Since the start of the 2022 winter World Cup in Qatar that saw a focus on adding on more additional time for stoppages during the match. This focus saw an average of 10 minutes per game, almost 4 minutes of additional time per game then the previous World Cup in Russia. This focus has now been pushed out across English Football as officials and broadcast partners are concerned with the amount of time the ball is actually in play during a game.
How do they work out stoppage time in football? Starting for the 2023-24 Football season the IFAB rules state that allowance for time lost is made by the referee in each half for all playing time lost in that half through:
• assessment and/or removal of injured players
• wasting time
• disciplinary sanctions
• medical stoppages permitted by competition rules, e.g. ‘drinks’ breaks (which should not exceed one minute) and ‘cooling’ breaks (ninety seconds to three minutes)
• delays relating to VAR ‘checks’ and ‘reviews’
• goal celebrations
• any other cause, including any significant delay to a restart (e.g. due to interference by an outside agent)
There is no strict guidance from the IFAB for how long to add for each of these events. Despite a big focus on it in English Football this season, the only actual rule change is the creation of “goal celebrations” as its own category. Previously goal celebrations fell into the “any other cause” category.
If you are thinking that that seems a little baggy and referee’s probably need more guidance, you are correct. That has fallen this season to the English FA to push guidelines out to the referee’s in charge of all professional matches. We take a look at exactly what is changing below.
Why is stoppage time an issue in English Football?
The people in charge of English football have become increasingly concerned with statistics that show how little the ball is in play in professional matches in England. Averages last season of 48 minutes in League Two, 50 minutes in League One, 52 minutes in the Championship and just under 55 minutes in the Premier League are cause for concern. The 48 minutes in League Two is barely over 50% of the 90 minute standard time and includes the minutes of stoppage time in both halves that would already have been added. So you can expect at the average League Two game that the ball will be out of play more than it’s in play. This trend lessens as we move up the leagues. The 55 minutes average ball in play time in the Premier League is a real concern. Last season the average amount of stoppage time in a Premier League game was 8 minutes. This means that the ball was in play for only 56% of the 98 minutes in the average Premier League game in 2022-23. The new guidance is aimed at lifting this in several ways.
Players have however expressed concerns that increasing the length of games puts more strain on their bodies and will overall have a negative impact on the quality of football played.
There is a general consensus in Football that the ball being in play for an average of 60 minutes per game would be the ideal balance. It has been suggested that simply playing a 60 minute stopping clock would be the ideal solution, but realistically there is not much appetite to change the look and feel of the beautiful game quite that much. So the English FA is seeking to achieve it through less drastic means.
What is the guidance to referees on stoppage time?
Referees are now guided to time specifically how long the game is stopped for interruptions, such as a goal, a substitution, injury, or preparations for a free-kick. These are seen as the biggest causes of lost time during matches.
Until now officials have been asked to add 30 seconds for each goal scored and another 30 seconds for each phase of substitutions made. That rudimentary rule of thumb has been abandoned and referees will instead add on a precise amount of time that is lost. As an example, Arsenal in thePremier League averaged 81 seconds celebrating goals in the 2022-23 season. If you work this out across the 88 goals they scored, it comes to over 2 hours of real time. The addition of just 30 seconds per goal comes to just 44 minutes, not a fair trade off for their opponents who were usually losing the match.
Adding on precise time for the stoppage events listed in the IFAB rules:
- Assessment and/or removal of injured players
- Wasting time
- Disciplinary sanctions
- Medical stoppages permitted by competition rules, e.g. ‘drinks’ breaks (which should not exceed one minute) and ‘cooling’ breaks (ninety seconds to three minutes)
- Delays relating to VAR ‘checks’ and ‘reviews’
- Goal celebrations
- Any other cause, including any significant delay to a restart (e.g. due to interference by an outside agent)
Is expected to inflate the average Premier League stoppage time from 98 minutes to around 102 minutes. Adding 4 minutes of ball in play time. With an average of 55 minutes, the additional 4 minutes will take it to around 59 minutes and close to the holy grail of 60 minutes ball in play average.
While this is a good aim, endless stoppage time isn’t really the ultimate solution anyone wants. The real goal is to simply get the game back moving faster when stopped, let it flow more and prevent teams resorting to the “dark arts” to try and eek out precious points or knockout wins.
How are referees being asked to reduce time wasting?
The entire solution isn’t just about adding more time on and extending football matches out. The idea is that if teams know that any wasted time will simply be added on to the end of the game, doing it in the first place will hold less value. Ultimately once football has reached a place where teams don’t bother wasting time, the amount of added time will naturally reduce as the ball stays in play more. In theory.
In addition referee’s are being tasked with clamping down on behaviors that prevent the ball getting back into play more. The language being used is “clear and impactful actions” that waste time. You may have already noticed yellow cards being waved at goalkeepers more frequently who take undue time with goal kicks, or players ‘feigning’ attempts at taking a throw in while time ticks away. This will all help the game get moving quicker.
Referee’s have their part to play as well. Direction has been given to allow the game to flow more freely, by reducing stoppages. Referee’s have been asked to apply a higher threshold to contact between players. Football has traditionally been a contact sport and recent years have seen an arc away from player to player contact and a lot of soft fouls being awarded. This new approach from referee’s should mean fewer free-kicks are awarded than in previous years.
While lower leagues are adopting more use of the “Multi-ball” system, the Premier League in the 2023-24 season will use nine balls (up from eight last season) as well as the one in play. So a player should always have quick access to a ball to take a throw-in, corner or goal kick quickly when the ball goes out of play.
The IFAB have also leant a helping hand with guidelines that had previously stated stadium clocks should stop dead on the 45 (half time) and 90 minute (full time) mark now changed to allow the clock to keep running in a bid to help match-going supporters understand how much added time has been played already.
How long will Premier League matches last in the 2023-24 Season?
The Premier League estimates that the average length of a game will grow to 101 minutes and 49 seconds with the changes this season, up from 98 minutes and 26 seconds from the 2022-23 season. The Premier League has also made clear that this won’t be a flash in the pan early season push, that peters out long before Christmas. The new stoppage time rules and focus on keeping the game flowing will stay in place, time wasters will just have to count off their yellow cards, fines, suspensions, ire of the fans and dressing downs by the coaches.