Akwasi Afriyie Writes: Football – A Game of 56 minutes

Akwasi Afriyie Writes: Football – A Game of 56 minutes

Football is a game of 90 minutes played over two equal halves of 45 minutes but in reality, is it?

Have you ever been left wondering if the match you have just witnessed was indeed, an action-packed 

90 minutes of football?

Have you ever questioned  how much of the 90 minutes the ball is in play for?

We have all seen this  when watching football. The 90 minutes are up and, the fourth official holds up his board showing 4 minutes, a minimum of 4 additional minutes and we may just be asking,  “how was that number arrived at?”

FIFA’s Law 7 talks about the duration of a football match and allowances made for time lost during the game resulting from substitutions, time wasting, goal celebrations etc. The length of the added time is decided solely by the referee. Again, in the opinion of the referee. Something that currently only exists in the head of the referee.

Allow me to give you a little background to the introduction of “stoppage time, added time, time added on or injury time  into Association Football.

It is reported that, ADDED TIME/TIME ADDED ON OR INJURY TIME was introduced in 1891 following a match between STOKE FC AND ASTON VILLA.  In case you are wondering,  Stoke FC is what is known now as Stoke City FC. 

The club only became the STOKE CITY  FC we know today after the town of Stoke-On Trent had attained city status in 1925.

Now, back to the crux of the matter. With two minutes remaining on the clock and, Stoke FC down by a goal, the referee awarded them a penalty.

Aston Villa’s disgusted keeper decided to kick the ball out of play.  Remember, this was before the multi-ball system we have today.  By the time Stoke had managed to retrieve the ball and ready to take the penalty kick, hoping to equalise, the 90 minutes were up. Time had run out, game over. Stoke had lost. Villa had won.

The Sentinel, a local newspaper, still in operation to this day reported after the match , “We are informed on reliable authority that Stoke have laid an objection to the result of their match with Aston Villa on Saturday.”

The FA after the review duly changed the rules and introduced added time or injury time but there still remained some mystery. 

Until a little over 20yrs ago, only the referee knew how much time had been added on. Football authorities finally decided that,  time was up, it was time to show the secrecy the red card by introducing the electronic boards that we have today. 

First up was Euro ’96 in England, followed by the France ’98 World Cup.

So, just how fair and accurate are these times? Do they reflect the amount of time lost during games?

A  research into the Spanish La Liga by Luis Garciano, Ignacio Palacios and Carnice Prendergast shows referees tend to favour home teams when deciding how much time to add on. According to them, referees favour the home team by adding a shorter added time if the home team is ahead. By the same token,  the length of injury time is longer if the home team is losing.  These findings can be found in their paper “Favouritism Under Pressure”.


This takes me to this view of why football should employ another official whose sole responsibility is timekeeping. Just take that responsibility out of the hand of the centre referee. 

William Penn in 1682 wrote; ”Time is what we want most but what we use worst”.

This is still as true as it was 340 years ago, especially in the win-at-all costs world of professional football.

 The dedicated timekeeper  pauses the clock when the game stops/ ball goes out of play and resumes it when the game resumes.

This eliminates any imaginary clock that may exist only inside a referee’s head. There should be a clock at the stadium where possible to show exactly how much time is left.

It was reported in 2017,  that, football rule makers(IFAB)  were considering reducing games from the supposed 90mins to 60mins in order to stop time wasting.  

In 2018,  boffins at FiveThirtyEight  website conducted a research into how much time the ball was in play for during the first 32 matches of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.  

The longest time the ball was in play for was 63mins 2sec and, it was during the match between Egypt and Uruguay.

Fans were only given a little over 44mins of play time by Morocco and Iran. We are talking about FIFA World Cup, Football and FIFA’s blue ribband competition.

According to the BBC in August 2017, he ball was in play for 47mins and 40secs during the Premier League match between Burnley and West Bromwich Albion. The same article reported that, of the 19 Premier League games played up to that point of the season,  only two of them had seen the ball in play for more than one hour.

Later that year in November, The UK’s Talksport reported that, the then Tottenham Manager, Mauricio Pochettino had complained about time-wasting by West Bromwich Albion. In that match, the ball was in play for 61 minutes and 26 seconds, which was the 3rd highest in Premier League that weekend. 

Averagely, the ball was in play for 57mins at Old Trafford, Brighton, Tottenham and Anfield.

For Arsenal,  Chelsea and Manchester City, it was 58 minutes on average during that season.

During Manchester United vs Atletico at Old Trafford in March 2022, the ball was in play for just a little over 11 minutes during the last 30 minutes of the game.

The current rules make provision for 30secs for a substitution.  We all however know that, more often than not, it takes longer than 30secs for a player to amble off the pitch. It is clearly a system that is open to abuse and has been rendered not fit for purpose. It was probably alright in 1965 when Charlton Keeper Keith Peacock made history by history by becoming the first player ever  in a league match to come on as a substitute against Bolton Wanderers. 

West Germany’s Richard Gottinger had become the 1st substitute in a top class match in 1954. It was the Switzerland ’54  World Cup Qualifier and, West Germany beat Saarland 3-0.

 The English Premier League in 1992 allowed three players on the bench although only two could be used.

These days though, clubs are allowed to use five subs and, many clubs are really abusing it, further reducing game time.

You may see 6 rafts of substitutions in the 2nd half, adding up to 3 minutes and yet, a referee may decide to add on only 2 or 4 minutes.

For example, during Manchester United Vs Aston Villa on 10th Nov, 2022, all 10  substitutions occurred in the 2nd half.   Based on the guideline of referees allowing 30seconds for every substitution, the 10 of them, all in the 2nd half should have attracted an additional 5minutes.

Again, based on the same guidelines, the 6 goals were scored in the 2nd half should have yielded an additional 3minutes.  Ten substitutions, six goals, all in one half should have merited at least, a combined additional eight(8) minutes and yet, the referee added only 4 minutes.

 What happened to the other things the rules make provision for like attending to injured players, wasting time etc, disciplinary sanctions?

How are they taken care of by the referee?

In football, players could feign injury just to waste time and, this is something that is hardly seen in Rugby. It’s pointless for a Rugby to do that because the clock is paused when a player is being treated for an injury.

In the NBA, they have a clock that pauses or runs to take care of certain aspects of the sport.

Football can and should learn a few things from these sports to make the beautiful game live up to its name. More action is needed to get more football action.

Put it this way, over the past three years, the ball has been in play for an average of 56 minutes. That is an astonishing 38% of each game spent watching no football action.

In the English Premier League since 2006/07 season, the highest average per season is 56min 43sec. 

Do you get it? Averagely, you spend 38% of the supposed 90 minutes watching no football. 

The facts have been laid bare. You now know it’s not the 90 minutes of soccer fiesta you may have always believed it was.  It’s not 90 minutes of action. It’s 34 minutes of inaction.  Football is not a game of 90 minutes.

It is  practically, a game of 56 minutes plus the little added time at the discretion of the referee.

Time is up and something needs to change but will it?

 By: Akwasi Afriyie(ROSKY) United Kingdom

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