Why do Referees Wear Two Watches When Officiating?

As a football spectator, you often take notice of certain peculiarities that occur or present themselves during matches.

These oddities could be brought about by a whole host of different factors, be it the players representing the teams on the field, the coaching staff, the stadium facilities or even the match officials!

In fact, one of the strangest questions that usually springs to mind when watching a televised game is why referees choose to wear two watches – with one on each wrist – as part of their officiating routine.

It’s pretty weird, right?

People that have never before paid much attention to football referee attire and its accompanying accessories are likely to be surprised upon the realisation of this fact, which is why I’ve decided to write a short article which explains the phenomenon.

So, I’ll start with a straight-to-the-point answer:

Referees are said to wear two watches for the primary purpose of calculating the amount of extra time that has accumulated within each 45-minute half. The first watch runs continuously as an official timepiece, whilst the second watch is paused and subsequently resumed after stoppages in play like a footballer receiving medical treatment for injuries; time-wasting; substitutions and disciplinary procedures like the handing out of yellow and red cards.

Now, let’s expound on this a bit further…


Calculating stoppage time

why do referees wear two watches - calculating stoppage time

According to the Football Association’s Law 7 on the duration of a match, a referee is supposed to make an allowance for all the time lost in a half by way of:

  • Substitutions
  • Assessment and/or the removal of injured players
  • Disciplinary sanctions through yellow and red cards
  • Time wasting
  • Medical stoppages like drink and cooling breaks that are occasionally permitted by competition rules
  • Other causes like goal celebrations that may cause a significant delay towards play restarting

Even though – according to Football Bible – the allowance for lost match time is supposed to be calculated by the fourth official, the final measure of time to be added on is decided by the on-pitch referee.

Here’s a video where former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg gives a small insight into how officials decide on how much time to add on:

So, with only a single watch on a referee’s wrist, a simple mistake such as forgetting to resume the stopped clock once play has recommenced could lead to significant timekeeping errors later in the game when it comes to determining the correct moment to end the 45-minute half in question.

This is why a second watch is sometimes employed by the main official, as it simplifies the previously mentioned process of calculating how much time should be added on at the end of each half.

One watch can be used to record the official match time by running continuously, whilst the other one can be used to calculate the duration of various stoppages that have taken place by way of being stopped and resumed.

When the half is about to draw to a close, the referee then compares the difference in time elapsed between the two watches, with the accumulated difference becoming the amount of stoppage time to be added.

Although as an alternative – particularly when only one watch is in use – referees may use a deterministic approach to stoppage time that follows a general guideline of allocating specific amounts of extra time for each type of break in play.

If, for example, a period of 30 seconds is added for a player substitution taking place and 1 minute added on for an injury, and a second half comprised of two of the former and one of the latter, the approximate amount of added time should be a minimum of 2 minutes.

In this case, the referee will communicate this information to the fourth official who will then display the amount of stoppage time to be added on using an electronic number board.


Extra redundancy

why do referees wear two watches - extra redundancy

Aside from the calculation of stoppage time, referees wear two watches as a way of redundancy in case one watch malfunctions or simply stops working in the middle of a half.

After all, watches are manufactured objects that are sometimes subject to mechanical failure.

Even more so, significant exposure to excessive amounts of moisture (e.g. heavy rain or sweat build up) or damage from physical contact with a player are some of the things that could cause a well assembled referee watch to break down during a game.

If such an unfortunate situation were to befall a referee, they could simply adapt by using the second watch which would go from being just a simple backup to becoming the primary device used for timekeeping in a match.


What is the best referee watch?

The ideal watch for an individual is one that provides a good combination of functionality, battery life and water resistance, as well as suitable fit for a person’s use case and level of experience when it comes to being a match official.

Although the last two factors can only be determined on a case by case basis, we settled on the Casio GW-B5600-2ER Sports Watch as the best option.

It offers superb functionality, with Bluetooth capabilities that extend the watch’s use beyond a typical timekeeping device, not to mention its durable resin casing and strapping combined with its solid waterproof rating and use of solar power for charging which gives it top marks for longevity.


Closing thoughts

Apart from the extra redundancy which comes into play when one device fails, referees mainly wear two watches to calculate the amount of time to add on at the end of a half.

One watch runs continuously whilst the second is stopped and started at various breaks in play, and the accumulated difference between the time elapsed on both watches is what is used to determine how much additional time needs to be allocated.

Samuel Waihenya
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