Stoppage Time in Soccer Explained

post title over image of soccer clock

Stoppage time is a significant part of almost every soccer game. But knowing what it means and how it works can seem confusing. Having spent many years playing soccer, I’m going to give you the complete explanation of stoppage time in this article.

Stoppage time is a period of time that a referee adds to the end of each half of a soccer game to account for time lost during that half. The length of time the referee chooses to add on can vary, depending on the number of stoppages that took place. 

It may seem surprising that the length of time a soccer game lasts can change from game to game, but in this article, I’ll explain:

  • Why stoppage time is important
  • How it’s calculated (and give some examples)
  • How stoppage time is different from extra time
  • and why it was introduced.

Let’s get into it!

What Is Stoppage Time?

The first thing to fully understand is what stoppage time means.

Stoppage time means the referee has added extra time onto the end of a half of soccer because the referee had to pause the game multiple times during that period of play. Stoppage time makes up for the time lost.

Imagine for a second any part of a soccer game that you may have seen or played in.

I’m sure you will have quickly noticed several times where the game was briefly paused due to an incident or stoppage in play.

referee issuing caution to soccer player
Referee stopping a game to caution a player

There are several reasons why a referee may stop a game:

  • For a substitution to take place
  • Assessment of an injury to a player
  • A player has scored a goal
  • or disciplinary action taking place.

These stoppages are common during a game and can potentially cause significant disruption to the flow of a game.

I know when I’m playing, I enjoy it much more when the game keeps going, and there are as few stoppages as possible.

But the reality is that many of these stoppages can’t be avoided.

  • Teams must be allowed to substitute a player
  • An injured player can’t be ignored
  • After a player scores, the referee must allow time to restart the game

Stoppage time, also known as injury time, was introduced to make sure these breaks in play don’t take away from the overall playing time of the game.

When Was Stoppage Time Introduced?

Before giving you some examples of how stoppage time works, I want to explain when this crucial part of a soccer game was introduced.

Stoppage time was introduced in 1891 after a game between Aston Villa and Stoke where the Aston Villa goalkeeper kicked the ball out of play, ensuring that the game time would elapse before Stoke City could take a penalty kick. Stoppage time was introduced to prevent this from happening again.

Before the rule-makers of soccer introduced stoppage time into the sport, the clock in soccer didn’t stop for any reason.

There were 45 minutes allocated for each half of the game, and when that time was up, the game was up.

Unfortunately, this led to many players deliberately wasting time to run down the clock. Although some dispute itmany believe that it was a game in 1891 that persuaded the English Football Association to change the rules.

On Saturday, November 21, 1891, English teams Aston Villa and Stoke were playing against each other when the referee awarded Stoke a penalty kick in the last few moments of the game. Aston Villa was winning at this point, and a goal for Stoke would have tied the game.

Player taking penalty kick
Player taking penalty kick

Because there was no allowance for time lost at this time in the history of soccer, the goalkeeper decided he would kick the ball out of play. He was fully aware that by the time someone had retrieved the ball, the game time would be over, and Stoke would be unable to take their penalty kick.

Obviously, the Stoke players and fans felt this was incredibly unfair, and the English Football Association agreed. Soon after this event, the rules were changed, and stoppage time became part of the rules of soccer we know today.

How Does Stoppage Time Work?

So, you can see that stoppage time has been around for a long time, but how does it work?

Stoppage time works by compiling the time lost for stoppages during a single half of soccer and adding that time onto the end of the allocated playing time. The referee won’t end the half until the players have completed stoppage time.

When the referee pauses a game for a substitution, injury, or any other reason, the players must stop playing and wait for the referee to restart the game.

But, unlike many other sports that have a set period of time allocated to play a game, soccer works differently.

Clock in soccer running
Clock in soccer keeps running

Instead of stopping the clock every time, there’s a stoppage in play, the clock in soccer keeps running throughout the break in play.

If you’re used to watching football or basketball, this may seem like a strange concept, but it works really well in soccer.

How Is Stoppage Time Calculated?

Throughout the game, the referee, or one of the referee’s assistants, will keep track of the amount of time the play is stopped and calculate the appropriate length for stoppage time.

Stoppage time is calculated by taking the time lost during a half of soccer from injuries, substitutions, and time-wasting and adding that time to the end of a half. The time added on is known as stoppage time.

So, for example, if play is stopped for 15 seconds to allow a team to make a substitution, the referee will add an extra 15 seconds onto the end of the half.

Or if a player is injured and the game is stopped for 3 minutes to allow the medical team to assess the player, then the referee will add 3 extra minutes onto the end of the half to make up for the time lost.

The rules of soccer refer to stoppage time as “allowance for time lost”, and it’s essential to understand that the referee has complete control over how much stoppage time is allowed.

There is no limit on how much stoppage time a referee can add to the end of a soccer game. The length of stoppage time added on is relative to the amount of game time lost during a half of soccer, and there is no maximum amount.

If the referee decides stoppage time should be one minute, then it will be one minute. If the referee decides it will be eight minutes, then it will be eight minutes.

The length of stoppage time is entirely what the referee believes it should be.

At a professional level, the referee’s assistant, known as the 4th official, will keep track of the time lost. You will see them holding up a board with numbers on at the end of a soccer game indicating how long stoppage time should be.

But during a game where a referee doesn’t have another official keeping track of the time, they will either use their own watch to keep track of the time or allocate specific amounts of time for different stoppages. This may look like this:

  • 30 seconds for the restart after a goal has been scored
  • 15 seconds for a substitution
  • or 15 seconds for a foul.

Ultimately the time allowed for stoppage time is up to the referee. Although there have been studies that suggest that stoppage time isn’t always accurate, the average time stoppage time played is approximately 7 minutes per game.

However long stoppage time is at the end of a half, there have been some dramatic goals scored in game during this period as you can see in this video below.

Dramatic Stoppage Time Goals in 2020

Stoppage Time vs Extra Time

One more area I want to clarify is the difference between stoppage time and extra time, as many people misunderstand these two.

The difference between stoppage time and extra time is that stoppage time is time the referee adds onto the end of a half as an allowance for time lost, and extra time is an extra period of play added onto the end of a game if the scores are tied, but the game needs a winner.

As with many sports, soccer has its own terminologies and jargon that can be hard to understand if you are new to the game. If you really want to dig into it, then I’ve created a soccer glossary you can look at, but when you hear phrases such as “stoppage time,” “injury time,” or “additional time,” they all refer to stoppage time as we have talked about throughout this article.

Extra time, however, is different from stoppage time.

Extra time is an extra period of 30 minutes added onto a game when the score is tied after the allocated 90 minutes of game time is over.

In some soccer games, it doesn’t matter if a game finishes in a tie. But for some games, there must be a winning team. This is most often the case in tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup or Olympic Soccer, where only one team can progress to the next round.

When the scores are tied at the end of the initial 90 minutes of playing time, then the referee allows an extra 30 minutes of playing time to give the opportunity for more goals to be scored and one team to be victorious.

For more information on extra time, check out my article – Is Overtime used in Soccer, and what is it?

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Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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