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I recently played a football game. We conceded a goal in the start of the first half.

During the allowance for time lost at the end of the second half, our team member was in front of the goal with the ball. As he was about to shoot, the referee gave the final whistle and ended the game.

Was the referee's decision fair?

  • Two answers have been provided to this question. Please consider marking one as accepted. If you have problems with either, please leave comments as to why so they may be improved, or so that another user may attempt to answer the question. – studro Jul 19 '17 at 4:39
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Yes - the decision was at least correct by Law, and most likely fair as well. The referee is the sole arbiter of timekeeping, as shown in the following Laws.

Law 5 - The Refereee, Section 3 - Powers and Duties:

The referee:

  • acts as timekeeper, keeps a record of the match and provides the appropriate authorities with a match report, including information on disciplinary action and any other incidents that occurred before, during or after the match

Law 7 - The Duration of The Match, Section 3 - Allowance For Time Lost:

The fourth official indicates the minimum additional time decided by the referee at the end of the final minute of each half. The additional time may be increased by the referee but not reduced.

If the referee had decided that the amount of additional time added on had compensated for time lost during the second half, they were correct by Law to stop play.

Now, as to the question of the decision being fair - some referees may decide to "find" a few more seconds if there is a promising attack, since the time added on is generally a very rough estimate. This generous helping of a few extra seconds is acceptable to most referees.

However, the longer play is allowed to continue after the initial allotment of additional time, the unfairer this is on the defending team. If a team has had 90 minutes plus additional time (along with a few seconds more) to score - why should the other team be placed at a disadvantage by allowing even more time?

In the 1978 World Cup, in a match between Sweden and Brazil, referee Clive Thomas signalled for the expiry of time from a Brazilian corner kick while the ball was in mid-flight, with the ball ending up in the net. The tournament's refereeing committee decided that this was a poor use of Thomas's discretionary powers relating to additional time, sending him home from the tournament. It is clear that in this case, Thomas would have been better using his discretion to either end the match before the corner kick was taken, or to find the extra couple of seconds required to see what the outcome of the kick was.

Finally, it is important to note that in some competitions, referees are not permitted to add on any time to allow for time lost. In this case, the referee must end the period as soon as their watch shows that time has exprired for that period (ie 45 minutes, or whatever the competition rules state that the length of the half is).

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    One famous (at least to me) example: World Cup 1978, group stage, Brazil-Sweden tied 1-1, Brazil has a corner kick at the very end of the match, they take their time, they shoot the ball, there is a header and goal! Or not... the referee had whistled for the end of the match while the ball was on flight from the corner. Controversial? Very! For sure. Nearly 40 years later it came to my mind immediately when I read the question :-) See it on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=MDfV35ddpu0 – Rolazaro Azeveires Jun 11 '17 at 9:38
  • Clive Thomas was the referee. He was sent home from the tournament for failing to find a couple of extra seconds here. I think he should have either not allowed the corner to be taken, or allowed it to be taken - blowing the whistle with the ball in mid air, while it may have been technically correct in his mind, was not a good use of his discretionary powers. – studro Jun 12 '17 at 2:53
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    @RolazaroAzeveires - I've edited the link and anecdote in. Thank you. – studro Jun 12 '17 at 3:00
  • Nice, thanks. And I agree it was a poor decision by the referee. As Brazil was taking their time to score the corner kick he could (should...) have stopped the game there. It does happen often enough not to be notable. – Rolazaro Azeveires Jun 12 '17 at 20:28
  • Something quite similar happened at WC2014, during France v. Switzerland. However the goal would have made the score 6-2 for France, so it was not decisive. – LeReferee Jun 13 '17 at 8:42
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Yes; moreover, it has happened: take a look at this referee decision in a League Two game that actually decided Accrington Stanley's fate of keeping them from promotion to League One.

Was it fair? It's hard to say. The reason for this decision, as was explained in the media, was that the referee didn't blow the whistle on time and wanted to end the half once the ball was in the air. Since that was only done when the ball was in Wimbledon's box, and he didn't want to influence the course of the game by his mistake, he blew the whistle just before the ball hit the net.

Of course, no referee should ever do anything like it. According to the footballing regulations, "the referee may not change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or on the advice of another match official if play has restarted or the referee". This has since been interpreted as, and extended to, "made decisions that the referee realises to be wrong must not affect the character of their future decisions". As such sorts of decision cannot be anything but a compensation for an earlier mistake, most such half-time/full-time whistles can be regarded as poor refereeing.

As to your referee, I don't now the context, so I can't precisely tell. But if I were to guess, I'd say their decision was a poor one.

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