Timing The Beautiful Game — A Look Back at Some Cool, Vintage Soccer Timers

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, this time focused on football/soccer timers.

So, what exactly is 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 here.

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. And there are also some contemporary offerings by Graham and most notably Hublot, who explore the concept in some interesting ways. But to us, Breitling and Omega’s specialized mechanical chronographs represent the high water mark for this niche—frankly, in part because they’re vintage, and in part because they don’t overplay their hand with the design.



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 chronograph hand indicates minutes, rather than seconds. Running seconds is indicated on a sub-dial at nine.

Image via Vintage_Breitling.com

Reading the elapsed time on the full dial rather than a sub-dial makes the Breitling a very readable timer. Another really cool feature can be found right above six, where you’ll find a small round aperture. When the chronograph is engaged, the window shows a big green dot. When the function is stopped, a smaller green dot appears, and when it’s reset it reverts to black. (As you may recall, the legendary Breitling Superocean chronograph ref. 2005 features the same functionality).

Now let us turn to Omega. The Seamaster Soccer Timer ref. 145.0020 was introduced in 1968. It is powered by a 17-jewel, hand-wound Lemania caliber 861, which was Omega’s movement of choice for their chronographs in those days. This watch offered a choice of four styles 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 particularly cool 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 options: a wild a 1-12 / 13-24 “roulette wheel” scale (shown below), a 0-60 scale, and 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 referee needs to know whether the half is less than 15 minutes along, or more than 30, but we figure a referee worthy of the title can handle that task.

The ever clever Seiko produced some quartz powered soccer timers, too, but not just soccer timers. The Sports Timer chronograph, for example, was designed to track a couple of different sports, among them soccer, hand ball, water polo, and rugby. As we wrote above, a rugby half is 40 minutes long, rather than the 45 minutes of a soccer half. The Sports Timer marks that time on a ring along the edge of the dial, where other sports are indicated as well.

These watches were part of Seiko’s “intelligent quartz” series. Note the counter at six. It’s actually a mode indicator. Powered by the 6m25 caliber, these watches featured numerous functions, among them an alarm, calendar, and chronograph.

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.

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