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Also referred to as 'Soccer' by our American Friends

A Beginner’s Guide to Rules of Football

Football is the most-watched and played sport on the planet, whether watching or playing, football is a pretty simple game but can often look complicated. Here’s a helpful guide to help you understand…

So, do we call it Football or Soccer??

Tread carefully… the beautiful game's name is a hot topic across the globe, especially in the UK. Globally, Football is generally considered the correct term but in North America and Canada, it’s SOCCER.

Why the difference in the states? Well… Both Football and American football come from the same set of sports, which became popular in upper-class English schools in the early 19th century and then spread across the Atlantic. All these games involved moving a ball through an opponent's territory and scoring at the far end, but the rules varied from place to place.

Ultimately, the version adopted as the standard in the UK came to be known as ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL, while another set of rules won out in the United States, thus the Americans took to calling their variety football.

Football Pitch

The Pitch

Each pitch is pretty similar although they don’t have to be the same size, the length must be between 90m and 120m and width between 45m and 90m, the variations allow teams to adapt their pitch to a style of play that favours the way they like to play. Some prefer wide pitches to stretch play whilst others like a narrow pitch forcing the opposition to play through the middle and take on their defenders.

Along with goal posts on either side of the pitch, every pitch does feature standardised markings including a centre circle and two penalty boxes at either end of the field. Each box includes a penalty spot 12-yards from the goal line and what is called a 6-yard box.

The pitch also has four corner markings, which mark the area from which inside a ball must be placed when taking a corner kick.

Football Team Players

The Players

Each team fields 11 players at the start of a game and has substitutes on the bench allowing a coach to make changes during a game, either due to an injury, to alter the formation or simply put a fresh player on the pitch. 

In most cases, a coach can make a maximum of 3 changes per game but in friendlies, they may be able to make more.

The Positions

A coach will organise his team in set positions depending on what formation he chooses to take. Formations are often defined in numbers such as 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 and describe the basic set up of the team.

Each team will always field a goalkeeper whose role is taken as obvious and not included in formations as defined below.

Examples of Team Formations:

4-4-2 Formation

4-4-2 Formation

A 4-4-2 means 4 defenders comprising two centre backs and two wings back, 4 midfielders similar in set up to the defence and 2 forward players

4-3-3 Formation

4-3-3 Formation

A 4-3-3 formation prefers more players upfront as opposed to midfield

The Rules

The rules to association football are often over complicated but are pretty simple and easy to understand.

Firstly, whoever scores more goals wins, matches can be drawn unless in a knockout competition such as a cup competition when there must be a winner, in some cases this is done through a replay, extra time or penalties.
The game is designed to flow and players can run with the ball and pass in any direction the only expectation being a pass which results in an offside (explained below) or passing back to the keeper, who must play with his feet if you pass him the ball, although he can collect with his hands if you head it.

The Basic Rules

  • A game starts from the centre spot, once the team in possession of the ball begins play following a referees whistle the game begins. After a goal, the game is restarted from the centre spot by the opposition team.
  • No players can be in the opposition half when kick-off occurs.
  • Any foul can result in a free-kick, or a penalty if the foul takes place in the penalty area.
  • If the attacking team kicks the ball beyond the goal line, this results in a goal kick. If the defending team kicks it behind their line, the attackers are awarded a corner kick.
  • When tackling, a player must make contact with the ball. If a player makes contact with the player first it will result in a foul, if it’s considered dangerous play it can result in a red card.
  • A goal kick must be taken on the edge of the 6-yard box but can be taken by either a defender or the goalkeeper. A corner kick is taken by the attacking side, where the ball is placed in a corner, where there is a small quarter-circle.
  • There are various types of fouls, but here are some examples of play to avoid.
  • Handball: You can touch the ball with your feet, head, chest, thighs and even shoulder, but it cannot touch any part of your arm.
  • Diving/Simulation: If you pretend you were fouled, then referees can call a free-kick against you.
  • Being offside: Not a foul you will be booked for, but it will result in a free-kick for the other team.
  • Physical violence: Starting or participating in any sort of fight (even if you didn’t start it) could result in a form of punishment from the referee.
  • Foul throw: This is another non-bookable foul, and is an easy one to avoid. When you throw the ball in from the sidelines, keep the ball behind your head before you throw the ball, and make sure not to drop the ball at your own feet.

Red or Yellow Card?

If you break these rules, referees can book you. What this means is that you will be given a yellow card or a red card.

If you are given two yellow cards in a game, you receive a red card.

A red card means immediate dismissal from the match, and your team now must play with fewer players for the remainder of the game.

The Offside Rule

In simple terms, the offside rule explains that a player is considered offside if he or she receives the ball while being “beyond” the second-last opponent (usually a defender) the goalkeeper being the final opponent.

If a player is judged to be offside by a referee or official a free kick is awarded to the opposing team. It’s a simple rule often over-explained, it ensures the defender and attacker have a fair opportunity in winning the ball. If it didn’t exist an attacker could simply stand near the goal throughout the entire game and wait for a pass to score.

VAR - Video Assistant Referee

VAR although not used in all football matches it is beginning to be introduced throughout all the biggest tournaments in the world, although it has its, critics, it’s here to stay.
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is an additional match official who reviews decisions made by the on-field referee. ... Operating under the philosophy of "minimal interference, maximum benefit", the VAR system seeks to provide a way for "clear and obvious errors" and "serious missed incidents" to be corrected after being reviewed by the official, normally based away from the place the match is taking place reviewing activity on a screen.


Football tournaments are some of the biggest global sporting events in the world, from domestic leagues to international competitions, matches are watched by millions across the globe.

Each country has a range of domestic competitions including the most popular, the Premier League in the UK, La Liga in Spain and MLS in America. Most operate as a pyramid system with teams able to get relegated whilst those in the league below can strive to reach the top league through promotion.

Each country also features a range of domestic competitions outside the league format that operates on a knockout basis such as the FA Cup in England which can see the top teams such as Man Utd against lower league opposition.

Some tournaments cover continents. In Europe, we have the UEFA Champions League, which pitches the best teams from Spain, France, the UK and more all against each other to fight for the coveted trophy. There are similar championships across other continents across the globe.

Then there’s an international competition where top players from each nation are selected to represent their country to compete in the World Cup and continental competitions including the European Championships.


Football Fun Fact

  • In North America, Association Football is called “Soccer”.
  • In Germany, Association Football is called “Fußball”.
  • In Spain, Mexico, Ukraine and Argentina, Association Football is called “Fútbol”.
  • In Italy, Association Football is called “Calcio”.
  • In Poland, Association Football is called “Piłka nożna”.
  • In Brazil and Portugal, Association Football is called “Futebol”.
  • In Netherlands, Association Football is called “Voetbal”.
  • In England and France, Association Football is called “Football”.

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