Mystery Time is a term used to describe an inexplicable period of stoppage time - it was first coined during the pro-Manchester United refereeing debacle of the 1990s.
Origins of mystery time
These days the fourth official holds up the number of minutes of added time on an electronic board (it’s always three minutes) but for many years referees were allowed to let the game go on for as long as they pleased.
This led to flagrant abuse of the referee’s position. Mystery time was a constant blight on football throughout the 20th century.
Sheepskin-loving, statistic-obsessed commentator John Motson is widely credited with bringing the phrase ‘mystery time’ to the mainstream.
“Well I make it 96 minutes played,” Motson would say most weeks. “I’m not sure about injury time, this is more like (uncontrollable laughter) aha, mystery time!”
Manchester United’s dominance based on mystery time
The worst instances of mystery time occurred during the 1990s when Manchester United won every game, but often had to play over three hours in order to do so.
Indeed, during their double-winning 1995-96 season, United were never ahead before the 93rd minute of any game.
On one infamous occasion in 1995, Queens Park Rangers led the all-conquering Red Devils 1-0 in the 90th minute, but the referee saw fit to add 54 minutes of stoppage time, blowing the final whistle just seconds after United scored a second goal to claim the three points.
Modern mystery time
Although the fourth official must now declare the amount of added time by holding up a board at the end of 90 minutes, occasionally he will brazenly announce an inflated sum.
While any more than three minutes is frowned upon, some fourth officials, angry at their miserable lives, will hold up 25 or 50 minutes on a rainy day just to exact some form of revenge on the referee.