Referee timekeeping error: whistling three minutes too early

A referee timekeeping error might seem a little odd, but it recently happened in the Dutch top league. In this case study you’ll see an example how you can get wrong with your time-keeping, an explanation on how to handle and some tips to prevent you from making these mistakes.

Referee timekeeping error: Ed Janssen whistles for the end of the half after 41 minutes
Referee timekeeping error: Ed Janssen whistles for the end of the half after 41 minutes

Firstly, a personal story. I officiated a game and a digital clock near the pitch was also keeping the time and scores. Quite useful so players won’t ask you all the time how long they have to score. It went fine in the first half, but they started the clock too late in the second half. Maybe about five minutes.

And that’s a lot.

On my watch 90 minutes were played and I added a few mins injury time. But when I blew the finale whistle the clock near the pitch told the players and fans 88 mins had been played. That’s when you get a lot of comments, I can tell you, especially when there is a one goal difference. I could show my own watch that said 93 mins, but then damage was already done.

But you can also whistle too early for the end of the first half and that’s what happend in the highest league in The Netherlands.

Referee explains what happed in the Eredivisie

Referee Ed Janssen explains the situation in the game between NAC and Telstar. “I discussed at the end of the half with my fourth official if injury time is needed. Our verdict: one minute would be sufficient. I watched at the clock in the stadium and saw 45 minutes. Then I see the fourth official with the board with the number one on it. We continued to play one minute, and I whistle for the end of the half. I walked off the pitch, and NAC’s assistant coach comes to me and says that we have played only 41 minutes and 21 seconds. I check my watch and see that he’s right. With the four of us, we relied on the stadium clock. That’s we shouldn’t have doen, I should have checked my watch. My own watch didn’t let me down. NAC’s clock had problems due to humidity and that’s why it failed. The second half I did not use it. A lesson for the next game.”

How to handle after a timekeeping error

The Laws of the Game tell a few important things. The first is that a “referee must not compensate for a timekeeping error during the first half by changing the length of the second half.”

So no second half that lasts for 47 minutes plus injury time.

The rules also tell that “a match lasts for two equal halves of 45 minutes, which may only be reduced if agreed between the referee and the two teams before the start of the match and is in accordance with competition rules.”

Nobody has agreed to play 43 minutes before the game, and the competitions rules will probably forbid it. The solution here is finishing the first half.

As the reporter tells in Dutch: both teams are defending the same goal as in the first half. Ever wondered how to restart play? In this situation the ball was in play when you blew for the final whistle. That means you have to restart play with a dropped ball. If the ball was out of play, the game needs to be restarted for the reasone the ball had left the field.

And when the 45 minutes of the first half are played, whistle for half-time and change sides immediately. Teams have been to the dressing room, so don’t stop play for another 15 minutes.

Key take-aways

  • Don’t rely on the stadium clock, trust your own watch
  • Don’t ignore the stadium clock, because you need to check if they started it on time. If not, order someone to correct the time or shut it down. It will only give problems as in my situation.
  • Make sure you’ll have an option to check the time when your battery fails. With neutral trio’s your assistant referees will also keep the time for you. When you don’t have neutral assistant referees I do write down the minute of the hour we start, so you can always check how long you need to play if your watch fails. And small back-up watch under your sweatband is also a fine solution.

How do you keep time? Did you ever have any problems with timekeeping during the game? Please share your experiences below.


  • Arthur Smits

    Always use two clocks. My Spintso is the main clock, which has the vibration function when you have a time off situation. My Polar is the back up and runs always continuously.
    And always warn the captain’s when the central clock is not correct.

  • Jan ter Harmsel

    So you always make sure you’ll check the central clock? I do since that incident I mentioned in the beginning of the blog story.

  • Peter Stimpson

    I once played 55 minutes in the second half, I stopped the wrong watch after a player went with an injury, so I didn’t know how much time had elapsed, the worst thing was I was being assessed for promotion at the time, I didn’t get the promotion.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      Thanks for your comment. Must have felt horrible afterwards. Sorry to hear. I hope you got your promotion the year after that.

  • issaka Afful Ayensu

    I have never experienced such a problem b4 but it happened in our top league I watched and the 4th referee prompted the referee it wasn’t yet time after he has blown his whistle for the first half . So they came back and played the additional 3 mins n then he ended the game.

  • Pete

    A number of years ago now, I was assessing a referee to maintain his advanced grade (Grade 5) and about halfway through the first half, he blew his whistle and began to walk off the pitch. He realized that everyone was looking at him strangely, there was a quick conversation with AR1 and he restarted the match. At about the 43rd minute, once again he blew his whistle to stop play, there was another quick conversation with his AR and they finished the half. As is our practice, I did not approach the crew during the half time interval. To shorten this story, the referee got through most of the second half but then whistled for the end of the match and I looked at my watch and it said 88:30
    So, we got together after the match to debrief, and the referee’s watch was literally running twice as fast as it should have been … so, when mine said 2 minutes his said 4, et cetera ….. and thus the reason he began walking off the field at 22:30, his watch said 45:00. So, we talked about having a second watch, utilizing the entire crew, et cetera. To cap off the story, I saw the same gentleman about 6 months later and he came up to me and said “look, my watch is working fine now!” Ah well!

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      What a story, Pete! Twice as fast is also quite fast, might be better to detect than just a slight difference on the watch. 22:30 vs 45:00 is quite a big difference. I use a second watch myself, works quite well.

  • Jeremy

    So I actually made this mistake myself in an O-40 Florida State Cup match.

    I mistook my higher-grade AR1 to be telling me the half is over when he was actually trying to tell me not to add any additional time.

    The assessor chewed him for not reminding me to finish the half before the halftime interval. But then the assessor said we should have finished the first half and then taken ANOTHER halftime break because it is required by LOTG to have halftime in between halves.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      Can happen sometimes. Did you use a headset or gave signals to one another?

      The LOTG indicate indeed a half-time break. But did the assessor say it needs to be a full 15 minute break? That’s not in the LOTG. The laws say the break may not exceed 15 minutes, so if you do a 1 minute break (and switch sides), it’s within the rules, so no problems there according to the LOTG.

      • Jeremy

        No headsets on that one, but we did start using hand signals which we did not discuss properly in the pregame. It’s always good to discuss the communication of additional time and the use/disuse of extraneous hand signals.

        I seem to recall being focused on what was written in the rules of competition, but thank you for sharing that tool for the toolbox, because a “water break” seems far more sensible than allowing the players to cool to the point of needing to warm-up again.

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