I know that the whole quote is

Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten

by Sepp Herberger.

I got it from Wikipedia in English only that it means something, and from this page that it must be something inspiring. And I have also checked the Wikipedia in German but I find it is a tall order for me to understand all what is explained.

I come to here to seek an answer by taking a short cut(I know if I have the knowledge of the related history it would be not hard).

  • 3
    According to the german Wikipedia-article, these are two independently quotes: "Der Ball ist rund." and "Ein Spiel dauert 90 Minuten."
    – IQV
    Apr 28, 2017 at 5:48
  • 2
    A round ball can easily go any way you imagine. A hockey puck can move only horizontally, and a cube cannot easily move at all. Apr 28, 2017 at 7:08
  • @KilianFoth: Are you sure that, assuming the same surface properties as the puck, a cube would move considerably less easily than the hockey puck? Jan 14, 2023 at 16:52

7 Answers 7


The statements by Sepp Herberger were nothing more than stating the obvious: of course the ball is round, and everyone knows that a (normal) soccer game lasts 90 minutes.

There is no story or deeper sense behind that two sentences, just Sepp liking to give interviews and forming humorous statements.

People tried to put sense in these statements later that was not originally in there.

Both statements (der Ball ist rund and das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten) do not belong together and were made in different interviews on different dates.

They became a complete statement later as these were the most striking ones made by Sepp Herberger.

The meanings that were later added to the sayings are:

Der Ball ist rund
The ball can go in any direction, it is not predictable what happens in a soccer game
--> everything can happen

Das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten
In soccer one team can dominate a complete match but does not score even one goal. Sometimes it happens, that the underdog then in the very last minute of a match gets one single chance and scores, and then wins the game.
Trainers then often use this statement, to say: it is not enough to play good 89 minutes, as every game lasts 90 minutes and the result can be changed within the last second.

  • Der Sinn des zweiten Teils, der von Dir richtig als unzusammenhängend identifiziert wird, war gar nicht gefragt. Abseits ist, wenn der Schiedsrichter pfeift. (Oder war es Tor/Elfmeter/Foul?) Apr 28, 2017 at 17:08
  • Das ist sinnvoll! Danke schön! May 1, 2017 at 8:27

It means: We don't have any other facts than these - everything else would be guessing. Anything is possible and there's nothing definitive I can say.


Nobody seems to be mentioning the massive cultural wellspring that this quote spread through society, the movie "Lola Rennt" (Run Lola Run).


In the German film Run, Lola, Run there's a scene before the title sequence in which an odd-looking referee throws the ball up in the air. The camera focuses on the ball as it spins in the air, and a narrator says something along the lines of "The ball is round. The game lasts 90 minutes. That's fact. Everything else is theory."

The accepted answer appears to state that Sepp Herberger did not state these two statements together. If that is so, then someone else did, and then someone else quoted that someone else in the opening scene of the credits.

The phrase became very much circulated both in its original German and into English, where "the ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes, that's fact, everything else is theory", was widely introduced into the English speaking world as a thought, or quotable quote, and people like myself who speak both some German and English also went back and discovered the original quote and its pre-movie origins, but I wish to point out that people who have no idea about the quotes author would have heard it in German or English through the film.

  • 1
    Hier geht es aber um die deutsche Sprache. Von Herberger sind noch mehr Zitate im Umlauf, etwa "Abseits ist, wenn der Schiedsrichter pfeift". Oft reagiert man auf ein Herbergerzitat mit einem zweiten, in größerer Runde kommt es dann aber leicht zu einer ganzen Kette. Mar 12, 2020 at 19:13
  • Hier geht es aber um die deutsche Sprache. "But this is about the German language." It is about the question the original poster asked, in halting contact English, about a German phrase. Agreed. The movie I mention has a soundtrack with actors in german. The original poster knows the originator of the quote is Von Herberger. Which is true. But the quote gained a second life as the very famous opening of a German movie. In American Culture, Von Herberger would be compared to Yogi Berra. Eminently quotable. I particular love this film and wish to remind folks of it.
    – Warren P
    Mar 14, 2020 at 19:34
  • Not exactly. First, it is just Herberger, not Von Herberger which, btw., if it would be written, would be "von Herberger", like "von Neumann". Second, it isn't second life, but 172th live, its quoted quite often. And your answer is not answering the "Why", which is the topic of the question. Extravagant knowledge which is loosely associated with the question doesn't make a good answer. Mar 14, 2020 at 20:07
  • 1
    The question is literally asking why does A mean B. This is a cultural phenomenon at its heart. Sorry you are so hostile to people shedding light on culture.
    – Warren P
    Mar 17, 2020 at 16:11
  • I'm sorry, but I don't agree to two of your premises: A) I'm not hostile to people. I only discuss statements, answers, ideas, not people. Don't take anything personally. B) The film "Lola rennt" isn't an independend source. To understand the phrase in the film, you need to know already what it's source is. It's just a loop way. Mar 17, 2020 at 22:45

It's a saying that although the odds may be heavily in favour of 1 team, a round ball can travel in any direction & thus the underdog (unfavoured team) still has the possibility of winning the game.

The phrase is often used when there is perceived talent mismatch between 2 teams. Since the next 90 minutes are yet unknown, the possibilities are endless.


Even if this very much sounds like a blunt tautology, people have interpreted a lot into this saying: Apparently, it's more important what's not said about football than what's said:

It basically means "Those two are the immutable facts - Everything else is up to the teams and everything else is possible."

  • Since, as already noted in an answer and a comment, both statements where made independently from another, your analyse is false. Apr 28, 2017 at 17:05
  • "user unknown" sure has a strong opinion
    – Warren P
    Jan 15, 2023 at 19:07

The ball has no favorites. It doesn't care if the national champion is heavily favored by bookmakers against an underdog village team. It's indifferent to one's reputation, which has to be proven on the field.


»Der Ball ist rund« reminds me of the Cole Porter musical

Anything Goes

while »Ein Spiel dauert 90 Minuten« guides me to the phrase

it’s not over till it’s over

  • Der zweite Satz war nicht gefragt. Deine Assoziationen auch nicht. Apr 28, 2017 at 17:10

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