Ending a Game Early

Stuart, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

During a U13 game, the ref blew for time, after 35mins, the players shook hands, then an opposing spectator came running on claiming he’d blown 6 mins early. I asked the ref and he said he’d blown on 35 mins…….what ensued were angry parents abusing a young referee, threatening to report him to the league. Taking the ref to be right, my team left.

I received a call later that day, saying the ref had admitted he may have blown early. Given he’s a child, who had been shouted at by adults, perhaps not a surprising announcement.

The League are now saying I’ll have to replay the game. Surely, from a Safeguarding point, they can’t support this. Can they demand I replay the full game? Or just the 6 mins he’s admitted to under playing?


The resolution to this problem is solely in the hands of what is technically called “the local competition authority” – the organization under whose auspices the match is held.  The Law does not cover everything – a lot of what it doesn’t cover is left to the referee, and the remainder is left to the local competition authority.

In this case, if the referee says that time is over, then it is over and that is that … for that specific game.  If this can be corrected while the referee is still there, the referee has the authority to order the teams back onto the field and to restart play at the point where play was ended.  The restart is either whatever the restart would be if play was ended at a stoppage of play – e.g., throw-in, corner kick, kick-off, etc. — or a dropped ball in favor of the team that last touched the ball when the whistle to end play was incorrectly sounded.

Once the referee has left the area of the field, he or she has to file a report.  If, in this report, the referee acknowledges an incorrect, early stoppage of play, it is up to the local competition authority to decide what to do about it.  They have three options.  First, they can order the game replayed in its entirety (as though the game in question had not happened),  Second, they can order that the game is accepted as played, despite the early stoppage, and the outcome stands with the score as is.  Third, they can order the game to be replayed from the moment of the early stoppage to the normal end of play and with all prior player events (e.g., goals, cards) kept in place as valid.  By the way, although this has no direct bearing on what the local competition authority decides, the Laws of the Game prescribe the first option for the highest level of games which are played under the authority of FIFA itself (i.e., international matches) if the match ends, for whatever reason, before the completion of scheduled time.…

“Extra Time” Issues

Brian, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

I’m in Australia and I was at a U15 match where several times the ball was kicked out and was to be returned as a throw in where the ref had not whistled time out but, however, stopped and started time on his watch, thus appearing to extend the length of the match.  Is this allowed ?


We rarely deal with questions arising from outside the US because, in some cases at least, countries may have their own interpretation of certain things in the Laws of the Game.  Here, however, we feel fairly comfortable offering the observation that, no, what you described is not allowed.  However, there are several factors to keep in mind.

First, purely as a matter of mechanics, the referee in a match under the Laws of the Game never “stops and restarts his watch.”  Referees worldwide are trained the same way – timing of a match is continuous throughout the entire period of play (e.g., first half, second half, and tie-breaking periods).  On the side, though, referees must also measure what is referred to as “added time” (also, frequently but confusingly, termed “referee,” “extra,” or “injury” time).  Exactly how this is handled is up to the individual referee – their preferences, their early training, etc.  Some referees simply keep a mental running tally of time lost during a period of play so that, when the time on their watch closes in on the specified time for that period (e.g., 45 minutes is the standard for matches above the youth level), they already know how much (if any) time must be added on.  Referees also differ in the precise manner in which they measure the time.  All referees should use a watch that has a timing function but there are two alternatives here – some watches “count up,” some “count down,” and some have both capabilities.  After gaining experience each way, we personally settled down and used a “count up” timer function thereafter.  In any event, that’s a personal preference thing.  Many referees may be seen with two watches, one on each wrist, with one of them always kept running continuously and the other stopped and restarted but only for excessive delays.

Second,  just because play is stopped for some reason does not translate necessarily into that time needing to be taken into account by the referee and added to the length of the period.  Both the Law and its well-settled traditions are clear that time is added to a period only if the stoppage produces an excessive and unnecessary delay.  Stoppages for injuries are a good example of time lost that should be added to the period.  Stoppages for the ball simply leaving the field are not, except under rare circumstances such as the ball becoming lost and difficult to find.  Even a lost ball stoppage is rare because every game should be played with one or more “extra” balls that can be immediately used to restart play while someone else hunts for the lost ball.  The Laws of the Game provide that the referee is the sole judge of how much extra time is to be added to the period of play.  In short, even where the Law provides for the possibility that an event (such as an injury situation) may require that extra time be added, it is still the referee who determines exactly how much time that will be.

What this boils down to is that no experienced referee should be starting and stopping their watch in the first place – among other issues, that practice often leads to the referee losing all control of time when (not if) the referee forgets to restart his watch.  Virtually the only time the referee should actually stop their watch during play is when the game is officially suspended (e.g., bad weather with the prospect of being able to restart).  Furthermore, the mental measuring of “lost time” should include only excessive delays, not just simple delays that are brief and considered a normal part of the game (throw-ins, for example should almost never be seen as involving “lost time” as meant by the Laws of the Game).  Even a stoppage for a foul (without an injury) during which a card is given and/or one or more substitutions are allowed would not usually involve “lost time.”

Finally, while we cannot speak for Aussies, in the US, the official guidance on “lost time” is that it is always measured in full minutes rounded downward.  For example, a mental estimate of 2 minutes and 45 seconds would be announced as 2 minutes of extra time.  The concept of “extra time” always includes the possibility that there might be a “time lost” event which occurs during the playing of this extra time.  US Soccer also strongly recommends that the amount of any extra time being allowed is announced shortly before the expiration of the official time of the period of play so that players, coaches, and spectators will know why the game is continuing even though it might appear to be over.  The existence of a stadium clock is irrelevant, only the referee’s watch counts.…

Delaying the Restart

Natalie, a U12 and Under coach, asks:

Can a referee ignore the fact that a player is asking for the required 10 yards be enforced on a free kick?  There was 40 seconds left in the game.  Not only did he refuse to count off 10 yards, he then started counting to 4 and when the free kick was not taken after the 4 seconds he gave possession to the other team resulting in a goal ending the game in a tie. Not sure why this happened — please explain.  Thank you.


First of all, how do you know “there was 40 seconds left in the game”?  You may be looking at your watch but the only watch that counts is on the referee’s wrist.  We don’t mean to sound flippant here — your watch might be totally in sync with the referee’s watch — but the Law gives absolute control over the timing to the referee.  We grant, of course, that the referee’s timing cannot make the length of a half any shorter, only longer, but it is also possible the two of you didn’t start timing at the same time.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that, taking into account any prior “wasted time” due to injuries, delay substitutions, lost balls off the field, etc., there are indeed only 40 seconds remaining in the half by the time this other stuff began to occur.

That said, what followed was totally wrong on just about all counts. First of all, the referee’s prime responsibility at any restart (except kick-offs and penalty kicks and dropped balls) is to allow the team in possession full latitude on when to take the restart.  There are limits, of course – first, the referee may have an external reason for holding up the restart (e.g., injury, a card to give, a substitution to oversee, etc.) and second, the referee responsibility to deal with deliberate time-wasting no matter who is doing it, including himself.

If a team is requesting that the minimum distance be enforced, that is their right and there is no basis for refusing to do so.  Of course, the referee can move to the minimum distance and declare to the asking team that the opponents were already at least ten yards from the ball (we have seen this happen and once “dinged” an otherwise very good National grade referee on an assessment for himself wasting time for ending up moving opponents back only a step or two!) or, more commonly, we end up moving one or more players back.

Remember, inexperience or stupidity aside, it is to the opposing team’s benefit to get play restarted as quickly as possible if they were on the short end of the score.  The team in control of the restart had the right to ask for enforcement … and the referee had the right (based on the facts) to declare that the opponents were in fact at least ten yards away already and to signal that the free kick could be taken.  The referee also has the responsibility to move opponents back if any were within ten yards. All this is accepted procedure.

By the way, there is no rule or accepted mechanic that requires the referee to actually “count off” ten yards.  Actually, it usually takes only a year or less  to know exactly where ten yards away is so all that is necessary is to move to that point and either declare that the opponents were at ten yards or to move them back to where the ten yard distance was.  Watch senior, experienced referees.  You will never see them “pace” off any distance – they simply walk from where they are to a place which becomes the “ten yard restraining line” because the ten yard restraint is where the referee says it is.

Upon being requested to enforce the minimum distance, the referee in this case could have simply (a) signaled that the restart cannot occur until a whistle is sounded, (b) walked to wherever the minimum distance was, (c) quickly determined that either some opponents needed to be moved back or by that time, everyone was at least ten yards away, and then (d) signaled for the restart.  From that point on, within reason, the kicking team takes the kick or, if necessary, the kicker is given a caution for delaying the restart of play. We would normally not take this latter option unless the delay was significant, the reason obvious, and we had already, after a few seconds after the whistle, warned the kicker that he/she was delaying the restart.

There is absolutely no basis in the Laws of the Game to give the restart to the opposing team even if, after all the shenanigans were over and we had cautioned the kicking team for the delay (if there had been a delay).  The only recourse for the referee would be (a) the caution and then (b) stating the obvious fact that time had been wasted so this was being added to the “wasted time count” but the only correct decision at this point is that the original team in possession remains in possession.  If there is no doubt the team in possession had been wasting time and was continuing to waste time, the solution is to clearly declare that all time from the moment of the whistle for the kick to be taken to the moment of the kick itself was being considered wasted time by the referee, thus extending the time before the whistle sounds to mark the end of the half.…

Ending A Period of Play

Maninder, a HS/College fan, asks:

Today in a match ( Real Madrid vs Malaga), it was first half injury time going on, i.e in the 47th minute. Malaga got a free kick.  The Malaga player kicks the ball into Real Madrid’s penalty area and another Malaga player scored from a header.  But the goal wasn’t given because the Referee blew the halftime whistle just after the Malaga player kicks the ball.  Is this the right thing from the Referee?


There is no kind way to answer this because the correct answer is absolutely clear – yes.  Maybe.  Probably.  Hopefully.  We, of course, have no way of knowing what was in the Referee’s mind when he whistled.  Ironically, the questioner above is a HS/College fan where none of what follows is a serious problem because HS and College matches in the US use a visible stadium clock, officially stop/start time for various things during a period of play, and sound a loud horn to stop play when the count-down reaches 0!  In the match cited in the question and all other matches played under the Laws of the Game, time is controlled solely by the Referee.

The point is that the Law is very inarguable about match timing.  Assuming the half is 45 minutes, then the whistle blows to end play when the moment the watch count-up timer hits 45 (remembering that a 45 showing on the timer means that the 45th minute has ended, not begun). The  only exception is that a penalty kick signaled before the end of the 45th minute must  be taken regardless of the time, and the period ends when the PK ends.

But what about what is variably called “Referee time,” “injury time,” or “wasted time”?  The Referee must announce any additional time to the lowest full minute (i.e., 1 minute and 45 seconds is 1 minute, 45 seconds is 0 minutes, etc.) before the period of play is due to end.  When 45 minutes + that time is up, time is over and play must stop, no matter what is going on (unless, during this “extra” time there is further time wasted).  No flexibility in this element of the Law is allowed.  Stopping the half can happen just before a goal is scored or while play is stopped for a throw-in, goal kick, corner kick, etc.  Play can stop just before a player on your team is getting ready to make the game-winning shot on goal that will make them the champions (Boooo! Idiot Ref!) or the opposing team is getting ready to make the game-tying shot on goal that keeps your team from winning (Hurrah!  What a great Ref!).

There are some Referees who won’t stop play even if time is over if one team is attacking the opposing team’s goal from nearby.  They are wrong.  There are some Referees who would refuse to stop play even though time was up until a corner kick is completed (because they might score).  They are wrong.  There are Referees who, in a 9-0 game, might allow the team with no goals that just happens to look like they might score and he wants to give them a chance to go home with at least something.  They are wrong.  There are Referees who believe that the Law requires there to be a restart after every stoppage even if time ran out during the stoppage.  Except for a penalty kick, they are wrong.  There are some Referees who really hadn’t been keeping track of wasted time and thus hit the 44:50th minute with no notion of how much wasted time there had been but with the vague feeling that there had to have been some so they let play continue for a bit longer.  They are wrong.  Finally, there are Referees who know all time is up (both regulation and extra time) but they let play continue because they fear becoming the object of anger by one team or the other based on whatever was going on at the time.  They would be not only simply wrong but sadly wrong.

By the way, we have dealt before with questions regarding match timing and this is as good a place as any to draw every reader’s attention to the readily available “Search” feature ( try the “Law 7 – Duration” category).  We decided to answer this question even though it (or something like it) has already been asked and answered because we felt this building up inside and needed to get it out.  We feel much better now, thanks.  And, getting back to the Referee, he was entirely within the Law if (a) the match was set at 45 minutes for each half (as usual), (b) he announced before the 45th minute that there were 2 minutes of additional time, and (c) there was no excessive loss of time during the extra 2 minutes.…

Game Ends – What Do You Call It?

(Originally published on 7/8/17, “Operation Restore”)

Elizabeth, an adult pro fan, asks:

Is there a proper word or phrase that’s used if a match has to be stopped early? Also is there a difference between a match ending because of weather or an emergency, something that the referee cannot control, and the match having to stop because of something or someone involved in that particular game?


This is an interesting question that calls for a bit of history (one of our favorite kinds of questions … we love history!).  Back when we started officiating, it was traditional to distinguish between “abandon” and “terminate,” both involving a game which ended before the prescribed length of time.  A game was “abandoned” due to deteriorating and/or unsafe weather or field conditions, or the absence of a sufficient number of players to meet the minimum requirement of Law 3 (or the local competition rules), or the lack of sufficient light to safely illuminate the field (game running later than expected and past the availability of light fixtures or natural daylight).  A game was “terminated” if the Referee determined that, due to unruly or violent player, team official, and/or spectator behavior, the match should not continue out of concern for the safety of players and/or match officials.

That distinction, while remaining officially “on the books,” gradually declined in proper usage until, in the 2016/2017 edition of the Laws of the Game, the International Board essentially defined or used both terms to mean the same thing — namely, end the match before the scheduled time.  Because “abandon” is somewhat less familiar a term for Americans (its roots as a soccer concept are essentially as British as “whilst” and “colour”), our guess is that even die-hard traditionalists will abandon the use of “abandon” and accept “terminate” as the all-purpose description of ending a game early (whilst still explaining in the match report the details of exactly how this occurred).

Stopping Play and the End of Time

Ricardo, a Referee of youth players, asks:

When is the referee allowed to stop the play? Can he stop the play when time expires but the ball has already been kicked and is in the air going towards goal?


Your two questions are slightly different.  When is the Referee allowed to stop play?  By Law and tradition, anytime he or she feels it is necessary.  The stoppage could be for a specific reason or for no reason not specifically provided for in the Law.  Sometimes play stops despite the Referee.  For example, technically, play stops when the ball leaves the field and there is no specific action the Referee is required to take to implement or authorize the stoppage.  Nowhere in the Law does it say that the Referee stops play when the ball leaves the field but, on occasion, some action is needed to remind players that the ball has left the field (particularly if they keep on playing it) and, indeed, in such cases a whistle sounds solely to get their attention.

Other times, the Referee has discretionary authority to stop play.  The most common example here is the commission of an offense specified by the Laws of the Game — fouls, misconduct, offside, etc.  First of all, the Referee has to recognize that an offense has occurred, then decide that it is not trifling, then decide not to apply advantage, and then, finally, whistle play to stop.  Just as with a stoppage due to the ball leaving the field, it is not the whistle which forces the stoppage but the decision that play must be stopped.  Most times, the whistle merely marks that the decision has been made but happens so quickly following the decision that there is no appreciable time between the two.  Sometimes, this is not the case: advantage is often an example because, until the Referee has had a chance to determine that the advantage has been achieved and maintained for several seconds, there could be at least a short while before a whistle is blown or the actual advantage signal is made.

Now we come to your second question.  Every match has a specified length of half.  Law 7 (Duration of the Match) sets this at 45 minutes.  Although it can be less time for certain categories of players as determined by the competition authority, but it is always a specific number of minutes.  That time may be extended officially by the need to conduct a penalty kick despite time ending.  The time may also be extended due to time lost as a result of excessively lengthy delays but the Referee is required to carefully monitor such situations and decide, to the nearest whole minute (rounded down) how much time must be added.  The period of play (first, second, or any subsequent additional period to break a tie), then, is an exact measurement.

Unfortunately, there are many so-called rules or notions about how Referees are supposed to mark when a period of play is over.  By Law, no such rule exists or is authorized with the exception of the penalty kick in extended time.  Myths abound.  The Referee is supposed to wait until the ball is in the middle third before signaling the end of a period.  The Referee is not supposed to signal the end of a period if either team is attacking the goal (a version of this is that it applies only if the team which is behind has the ball).  The Referee is not supposed to signal the end of time if play is already stopped — which is taken to mean that the Referee must always perform the restart (goal kick, kick-off, free kick, etc.) before whistling the stoppage due to time expiring (apparently, this often gets the additional requirement that, after the restart, let the players play for at least a little bit).

Every Referee has a theory here, or was told “this is how it is done” in their entry level class, or was told by an assessor, or heard it on the grapevine, or from a TV commentator (!).  None of them is correct … or all of them are correct (though some are sillier than others).  Decide for yourself but, whatever you do, do it consistently regardless of what’s going on at the moment.  Time is up when it is up but, in a match governed by the Laws of the Game, no one knows for sure when this is except for the Referee and, as the Referee, you must be able to justify to yourself whatever you come up with.  We will advise one thing further and that is never to talk to anyone about “your rule” because none of them hold up to challenge.  Just smile mysteriously and simply declare that time was over.

One serious problem in all this is that the players in their current game will get all bent out of shape if the Referee does (or does not) whistle the end of a period when they think it should be — which is why they frequently ask how much time is left and which is why you should not answer this question except in the most general way.…


In a U12 game in which the halves are supposed to be 30 minutes long, what is a referee to do if she discovers that after the first half has ended, the first half was played for 35 minutes instead of 30? Advice to Referees discusses what to do if a half is too short, but I don’t see anything about what to do if it’s too long. (Let’s assume there is no need for added time as allowed for by Law 7.)

Matches are supposed to have two equal halves, but does this apply if the first half was incorrectly too long? Should the second half be 30 minutes or 35 minutes?

Answer (September 10, 2013):
There is little in the Laws covering this unfortunate event. However, these words from the Laws (back in the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, under Law 7) may be helpful: “The referee must not compensate for a timekeeping error during the first half by increasing or reducing the length of the second half.”

The intelligent referee, i.e., one who is smart and quick on his mental feet, will simply describe the extra time as “taking into account time lost” — not true, of course, but an overly long half is easier to “explain” than a half which is short by any amount.…


We encountered a novel (to us) situation in our last weekend of youth games.

In a U-14B league game, about 15′ before the end of the second half, there was a reckless foul by a defender, followed by dissent, resulting in a send off for that player. The foul occurred in the defender’s penalty area, so a PK was to be the restart. The attacking player involved appeared injured following the foul, leading to precautionary treatment and then removal from the field, resulting in a temporary stoppage of 5-10′. During that time, the attacking team coach (visitors) in discussion with the defending team coach (home) and the referee, requested to end the game explaining that he was now down to just 8 players (started with 10, one became ill and then one injured). The home coach offered to play 8 v 8 but the visiting coach wasn’t interested. Without protest or ill will, the home coach agreed to the early game end. The visiting team coach asked to take the awarded PK before ending the game, and again the home team coach agreed without contention. The referee accepted this course of action, and when the field was cleared, conducted the PK as if in extended time – just the kicker and ‘Keeper on field. The kick was good, the score was evened to 1-1 with that goal, and the game declared terminated. A report with all the information (SO, injury, and facts re: early termination) was provided to the game day administrator.

So, my question seems to be, that if the decision to terminate (or abandon) the game was arrived at between the coaches and the referee during the temporary suspension for the injury, should the PK then be taken, and if so, how? Or is there a more correct or preferred manner in which to handle this situation.

Answer (April 8, 2013):
Your reasoning on the crime and the correct punishment seems to be correct.

The final decision on the result of the game can be made only by the competition authority, the people who run the league. The result of a game can never be the referee’s decision; his/her job is only to ensure that the players are safe and the Laws of the Game are followed.

As a matter of practical refereeing, we would suggest two things in the future should you (or other referees in your area who might be aware of the situation) encounter something like this again.

First, you do not have authority to “clear the field” at the taking of a PK, even one in extended time. In fact, it is your duty to ensure that there is at least the minimum number of players from each team on the field because, without this number, a PK cannot be taken. Granted, all players except the kicker and the goalkeeper have nothing to do in a PK in extended time, but the principle remains that it is still part of the game and that in turn requires each team having at least the minimum number of players on the field.

Second (and somewhat related to the first point), neither by decision of the coach nor by your decision can a game be ended early. A termination requires “grave disorder” and/or danger to the players or officials. This didn’t happen. The only other Law-based early end is abandonment — which requires illegal and unsafe field conditions (also not present here) or failing to have the minimum number of players present and available for play. The competition authority is the only one which can settle the status of a terminated match, but the referee must have a recognizable reason for the early end itself, also known as CMA (that should not require expansion). The referee’s best course of action in this situation, following whatever discussion between the coaches they wish to have (and it sounded amicable enough), is to whistle for the players to take to the field to resume play. When one or both teams fail to field the minimum number, then the match is abandoned for having an insufficient (minimum) number of players. This process is designed to protect the referee from any “games” a coach might play (though that does not appear to be the case here) in which most of the players on one team leave in the belief that there had been an agreement to end the match early but the other team now suddenly declares that it is able and willing to play — as evidenced by having ITS players enter the field. Now, the referee has to report that the abandonment was due to one team (not both) failing to be ready to play.…


This situation occurred in an Over 30 match involving my club. The referee blew the halftime whistle at 38 minutes, according to my watch. When my captain asked the referee about the shortened half, the referee insisted that it had been 45 minutes. OK, that’s that, you can’t win an argument like that, so you move on. When the teams were ready to take the field to begin the second half, the referee announced that he had inadvertently shortened the first half by five minutes. He said that he would make up the lost time as follows:

1.He instructed the teams to set up for a kickoff as they did to start the match.

2.They would play five minutes.

3.He would blow the whistle at five minutes and the teams would change ends and play 45 minutes in the second half.

Everyone involved was confused, but nobody knew enough to dispute his remedy. None of this sounds like the correct protocol for this situation. Any help would be appreciated.

USSF answer (August 3, 2011):
According to the Laws of the Game, the referee must not compensate for a timekeeping error during the first half by increasing or reducing the length of the second half. So far, so good. Unfortunately, your referee handled the situation incorrectly. The amount of time remaining the first half should have been played, as the referee finally came to realize, but the correct restart would have been for the reason the ball was out of play when the referee stopped the game short. If the ball was off the field, then the game should have been restarted for the reason the ball had left the field. If it was in play, then the correct restart would be a dropped ball at the place where it was when the referee stopped play. If any time is lost during the remaining amount of time, then the referee must also add that time.…


for u8 what is the correct timing ?

USSF answer (May 13, 2011):
According to the US Youth Soccer rules for small-sided U8 soccer:

Law 7 – The Duration of the Match: The match shall be divided into four (4) equal, twelve (12) minute quarters. There shall be a two (2) minute break between quarters one and two and another two (2) minute break between quarters three and four. There shall be a half-time interval of five (5) minutes.