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Football, association football or soccer, is a sport played between two teams of eleven players with a spherical ball. It is played by 250 million players in over 200 countries, making it the world’s most popular sport. The game is played on a rectangular field with a goal at each end. The object of the game is to score by using any part of the body besides the arms and hands to get the football into the opposing goal.

The goalkeepers are the only players allowed to touch the ball with their hands or arms while it is in play and then only in their penalty area. Outfield players mostly use their feet to strike or pass the ball, but may use their head or torso to strike the ball instead. The team that scores the most goals by the end of the match wins. If the score is tied at the end of the game, either a draw is declared or the game goes into extra time and/or a penalty shootout depending on the format of the competition. The Laws of the Game were originally codified in England by The Football Association in 1863. Association football is governed internationally by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA; French: Fédération Internationale de Football Association) which organises a World Cup every four years.

Within the English-speaking world, association football is now usually called football in the United Kingdom, and mainly soccer in Canada and the United States. Other countries, such as Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, may use either or both terms. The rules of association football were codified in England by the Football Association in 1863 and the name association football was coined to distinguish the game from the other forms of football played at the time, specifically rugby football. The term soccer originated in England, first appearing in the 1880s as an Oxford “-er” abbreviation of the word “association”.

Laws of the game

Number of Players – A match is played by two teams, each consisting of not more than eleven players, one of whom is the goalkeeper. A match may not start if either team consists of fewer than seven players.

The ball is:

  • Spherical
  • Made of leather or other suitable material
  • Of a circumference of not more than 70 cm (28 ins) and not less than 68 cm (27 ins)
  • Of a pressure equal to 0.6 – 1.1 atmosphere (600 – 1,100 g/cm2) at sea level (8.5 lbs/sq in – 15.6 lbs/sq in)

Safety – A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewelry).

The authority of the referee – Each match is controlled by a referee who has full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game in connection with the match to which he has been appointed.

Two assistant referees may be appointed whose duties, subject to the decision of the referee, are to indicate:

  • when the whole of the ball leaves the field of play
  • which team is entitled to a corner kick, goal kick or throw-in
  • when a player may be penalized for being in an offside position
  • when a substitution is requested
  • when misconduct or any other incident occurs out of the view of the referee
  • when offences have been committed whenever the assistant referees have a better view than the referee (this includes, in certain circumstances, offences committed in the penalty area)
  • whether, at penalty kicks, the goalkeeper moves off the goal line before the ball is kicked and if the ball crosses the line.

Periods of play – The match lasts two equal periods of 45 minutes, unless otherwise mutually agreed between the referee and the two teams. Any agreement to alter the duration of the periods of play (e.g. to reduce each half to 40 minutes because of insufficient light) must be made before the start of play and must comply with competition rules.

A kick-off is a way of starting or restarting play:

  • at the start of the match
  • after a goal has been scored
  • at the start of the second half of the match
  • at the start of each period of extra time, where applicable A goal may be scored directly from the kick-off.

The ball is out of play when:

  • it has wholly crossed the goal line or touch line whether on the ground or in the air
  • play has been stopped by the referee

Method of scoring – the goal is the only method of scoring. It is also used to refer to the scoring structure. A deliberate attempt on goal is referred to as a “shot”. To score a goal, the ball must pass completely over the goal line between the goal posts and under the crossbar and no rules may be violated on the play (such as touching the ball with the hand or arm).

It is not an offence in itself to be in an offside position. A player is in an offside position if:

  • he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent

A player is not in an offside position if:

  • he is in his own half of the field of play or
  • he is level with the second-last opponent or
  • he is level with the last two opponents

A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following seven offences in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:

  • kicks or attempts to kick an opponent
  • trips or attempts to trip an opponent
  • jumps at an opponent
  • charges an opponent
  • strikes or attempts to strike an opponent
  • pushes an opponent
  • tackles an opponent

A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following three offences:

  • holds an opponent
  • spits at an opponent
  • handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

A direct free kick is taken from the place where the offence occurred (see Law 13 – Position of free kick).

A penalty kick is awarded against a team that commits one of the ten offences for which a direct free kick is awarded, inside its own penalty area and while the ball is in play. A goal may be scored directly from a penalty kick. Additional time is allowed for a penalty kick to be taken at the end of each half or at the end of periods of extra time.

A throw-in is a method of restarting play. A throw-in is awarded to the opponents of the player who last touched the ball when the whole of the ball crosses the touch line, either on the ground or in the air. A goal cannot be scored directly from a throw-in.

A goal kick is a method of restarting play. A goal kick is awarded when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, either on the ground or in the air, having last touched a player of the attacking team, and a goal is not scored. A goal may be scored directly from a goal kick, but only against the opposing team.

A corner kick is a method of restarting play. A corner kick is awarded when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, either on the ground or in the air, having last touched a player of the defending team, and a goal is not scored. A goal may be scored directly from a corner kick, but only against the opposing team.

History of Football

The contemporary history of the world’s favorite game spans more than 100 years. It all began in 1863 in England, when rugby football and association football branched off on their different courses and the Football Association in England was formed – becoming the sport’s first governing body. Both codes stemmed from a common root and both have a long and intricately branched ancestral tree. A search down the centuries reveals at least half a dozen different games, varying to different degrees, and to which the historical development of football has been traced back. Whether this can be justified in some instances is disputable. Nevertheless, the fact remains that people have enjoyed kicking a ball about for thousands of years and there is absolutely no reason to consider it an aberration of the more ‘natural’ form of playing a ball with the hands.

On the contrary, apart from the need to employ the legs and feet in tough tussles for the ball, often without any laws for protection, it was recognized right at the outset that the art of controlling the ball with the feet was not easy and, as such, required no small measure of skill. The very earliest form of the game for which there is scientific evidence was an exercise from a military manual dating back to the second and third centuries BC in China. This Han Dynasty forebear of football was called Tsu’ Chu and it consisted of kicking a leather ball filled with feathers and hair through an opening, measuring only 30-40cm in width, into a small net fixed onto long bamboo canes. According to one variation of this exercise, the player was not permitted to aim at his target unimpeded, but had to use his feet, chest, back and shoulders while trying to withstand the attacks of his opponents. Use of the hands was not permitted.

Another form of the game, also originating from the Far East, was the Japanese Kemari, which began some 500-600 years later and is still played today. This is a sport lacking the competitive element of Tsu’ Chu with no struggle for possession involved. Standing in a circle, the players had to pass the ball to each other, in a relatively small space, trying not to let it touch the ground.

The Greek ‘Episkyros’ – of which few concrete details survive – was much livelier, as was the Roman ‘Harpastum’. The latter was played out with a smaller ball by two teams on a rectangular field marked by boundary lines and a center line. The objective was to get the ball over the opposition’s boundary lines and as players passed it between themselves, trickery was the order of the day. The game remained popular for 700-800 years, but, although the Romans took it to Britain with them, the use of feet was so small as to scarcely be of consequence.

Football has come a long way since its first laws were drawn up in London in 1863. That historic meeting at the Freemasons’ Tavern led not only to the foundation of the Football Association but, moreover, to the game’s inaugural set of common rules. Although undergraduates at Cambridge had made an earlier attempt to achieve a uniform standard in the late 1840s – albeit still allowing the ball to be caught – it was not until 1863 that football, a sport played down the centuries in often-violent village contests and then embraced in the early 1800s by the English public schools, had a fixed rulebook.

One club represented at the Freemasons’ Tavern, Blackheath, refused to accept the non-inclusion of hacking (kicking below the knee) and subsequently became a founder of the Rugby Football Union. However, the 11 others reached an agreement and, under the charge of one Ebenezer Cobb Morley, 14 laws were soon penned for a game that would, in the following century, become the most played, watched and talked about activity on the planet.

Original offside rule – The offside rule formed part of the original rules in 1863 but it was a far remove from the law as we know it today. Any attacking player ahead of the ball was deemed to be offside – meaning early tactical systems featured as many as eight forwards, as the only means of advancing the ball was by dribbling or scrimmaging as in rugby. In the late 1860s, the FA made the momentous decision to adopt the three-player rule, where an attacker would be called offside if positioned in front of the third-last defender. Now the passing game could develop.

Despite the unification of the rules and the creation of the FA in 1863, disputes, largely involving Sheffield clubs who had announced their own set of ideas in 1857, persisted into the late 1870s. However, the creation of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) finally put an end to all arguments. Made up of two representatives from each of the four associations of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland), the IFAB met for the first time on 2 June 1886 to guard the Laws of the Game. Then, as today, a three-quarters majority was needed for a proposal to be passed.

Gradual changes – In those early years, the game gradually assumed the features we take for granted today. Goal-kicks were introduced in 1869 and corner-kicks in 1872. In 1878 a referee used a whistle for the first time. Yet there was no such thing as a penalty up until 1891. In the public schools where modern football originated, there was an assumption that a gentleman would never deliberately commit a foul. Amid the increased competitiveness, however, the penalty, or as it was originally called ‘the kick of death’, was introduced as one of a number of dramatic changes to the Laws of the Game in 1891.

Penalties, of course, had to be awarded by someone and following a proposal from the Irish Association, the referee was allowed on to the field of play. True to its gentlemanly beginnings, disputes were originally settled by the two team captains, but, as the stakes grew, so did the number of complaints. By the time the first FA Cup and international fixture took place, two umpires, one per team, were being employed to whom each side could appeal. But it was not the ideal solution as decisions were often only reached following lengthy delays. The referee, at first, stood on the touchline keeping time and was ‘referred’ to if the umpires could not agree but that all changed in 1891.

Referees introduced – From that date a single person with powers to send players off as well as give penalties and free-kicks without listening to appeals became a permanent fixture in the game. The two umpires became linesmen, or ‘assistant referees’ as they are called today. Also during that meeting in Scotland, the goal net was accepted into the laws, completing the make-up of the goal after the introduction of the crossbar to replace tape 16 years previously.

With the introduction of rules, the features of the football pitch as we know it slowly began to appear. The kick-off required a center spot; keeping players ten yards from the ball at kick-off, brought the center circle. It is interesting to note that when the penalty came in 1891, it was not taken from a spot but anywhere along a 12-yard line before 1902. The 1902 decision to award penalties for fouls committed in an area 18 yards from the goal line and 44 yards wide, created both the penalty box and penalty spot. Another box ‘goal area’, commonly called the ‘six-yard-box’, six yards long and 20 wide, replaced a semi-circle in the goalmouth. However it was not for another 35 years that the final piece of the jigsaw, the ‘D’ shape at the edge of the penalty area,

Football fast became as popular elsewhere as it had been in Britain and in May 1904, FIFA was founded in Paris with seven original members: France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain (represented by Madrid FC), Sweden and Switzerland. There was some initial disquiet in the United Kingdom to the idea of a world body governing the sport it had created rules for, but this uncertainty was soon brushed aside. Former FA board member Daniel Burley Woolfall replaced Frenchman Robert Guérin as FIFA President in 1906 – the year the FA joined – and in 1913 FIFA became a member of the IFAB. In the restructured decision-making body, FIFA was given the same voting powers as the four British associations put together. There remained eight votes and the same 75 per cent majority needed for a proposal to be passed, but instead of two each, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland now had one, while FIFA was given four.

On the field of play, the number of goals increased aided by the 1912 rule preventing goalkeepers from handling the ball outside the penalty area and another in 1920 banning offsides from throw-ins. In 1925, the three-player offside rule became a two-player one, representing another radical change that propelled the game further forward.

By the late 1930s it was felt that the Laws of the Game, now totaling 17, required a makeover. The original Laws had been penned in the language of Victorian England and since then, there had been more than half a century of changes and amendments. Hence the task given to Stanley Rous, a member of the IFAB and the official who first employed the diagonal system of refereeing, to clean the cobwebs and draft the Laws in a rational order. The Englishman, who would become FIFA President in 1961, did such a good job that not until 1997 were the Laws revised for as second time. Despite football’s phenomenal popularity, there was a general agreement in the late 1980s that the Laws of the Game should be fine-tuned in the face of defensive tactics. If fan violence was a serious off-the-pitch problem during that period, then on it the increasingly high stakes meant a real risk of defensive tactics gaining the upper hand. Hence a series of amendments, often referred to as for the ‘Good of the Game’, which were designed to help promote attacking football. They began with the offside law in 1990. The advantage was now given to the attacking team. If the attacker was in line with the penultimate defender, he was now onside. In the same year, the ‘professional foul’ – denying an opponent a clear goal-scoring opportunity – became a sending-off offence.

Back-pass rule changed – Despite these changes, tactics during the 1990 FIFA World Cup™ suggested something more needed to be done. The IFAB responded in 1992 by banning goalkeepers from handling deliberate back-passes. Although the new rule was greeted with skepticism by some at first, in the fullness of time it would become widely appreciated. The game’s Law-makers then struck another blow against cynicism in 1998 when the fierce tackle from behind became a red-card offence. With a new century approaching, the commitment to forward-thinking football could not have been clearer.


  • http://www.britannica.com
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_football
  • http://www.fifa.com
  • http://www.thefa.com

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