After you have been refereeing for a while you are bound to come upon some local rule modifications, generally in tournaments, which state something like "running clock" or "no stoppage time." Yes, this is not technically correct because while local rules can modify Law 7 -- Duration of the Match, they cannot modify Law 5 -- The Referee, which gives referees the responsibility for adding time to make up for time lost. However, if you agree to an assignment then you agree to enforce the local rules.
To enforce a local rule one should understand the purpose behind the modification. That is simply to keep the games on schedule. Most tournaments run from dawn to dusk so the late games are in danger of not being played in their entirety if referees properly add stoppage time in every match. This rule takes away the referee’s discretion of not only playing equal halves but in playing the full amount of time allocated for that match, which is, after all, the purpose of adding time.
But the question becomes when should the half end? When the clock reads 30:00:00? Or can you "add" some time?
We’re not a fan of a countdown watch that beeps when it reaches zero but that is one way a ref could time the half. We better hope that it’s not during dynamic play when the fans are yelling so loud that we miss the beep. Even so, what if the ball is struck at the top of the penalty area and just then the watch beeps? A half a second later the ball is in the net. Is that a goal? The defenders plea "But ref, I heard your watch. It went off before the goal."
It is not a good idea to be clock watching while you are supposed to be watching play. A referee should be aware of the time, within a minute or so, but not be a slave to watching the digits move and missing play. A ref can always check for time at a stoppage and near the end of regular play, even during play when the ball is harmlessly played in the middle of the field.
Suppose there is an attacking play and you sense time is almost expired. You can’t look at your watch. Just then a perfect cross is matched by a equally perfect header and the ball is in the net. You check your watch. It reads 30:02. Goal or no goal?
Either way you will hear it. Either the team that just scored will give you grief if you said the half was over, but since you didn’t announce it or blow the whistle it wasn’t. The team that was just scored upon will let you have it for not ending the half. After all, "there is a running clock, ref!!!!!" You can thank the tournament for putting you in a no-win situation.
Have the courage to make a decision and stand by it. Whatever you do, do it within the Spirit of the Game. We think if the ball is moving forward in the attacking third that we let play run until the ball is moved backwards again. We would never stop a match with the ball in flight towards the goal.
AN ANECDOTE: September 2004 -- PWSI Labor Day Tournament: With a "running clock" and the ball over the goal line for a corner kick, the parents were all screaming for the attacking team to hurry up. It was a scoreless tie. It was obvious, as they looked at their watches, that the time was about to expire. A4 places the ball down and executes a perfect cross where A6 was unmarked at the penalty spot. Just as A6 heads the ball the referee blows his whistle ending the match. The ball was in the net. There was a furious protest by Team A but the referee added no time, per tournament rules. Or did he?
At a meeting a few months later I asked the referee exactly when the half/game expired. He told me that the clock reached 30:00 while the player was retrieving the ball. Time must be extended only for the taking of a penalty kick. There was no need to permit the corner kick.
The referee explained that he didn’t want to hear it from the parents that he didn’t allow a corner kick, even though there was a running clock and time had expired by then. So he decided to permit the corner then blow the whistle while the ball was in the air. In essence, he decided that rather than hear some groans from the fans that he would instead permit a fake corner kick. Fake, in the sense that he was not going to allow a score to occur. Of course, this backfired when A6 executed the perfect header. Then he had a real mess on his hands.