A few months ago we began a series on unique, niche sports watches. That first article was about yachting timers. Here we present the second in the series: football/soccer timers.
So, what’s a soccer timer? Put simply, it’s a watch that helps a soccer referee time a match. A soccer match has two 45-minute halves, so a chronograph with a 30-minute sub-dial is a reasonable timing mechanism. (An ideal movement would have a 45 minute sub-dial, right?) We’ll also talk about a rugby timer later. That’s a bit of a challenge, because a rugby match is made up of halves lasting 40 minutes, not 45. Thus, a typical chronograph mechanism is not quite so well-suited to rugby. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
If we’re talking about soccer timers, we might as well just be talking about the vintage offerings of two venerable contenders, Breitling and Omega. There have been other timers, particularly in the quartz era, perhaps most notably the Seiko 8M32-8019. And there’s also a current offering by Graham that’s interesting. But to us, Breitling’s and Omega’s specialized mechanical chronographs represent the high water mark for this niche – frankly, in part precisely because they’re vintage.
The Breitling Referee, ref. 34-41 (circa ~1970) is powered by the Valjoux 7731, a hand wound 17-jewel chronograph movement. Though the dial indicates 60 minutes, a red chapter ring runs from twelve o’clock to nine, indicating a 45-minute half. To make reading of elapsed match time easier, the central chrono hand indicates minutes, rather than seconds. Running seconds is indicated on a sub-dial at nine.
Reading the elapsed match time on the full dial rather than a sub-dial makes the Breitling a very readable timer. There’s a small round window at six o’clock which shows a big green dot when game time is running, and when time is stopped, as for an injury, etc., a small green dot replaces the large one.
The Omega Seamaster Soccer timer, ref. 145.0020, was introduced in 1968. It contains a 17 jewel hand wound Lemania caliber 861. The 861 seemed to be Omega’s movement of choice for their chronographs in those days. This watch offered a choice of 4 types of inner scale: tachometric, decimal, telemetric or pulsimetric. At first we were a little dubious of these scales in such a timer, but they do make for a generally more useful timepiece.
There was a variant of the Omega Soccer timer which featured a rotating inner bezel (controlled by a crown at ten o’clock), the ref. 145.0019. This version featured three bezel choices: a 1-12 / 13-24 “roulette wheel” scale, a 0-60 scale, or a 60-0 scale. Again, we frankly see these options as making for a more useful watch overall, rather than making a better soccer timer.
Omega solved the issue of timing a 45-minute half via a 30-minute sub-dial by locating a “45” on the outside of the sub-dial itself, opposite the “15” (which is in the six o’clock position on the 30 minute sub-dial). Of course, the ref needs to know whether the half is less than 15 minutes along, or more than 30. We figure a referee worthy of the title can handle that task.
One current offering is the Graham Chronofighter Oversize Referee, produced in a limited edition of 250 pieces. The watch was intended for use by the RBS Six Nations Rugby Tournament referees. The Graham Chronofighter series is marked by its unique timer actuation mechanism – a thumb operated trigger that’s said to be more accurate than a typical chrono pusher (the thumb has a quicker reaction time than a finger has). Frankly, having handled Graham Chronofighters in the past, the thumb trigger is a lot more fun, too.
As we mentioned before, a rugby half is 40 minutes long, rather than the 45 minutes of a soccer half. So the sub-dial at six o’clock has an outer chapter ring marked to 30 minutes, and an inner half of a chapter ring marked from 30 to 45, with 40 minutes called out in larger numerals. This auxiliary half-ring is used during the last ten minutes of the half. Elapsed minutes during that period are indicated by the tail of the timing hand, which is larger and outlined in red.
Like the Omega, this is not a perfect solution because the referee needs to keep track of whether the half is in the first 15 minutes or the last 10. Presumably, a competent rugby referee, like their soccer counterpart, is up to the challenge. (Note that since the event timing sub-dial is a 30-minute counter, the watch can effectively double as a soccer timer).
There you have it. A little bit about an interesting, rather obscure niche in the sports watch genre – soccer timers, or as the world outside the United States knows them, football timers.
by Ed Estlow