In football, stoppage time – or injury time, if you prefer – is when dreams can be fulfilled or cruelly shattered. From Sergio Aguero’s 93rd minute title-winning goal for Man City in 2012 to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s injury-time winner for Man United in the 1999 Champions League final, there’s something extra special about banging in the winner in stoppage time. But rather than focus on dramatic goals in injury time, in this article we’re focussing on games that have seen far more stoppage time than expected.
Before we go through some of the most extreme examples of prolonged football matches, let’s quickly run through what stoppage time is (and what it isn’t).
What Is Stoppage Time And How Is It Calculated?
Stoppage time, also referred to as additional time or injury time, refers to the time added on at the end of the first half and the second half of a game of football that is based on stoppages that have occurred due to injuries to players or various other delays. According to the FA’s Law of the Games, and specifically Law 7: The Duration Of The Match, the referee makes allowance for all playing time lost in either half through any of the following occurrences:
- Substitutions – Self-explanatory, the ref stops the clock, metaphorically, during substitutions to ensure sides don’t use them simply to waste time (though players who get subbed when their side is winning often still exit the field of play annoyingly slowly, clearly unaware it will have no effect on the amount of time left to play).
- Injuries – The reason many people call stoppage time “injury time”, and one of the more obvious and fair reasons time is added on to the end of a half. The watch is stopped to cover the assessment of players and their removal from the field of play and, in more extreme cases, on-pitch treatment too.
- Time Wasting – This refers to a situation in which a player delays taking a throw-in, free kick or other set play in order to waste precious seconds of a match. It does not apply to players “taking it into the corner” when the ball is in play, which is permitted.
- Disciplinary Sanctions – The ref will stop their watch when they are giving players a good talking to, issuing a card or – in the case of a sending off – until a player has left the field of play.
- Medical Stoppages – This is slightly different to injuries and refers more to things like drinks breaks and cooling breaks that have been sanctioned on medical grounds in a given competition, for instance if the temperature or humidity exceed certain levels.
- VAR – Love it or hate it, VAR is part of the game now, but the ref will at least stop the watch while checks and reviews are going on (assuming the match has been stopped to allow for them).
- Any Other Cause – This deliberately vague category could cover things like prolonged goal celebrations, pitch invasions, floodlight failures or anything else that causes a delay to the game that isn’t covered in the other categories.
Penalties are not specifically mentioned in the categories above, but there is an additional note in the rules that states that “if a penalty kick has to be taken or retaken, the half is extended until the penalty kick is completed”. Penalties are therefore a means by which stoppage time can be extended if they occur at the end of a half but do not count towards stoppage time per se when taking place at any other time in the half (unless subject to any of the above categories, for instance if a player is deemed to be time-wasting).
The referee then communicates how much time should be added on at the end of each half and the fourth official indicates this quantity by holding up a board showing (the minimum) number of minutes to be added. Note that if a stoppage occurs during the added-on time, the referee can increase the amount of time played accordingly without the fourth official having to hold up another board. The referee cannot reduce the amount of stoppage time, however, nor can they change the length of the second half to make amends for a time-keeping error in the first half.
Stoppage Time Is Not Extra Time
Note that stoppage time (aka injury time or additional time) is not the same thing as extra time. Extra time is not time that is added on to the end of a half or a match. Rather it is 30 minutes (plus any additional stoppage time) that is played in certain football tournaments when the two sides are drawing at the end of normal time. The 30 minutes of extra time is broken into two halves of 15 minutes each, either or both of which can have stoppage time added in the same way as either half of normal time.
The Longest Stoppage Times
Though this is not an exhaustive list, here we’ll take a brief look at football matches that have had lots more stoppage time than your average game. And where better to start than Burton Albion?
Burton Albion v Bournemouth, 25th Sept 2019 – 28 Mins Added
Premier League outfit Bournemouth travelled with a much-changed side to face League One side Burton Albion in the ELF Cup in September 2019, and things didn’t go quite to plan. After Burton took a 14th-minute lead, the visitors might have predicted a long night… but not quite as long as it turned out. The floodlights failed in the 53rd minute, leading to the first delay of around eight minutes. The lights came back on, for about two minutes at least before failing again. Then they came back on… then they went out again!
At that point, the referee was all set to abandon the match which would have led to a replay, but it was reported that the Football League intervened and told the officials that the match could only be called off if the delay was for more than 30 minutes. Luckily for the fans who had stuck around, the total stoppages amounted to just shy of that and at the end of the scheduled 90 minutes, the fourth official held up a board showing there’d be 28 minutes of additional time.
By then, Burton had already gone 2-0 up, and that’s how it stayed, with the underdogs getting the better of the Premier League side who had to make the journey back to the South Coast with little chance of making it back in time for their supper.
Torquay United v Crawley Town, 8th Nov 2020 – 30 Mins Added
The FA Cup has seen some classic, high-scoring matches over the years. The 2006 final between Liverpool and West Ham, and the Crystal Palace versus Man United final of 1990 (both of which ended 3-3) have to be up there. But even they pale into insignificance when put alongside this ludicrously entertaining encounter between Torquay and Crawley in the first round back in 2020.
Sometimes games are so riveting that fans really don’t want it to end, and this match certainly gave the Burton versus Bournemouth match a run for its money in terms of additional time. The home side were 2-0 up at the break and looking good for the win but then the game exploded into action. First Crawley’s goalkeeper, Tom McGill, suffered a head injury (which later proved to be a concussion), which caused a lengthy delay of around 16 minutes. Then goals started flying in left, right and centre.
Tom Nichols pulled one back for the visitors from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute, and then, 14 minutes into stoppage time, Max Watters got the equaliser. But the clock was still ticking away and there was plenty of time for more goalmouth action. Indeed, Torquay’s Josh Umerah scored four minutes later to give the hosts the advantage once more, but – a staggering 21 minutes into stoppage time – Crawley’s Jordan Tunnicliffe bagged a goal to make it 3-3. The final whistle blew 22 minutes after the standard 90, and the sides geared up for extra time.
Compared to most of the match, the first period of extra time was rather uneventful, with just a single goal scored (for Torquay from the spot). Then in the second half of extra time Torquay made it 5-3 and looked to be closing things out… but that was never going to happen in this game and the footballing gods had other ideas. Crawley smashed in three goals in 10 minutes, the final and decisive one coming in the 118th minute) to make it 6-5 to Crawley and to complete what was an FA Cup classic.
With a total of 30 minutes of additional time, it arguably pips the aforementioned League Cup match to the title of the game with the most stoppage time. But given that this one included five minutes of additional time in total in extra time, we’ll give it to Burton and Bournemouth (and we hope you’ve got your head around all that!).
Bristol City v Brentford, 22nd Aug 2000 – 23+ Mins Added
When Bristol City and Brentford met in the League Cup in August 2000 the game ended 2-2 but there were almost as many serious injuries as there were goals. In the first half, one player broke a leg, another dislocated a shoulder and a third suffered concussion. The fourth official had held up a board indicating that a minimum of 13 minutes would be added to the first half, but one of the injuries happened during that stoppage time so the total added to the first half ended up being 23 minutes.
The details are a little sketchy as to how many minutes were added to the second half, so we’ll leave this as a vague but impressive 23+ minutes of additional time. If you were at the game and can recall the number of the fourth official’s board at the end of the second period, send us your answer on a postcard.
Other Notably Long Matches
Aside from the rather extreme examples of prolonged football matches mentioned above, here are a few other notable – if less dramatic – occasions when there has been more stoppage time than is common.
Arsenal v West Ham, 23rd Jan 2013 – 12m 58s Added
Arsenal’s 5-1 demolition of West Ham in January 2013 actually saw the Hammers take the lead after 17 minutes. But Arsenal turned on the style soon after. The match was already over from a West Ham point of view when Daniel Potts (who had only been on the field a few minutes having come on as a sub) got a nasty blow to the head and was treated on the pitch for around 10 minutes before being taken to hospital. It didn’t change the result, but it was not nice to see. At the time of writing this is the Premier League game that has had the most stoppage time at 12 minutes and 58 seconds.
Arsenal v Liverpool, 17th April 2011 – 12m 30s Added
In a game that finished 1-1 between these giants of English football, there were various injuries that contributed to the 12+ minutes of additional time, including a collision between teammates Jamie Carragher and Joe Flannagan.
Everton v Watford, 5th November 2017 – 12m 4s Added
Everton battled to a 3-2 victory over Watford in a match that was full of explosive flare on bonfire night. Despite it being 0-0 at the break, things really came to life in the second period as Watford took a two-goal lead only for the hosts to fight their way back in. An injury to Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes and a back problem for Christian Kabasele meant there was lots of injury time for the visitors to find a way back after Leighton Baines scored a 91st-minute penalty for the home side. But Tom Cleverley couldn’t deliver for his side from the spot and Everton held on for the three points.
Longest Football Matches Ever
Although there are historical accounts of medieval football (also known as mob football) being played for days on end (and that also involved many serious injuries and often deaths), we’re looking to a couple of more recent examples of when football when to extremes.
Stockport County v Doncaster Rovers, 30th March 1946 – Total Match Time: 203 Minutes
For a short period within English football there was a rule that meant that if sides were level after normal time and extra time, instead of replays, teams would simply Play to the Finish – that is, until one or other team scored the decisive goal. This rule had been introduced during the Second World War when the tight schedule of the Football League War Cup and the lack of players (with many joining the armed forces) meant that replays were far from desirable. The most extreme example of the Play to the Finish rule, however, came after the completion of the war in March 1946, in the second leg of a League Three North Cup tie between Stockport County and Doncaster Rovers.
With the sides having drawn 2-2 in the first leg and the second leg also ending 2-2 after normal time and then extra time, they simply carried on with the next team to score being the winners. Unfortunately for the weary players (and some rather tired spectators), a goal didn’t come until just short of three hours after the game had begun… only for the referee to rule it out for handball!
With players collapsing from exhaustion and darkness beginning to set in, the referee eventually called a halt to proceedings and abandoned the game. The sides then tossed a coin to see who would host the replay; Doncaster won that and indeed the match when they met again just four days later, a 4-0 victory. The Play to a Finish rule was abandoned within months of what was widely viewed as a debacle.
Sunderland v Derby County, 1st September 1894 – Total Match Time: 135 Minutes
This match did not exactly involve stoppage time added at the end of a half, rather it involved a whole extra half being added to the game! The game was due to kick off at the Newcastle Road ground in Sunderland at 3pm, but the referee sent a telegram that he’d missed his train connection at York and wouldn’t make it to the ground until 5pm. Not wanting to disappoint the crowd, the two teams agreed on a replacement referee, a Mr John Conqueror, who got the game underway just before 4pm. Sunderland duly dominated the first half and went into the break with a 3-0 lead.
As the players were preparing themselves for the second half, the original ref, Mr Kirkham from Darwen, turned up and proceeded to declare the first half null and void (much to the delight of the Derby players and fans). But any hopes of Derby having dodged a bullet were soon dismissed as they ended up getting hammered 8-0 (so 11-0 if you count the half that never was!). It was Sunderland’s first game of the season and it proved an excellent launchpad as they went on to win the title (their third in a row), five points ahead of Everton (who would have to wait until the 1914-15 for their next title, having first won it in 1890-91).
Kicking Off Against Cancer Charity Match, July 2019 – Total Match Time: 169 Hours!
Okay, it might not be a professional match, but we’ve got to take our hats off to a team of footballers in Cardiff who played football continuously for a whopping 169 hours! One team member was permitted a five-minute break for every hour played, so they could catch an hour of sleep every 12 hours. Suffice to say, the pace of the game wasn’t overly intense throughout, but we’re still mightily impressed by this mammoth effort.