter was the writer’s ticket asking for their money back. The point was noted and a check of the Prozone statistics enabled me to look carefully to determine if all the added time had been played.

Television viewers can see clearly the clock on the screen indicating the amount of added time and then sit and watch has the time is counted down. In the stadium, however, the clock is stopped at either 45 or 90 minutes. Whilst the added time is indicated by the fourth official, it is not shown on the clock in the stadium.

Often the media forget that the referee is charged with adding for any lost time that may take place during the added time period. I was constantly reminding the referees of their responsibility to ensure accurate timing when I was the General Manager of the PGMOL.

Many years ago I can remember Clive Thomas, one of the world’s top referees, blowing his whistle seconds before Zico of Brazil scored what would have been the winning goal from a corner in a 1978 World Cup match against Sweden. While Thomas’ action was entirely within the laws of the game, sadly it resulted in no more World Cup appointments.

In recent weeks we have seen in the African Cup of Nations a goal post break and the unfortunate referee adding an incorrect amount of time.

So the question really is, are we as match officials allowing for sufficient loss of time during the course of a game?

I have looked at a recent top level game using the insight of Prozone, and I thought that I would share this information with you.

Total Length of Match

96 m 7 s

First Half Time


Second Half Time


Total Time Ball Out of Play

46 m 57 s

Total Effective Playing Time

49 m 10 s 

% Effective Playing Time


Total Added Time by Referee


Dead Ball Time for Throw Ins

9 m 35 s Number – 49 Throw ins during this game

Dead Ball Time for Goals

1 m 23 s Number -   2 Goals were scored in this game

Dead Ball Time for Corners

5 m 6 s Number – 11 Corner kicks in this game

Dead Ball Time for Free Kicks

13 m 6 s Number – 23 Set piece free kicks and clearly an area to look at speeding up this process.

Dead Ball Time for Drop Balls

0 m 32 s Number - 1

Dead Ball Time for Goal Kicks

11 m 21 s Number – 25 goal kicks in the game

Dead Ball Time for Offsides

4 m 56 s Number – 10 offsides

Dead Ball Time for Penalties

2 m 13 s Number - 2

Analysis Across Halves


Total Length First Half


Added Time First Half


Total Dead Ball Time First Half


Effective Playing Time 1st Half


Total Length Second Half


Added Time Second Half


Total Dead Ball Time Second Half


Effective Playing Time 2nd Half


So, given this accurate analysis of a top level game, perhaps it is time that the all-important question of the timing of games be asked and a change to the law of the game be considered in order to look towards improving the amount of actual playing time that we see in a game.

Keith Hackett

All illustrations by Paul Trevillion

Related Articles: Ask the Ref

SoccerNation You Are The REF series by Keith HackettKeith Hackett is a world class ref and the author of You Are the Ref, the Ultimate Illustrated Guide to the Laws of Football and the new book, You Are the Umpire.  The books are available on  The amazing illustrations are by Paul Trevillion

You Are The Ref is a cult classic comic strip in England.  SN is thrilled to bring this to our American soccer audience and share these stunning portraits of soccer stars from all eras. For anyone who has ever questioned a ref's eyesight or grappd with a clearly 'wrong' call, now it is your turn! 

According to David James, "Anyone who loves the game knows You Are The Ref.  Paul Trevillion's brillant art has been around for generations!"

Any opinions expressed in this column shall not be construed as advice on Laws of the Game, and may not represent the official position of US Soccer, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), CalSouth, the Presidio League, or any affiliates thereof unless specified with appropriate attribution.

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