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How Long Is a Football Game & How Long Does Half-Time Last in a UK Match?

Football is a “game of two halves”, but how long are they and how long is extra time? Everything you ever wanted to know about football game duration is covered below...

How Long Do Football Games Usually Last?

Whilst there is a time limit set of 90 minutes (made up of two halves of 45 minutes), matches rarely stick to this duration. In fact, a football game usually lasts at least a few minutes longer than the allotted time of 90 minutes. As we will explore, when it comes to football matches, timings are not always the same.

There are many more factors that play into the duration of football matches, including (but not limited to) whether or not there are injuries, referee decisions, penalty kicks, and the age of the players on each team.

If you’ve ever wondered the answer to the question: “How long is a football game in the UK?”, we’re here to explain how long a match is and what factors would cause the length of the game to differ.

how long does a football game last soccer
A FIFA official holds a digital timer with the duration of stoppage time

How Long is a Football Match in the UK?

According to the official Laws of the Game, a football match should last 90 minutes (two equal halves of 45 minutes) with an additional half-time interval of 15 minutes. And, according to these laws, an additional 30 minutes could be played in special circumstances. And, a game can be shorter than 90 minutes if agreed beforehand between each team and the referees. [1]

Why is a Football Game 90 Minutes?

We can thank the UK for determining that the length of a football match should be 90 minutes. During one of the first matches between London and Sheffield, there was a clash between the two teams regarding the duration of the game. Eventually, each team decided to make a rule that games should be 90 minutes. Once the 90-minute rule was set, it became one of the game’s basic rules that leagues from all over the world adopted.

Despite these official laws, the average length of a football match is longer than the period of 90 minutes. In fact, it’s rare that the halves of a football match will only last 45 minutes. Certain factors such as the number of breaks that a team has, injuries, celebrations, could cause extra time to be added to the halves and make the duration of the game longer than two hours.

It’s almost inevitable that a match will last longer than 90 minutes. Without any unforeseen breaks in the game, if each team uses their allotted three substitutions (which is 30 seconds per player), an additional 3 minutes of extra time is added to the end of either of the halves.

The amount of extra time is ultimately decided by the referee, however, during the game an official will hold up a digital board to tell spectators the minimum amount of extra time that will be tacked on to the end of the game.

length of football game uk youth
The duration of a match in youth football varies

How Long are Football Games For Youth Leagues?

Whilst your average football game should last around 90 minutes, youth football games are often shorter than 90 minutes.

The rules are different for youth teams mostly due to the difference in the physical capabilities of children’s bodies. Other factors that determine the amount of time that a child can physically play the full length of the game are the number of other players on the team and the pitch size (the larger the pitch, the more energy a child would need to exert).

So, how long does a football match last for youth leagues? Simply put, it all depends on the age group, since as children get older and their bodies mature, additional time is added to the games. For example, under-six leagues play games that consist of 10-minute halves whereas under-fourteen leagues will play two 35-minute halves and footballers over the age of 17 will play the standard 45-minute halves. [2]

How Long is Half Time in Football? (UK)

Half time in football lasts15 minutes. But let’s go into a bit more detail about why this break half way through a match exists and how it got to it’s fifteen minutes duration.

Half time isn’t just for stretching your legs and getting another pint. Yes, the half time interval separates the two halves of the match and gives each team a break in play to speak with managers and come up with a strategy for the next half, but the original reason for half time may surprise you.

The half time interval dates back to the beginning of football when teams from different Associations would play each other. Since these teams came from different Associations, they would follow different sets of rules.

To make up for the differences, the first half would be played by one Association’s rules, whilst the second half would be played by the other Association’s rules.

In terms of how the 15-minute interval was decided, likely, the duration of 15 minutes came from some of the first matches between Eton and Rugby.

But, how long does halftime last in football? Originally, the half time interval was only 10 minutes, but the time was extended in 1995.

So how long is football halftime in football now? Across the world, the duration of the half time break is 15 minutes. Whilst the half time interval of 15 minutes should not exceed the limit by even one minute, a short break for drinks is allowed during extra time between each of the halves.

How Long is Extra Time in Football?

Depending on the competition, a football game could go into extra time (ET) if the score is tied after the initial 90 minutes of play time. This extra time period is usually split into two halves. The duration of each half is 15 minutes, for a total of 30 minutes.

During extra time the players play for two additional 15 minutes and any goals that are scored are added to the final score of the game. If, after both 15-minute halves the score is still equal, the game will go into a penalty shoot out. There is usually a 5-minute break between extra time and penalties.

When Do Penalty Shoot Outs Happen?

When the score of the game is equal after the two 15-minute halves, a penalty shoot out will decide the winner of the competition. During penalties, players from each team will try to kick the ball past the goalie in between the goal posts to score a goal. Members of each team will alternate taking shots on goal with the only defender being the opposite team’s goalkeeper. Each team will have five attempts to score a goal and each shot must be taken by different players. The goals scored during the penalties are not added to the final score of the game.

The winner of the game is decided based on whoever gets the highest number of goals out of the five attempts. If the teams are still tied after the shootout, they will go into “sudden death.” During sudden death, the first team to miss a shot loses the game.

What Is Fergie Time?

In English football, “Fergie Time” is a phrase named after the former manager of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson. Fergie time refers to the amount of excessive time that a team needs at the end of the match to tie or win the game.

This phrase came about from the perception that Manchester United would frequently win games that they were not winning in an extra minute or two that were added on to the end of the game. Whether or not Fergie Time actually exists is still up for debate.

how long is football stoppage
The length of stoppage time depends on how many stoppages there were in the preceding half of football

How Long Is Football Game Stoppage Time? (Injury Time)

Delays happen frequently during a football match, whether coaches decide to make a substitution or injuries require players needs to be escorted off of the field. These are a few examples of unintentional delays that can happen during games, but there are a few instances when teams deliberately waste time.

Surely you’ve seen instances where players purposely kill time during the final 15 minutes of games when they’re ahead by a small lead. This common tactic is referred to as “running the clock.” Whilst referees try to mitigate how much time players and coaches waste during the game by signalling that they are aware that teams are wasting time, it’s almost impossible to prevent time-wasting altogether since the rules allow for it.

During these delays, the ball is not in play and the game is temporarily stopped but the clock continues to run. The rules require that the referee keep track of the amount of time that each delay takes. These delays don’t take time away from the total playing time of the match, instead, they are added onto the end of either of the two halves, respective to when the delays occurred. This additional time is referred to as “stoppage time” or “injury time.”

Stoppages or injury time typically will add anywhere from one minute to four minutes to the total length of the game. Ultimately, the referees are the ones who decide how many minutes will be added to the end of each half. Generally speaking, there are longer stoppages after the second half of the match when teams play more aggressively and have more goals, fouls, and celebrations. [3]

How Long on Average is the Ball in Play in Football?

Over the first two Premier League weeks of 2022/23 season, stats from OPTA revealed that the ball was only in play for an average of 54 mins. That might seem low, but it’s slightly better that the other top leagues in Europe. Ball in play time has progressively been getting shorter for over a decade and there have been increasing calls for a minimum ball in play duration of 60 minutes. This would involve a ‘stop-clock’, which is used in professional sports leagues like NFL football, as we will investigate below.

How Does UK Football Differ From United States’ Football?

There are plenty of differences between football from the United Kingdom and American football (NFL). Besides the fact that the former is played with the feet, while the latter is played with the hands, the length of each game and how the games are divided are entirely different.

While the typical UK football game lasts a minimum of 90 minutes, an NFL game can go on for hours.

Just like UK football, the rules of American football require a half-time break between the two halves of the game. According to the official rules, the halftime break can only last 12 minutes, with a few exceptions. One of the exceptions being the NFL Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the league. The duration of the break during the NFL Super Bowl football game is far over 12 minutes long. In fact, the break will typically go over 30 minutes.

How Long’s a Football Match? (Average NFL Game Length)

According to official rules, NFL match should last a minimum of 60 minutes (1 hour). This hour of playing time is split into two 30-minute halves. Each of the halves that make up the hour of playing time consists of two 15-minute quarters, for a total of four quarters. [4]
However, a NFL game always goes over the allotted time. As games go over 60 minutes due to interruptions, like media downtime and injuries. Sometimes NFL games can last two hours or even three hours. In fact, the average NFL match lasts three hours. Even when the game is stopped and the ball is not in play, the clock will keep running.

How Long Is 5 A Side Football?

A 5 a side football match is typically 40 minutes long. Fiveaside games usually have a 20 minute 1st half, followed by a short half-time and then another 20 minutes for the 2nd half. 6 a side and 7 a side football are often 45 minutes as the more players usually (depends who’s on your team!) means a little less excursion.

Play 5-A-Side & 7-A-Side Football

Time flies when you’re having fun—especially when you’re playing a football match with your best mates. The only thing that can be a buzzkill is having to worry about all of the formalities. Finding a pitch, bringing a ball, following the rules, and counting the minutes on the clock can take all of the fun out of the game.

If you want to play football without having to worry about the formalities, join one of our social and competitive after-work leagues. We offer 5-a-side, 6-a-side, and 7-a-side for all levels in over 40 locations throughout London.

We provide everything you need to play including state of the art 3G pitches, an FA-qualified referee, and balls, so you can show up and play!

References

  1. https://www.thefa.com/football-rules-governance/lawsandrules
  2. http://usa-soccer.org/length-of-game/
  3. https://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2018/6/30/17520838/world-cup-2018-stoppage-time-injury-added-soccer-referees
  4. http://static.nfl.com/static/content/public/image/rulebook/pdfs/7_Rule4_Game_Timing.pdfH