Prior to the FA’s foundation, each club adhered to their own regulations, and match rules were often only decided on the day. The meeting in 1863 saw the drawing up of a universal code which provided the foundations on which future amendments could be made. The current ‘laws of the game’ are monitored by the domestic Football Associations and FIFA. The following is an interpreted list of those laws, minus much of the detail which is applicable only to prospective referees and to ensure a particular game conforms exactly to official FIFA standards. If you want to educate yourself on the minutiae, check the
Fairplay in football
Alongside the laws of the game, FIFA advocates a Fair Play programme. Based around a number of rules, typically involving abstract ideas, they are intended to inform footballers and spectators on proper behaviour on and off the field:
• Play fair on the field.
• Play to win but accept defeat properly.
• Observe the Laws of the Game.
• Respect everyone involved in the game.
• Promote football’s interests.
• Honour those who defend football’s reputation.
• Reject any corruption, drugs, racism, violence and other harmful vices.
• Help others to do exactly the same.
• Denounce any who discredits the integrity of football.
• Use football to make a better world.
Basics of football
Football is a game with two teams of eleven players, played over the course of 90 minutes. This period is split into two 45-minute halves. The objective of the game is to score more ‘goals’ than the opposite team.
The Laws of the Game
Field of play
Football can be played on a natural or artificial surface. However, the shape of the field must be rectangular, with the following dimensions : 90-120 metres long and 45-90 metres wide. Notably, the guidelines for international matches are stricter (100-110 metres x 64-75 metres).
• Goal Area: Starts 5.5 metres from each goalpost and extends 5.5 metres out, with the two lines joining vertically
• Penalty Area: Starts 16.5 metres from each goalpost and extends 16.5 metres out, with the two lines joining vertically.
• Flagpost: Placed at each corner, with a quarter-circle on the field.
• Goals: 7.32 metre area between the posts, and 2.44 metres high.
Naturally spherical, with a circumference of 27-28 inches.
Number of players
One of the eleven is classified as the goalkeeper and permitted to handle the ball in his team’s penalty area. The eleven players are supplemented by the option to bring on a maximum of three substitutes from a pre-decided list of three to seven players.
In order to bring on a substitute, the referee must first be informed and then there has to be a break in the play. The substitute then comes on as a replacement for one of the 11 current players.
Basic equipment is the team jersey, shorts, shinguards with socks and studded boots or trainers depending on the surface. The goalkeeper is also permitted gloves and a different coloured jersey for identification purposes.
The referee adjudicates the match in collaboration with two linesmen and a back-up and a fifth official, situated on the touchline, if necessary. The referee’s tasks include acting as a timekeeper, awarding free kicks and penalties and generally dealing with anything requiring a ruling. Can also choose to allow play to proceed in case of a foul, providing there is an ‘advantage’ to be gained by the team against which the foul has been committed.
Follow play from their respective touch lines and help to decide on throw-ins, corner kicks and goalkicks along with offside decisions. Can also draw the referee’s attention and advise on or alert him to any on-field activity, which can influence all manner of decisions. To signify their decision or grab the referee’s attention, they wave a brightly coloured small flag, which they keep at all times.
Duration of the match
The match officially lasts 90 minutes, split into two 45-minute halves with a half-time interval of no longer than 15 minutes.
In the knock-out stages of competitions, extra-time is used if there is no winner after 90 minutes. This extra period is 30 minutes, split into two 15 minute halves. If extra-time does not find a winner, then a penalty shoot-out takes place, where five players from each team are selected and alternate shots on goal from the penalty spot against the opposition goalkeeper. In that instance, the team with the most successful penalties is declared the winner. If they are still tied then they will move on to sudden-death penalties, where each team will take one penalty until one of the two sides has scored move than the other after the side amount of spot kicks.
Start and restart of play
A coin toss takes place just before the game starts, the winner of which will get the choice of choosing which end to attack or whether to kick-off. Should they choose to kick-off then the other captain will be allowed elect which end to attack in the first half. Should the winner decide to choose which end to attack then the loser can choose whether to kick-off in the first or second half.
At the kick-off, players from each side must all be in their half of the field. The actual kick-off takes place on the centre spot in the centre circle. The player who kicks off cannot touch it again until another player has made contact
The kick-off is also used after a goal has been scored, the task befalling the team who has conceded, and for both halves of extra-time.
A team can only score if the whole ball crosses the goal line between the goalposts. The winner is the team who scores more goals, except in a competition where the ‘away goals’ rule applies. The ‘away goals’ rule means that, if a team scores a goal away from their home stadium, the goal counts extra.
The problem for newcomers to football is understanding the offside rule. There are two elements to offsides in football; being in an offside position, and committing an offside offence.
To be in an offside position is to be closer to the opponent’s goal than the last opposition outfield player and the ball
There are other factors to consider which can exempt you from the offside rule. You cannot be offside in your own-half of the pitch.
Fouls and misconduct
A foul can take place anywhere on the pitch, and a free kick is awarded where that foul takes place. The referee can choose simply to award the foul, speak to the player about his conduct or take matters further.
Punishment for offences
If the single infraction is deemed serious enough or the culprit persistently offends during a match, the referee can choose to take extra action against a particular individual:
• Yellow Card - A ‘caution’ given to a player. If two of these cards are shown to the same player, it means a…
• Red Card - Showing a red card to a player means he/she is expelled from the match. A straight red card can be shown for extreme offences such as serious foul play, violent conduct, spitting, deliberate hand-ball to prevent a goal, a professional foul and insulting language and/or gestures.
Whenever a free kick is taken, the opposition must be at least 10 yards away from the ball until it is delivered. If this rule is not adhered to, the kick is retaken. There are two types of free kick awarded.
• Direct free kick - Allows the team to take a direct shot at the opponent’s goal. Awarded as a result of fouls with evidence intent to harm or reckless/excessive force.
• Indirect free kick - A direct strike on goal is not permitted, meaning any shot must come from the second player to touch the ball after the kick is taken
A penalty kick is awarded for offences taking place in the penalty and goal area. A nominated member of the team awarded the penalty is allowed a strike at goal from the penalty spot, with only the goalkeeper to beat. The goalkeeper must remain on his line until the ball has been kicked, and all other players must be outside the area behind the penalty spot. After he has taken the kick, he cannot strike the ball again without another player touching the ball.
A throw-in is awarded when the whole ball crosses the touch line. It is delivered off the field of play with both hands and from behind and over the deliverer’s head. Otherwise it is deemed to be a ‘foul throw’ and a throw-in is given to the opposition. It cannot go direct to the goalkeeper’s hands and you cannot score directly from a throw-in.
Awarded once the whole ball crosses the goal line if it last touched an opposition player.
Awarded once the whole ball crosses the goal line of the opposition, after last touching one of their players. Taken from the corner of whichever side the ball exited the field, in the prescribed quarter-circle space. Opponents must be 10 yards from the corner arc and the kicker cannot touch the ball a second time without contact from someone else beforehand