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Football (soccer)

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The striker (wearing red jersey) has run past the defender (in white jersey) and is about to take a shot at the goal, while the goalkeeper positions himself to stop the ball.
The striker (wearing red jersey) has run past the defender (in white jersey) and is about to take a shot at the goal, while the goalkeeper positions himself to stop the ball.

Football is a ball game played between two teams of eleven players, each attempting to win by scoring more goals than their opponent. A goal results when the ball passes over the goal line between the goalposts and under the crossbar. Football is played predominantly with the feet, but players may use any part of their body except their hands and arms to propel the ball; the exception to this is the goalkeeper, who is the only member of the team allowed to handle the ball in the field of play.

It is variously known throughout the English-speaking world as football, association football, or soccer.

Football is played at a professional level all over the world and millions of people regularly go to a football stadium to follow their home team, whilst millions more avidly watch the game on television. A very large number of people also play football at an amateur level.

According to a survey conducted by Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport's governing body, published in the spring of 2001, over 240 million people regularly play football in more than 200 countries in every part of the world. Its simple rules and minimal equipment requirements have no doubt aided its spread and growth in popularity. In many parts of the world — particularly in Europe, Latin America, and increasingly in Africa — football evokes great passions and plays an important role in the life of individual fans, local communities, and even nations; it is therefore often claimed to be the most popular team sport in the world.


The laws of football

History and development

See also: Football (an in depth discussion of the history of games ancestral to association football and the parallel development of other codes).

The rules of association football are known as the Laws of the Game and are based on efforts made in the mid-19th century to standardise the rules of the widely varying games of football played at the public schools of England. The first set of rules resembling the modern game were produced at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1848, at a meeting attended by representatives from Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester and Shrewsbury, but they were far from universally adopted. A number of rival and/or revised sets of rules were subsequently proposed, most notably by the Sheffield football club (formed by former pupils from Harrow) in 1857 and the rules of JC Thring in 1862.

These efforts culminated in the formation of The Football Association (FA) in 1863 which first met on the evening of 26 October 1863 at the Freemason's Tavern in Great Queen Street, London. The only school to be represented on this occasion was Charterhouse. The Freemason's Tavern was the setting for five more meetings between October and December, which eventually produced the first comprehensive set of rules. At the final meeting, the first FA treasurer who was the representative from Blackheath, withdrew his club from the FA over the removal of two draft rules at the previous meeting, the first which allowed for the running with the ball in hand and the second, obstructing such a run by hacking (kicking an opponent in the shins), tripping and holding. Other English rugby clubs follow this lead and did not join the FA but instead in 1871 formed the Rugby Football Union.

Today the laws of the game are determined by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). The Board was formed in 1882 after a meeting in Manchester of The Football Association, the Scottish Football Association, the Football Association of Wales, and the Irish Football Association. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association FIFA, the international football body, was formed in Paris in 1904 and declared that they would adhere to the rules laid down by the IFAB. The growing popularity of the international game led to the admittance of FIFA representatives to the IFAB in 1913. Today the board is made up of four representatives from FIFA and one representative from each of the four British associations.

The Official Laws of the Game

There are seventeen Laws in the official Laws of the Game. The same laws are designed apply to all levels of football, although the preface to the Laws does grant national associations the ability to authorise certain modifications for juniors, seniors, women, etc. The Laws are often framed in broad terms, whish allows flexibility in their application depending on the nature of the game. In addition to the seventeen Laws, numerous IFAB decisions and other directives contribute to the regulation of football. The Laws can be found on the official FIFA website.

Object of the game

A goalkeeper dives to stop the ball from entering his goal.
A goalkeeper dives to stop the ball from entering his goal.

Two teams of eleven players each compete to get a spherical ball (itself known as a football) into the other team's goal (thereby scoring a goal). The side which scores the most goals is the winner (usually within 90 minutes, but other ways of determining a winner may be used in case of a tie). The primary rule for this objective is that players, other than the goalkeepers, may not deliberately touch the ball with their hands or arms while on the field during play.

Players and equipment

Each team consists of a maximum of eleven players, one of whom must be the goalkeeper. Competition rules may state a minimum number of players required to consitute a team (this is usually eight).

One player on each team must be designated as that team's goalkeeper. The goalkeeper is allowed to handle the ball with his hands or arms within the penalty area (also known as the "box" or "18 yard box") in front of his own goal. The other players on either side are not permitted to deliberately handle the ball with their hands or arms whilst the ball is in play, however they may play it with any other part of their body; the exception to this is when returning the ball into play at a throw-in.

The basic equipment players are required to wear includes a jersey (or shirt), shorts, stockings, footwear and adequate shinguards. Players are forbidden to wear or use anything that is dangerous to themself or another player (including jewellery).

A number (variable by league and nation) of players may be replaced by substitutes during the course of the game. The usual reasons for a player's replacement include injury, tiredness, ineffectiveness, a tactical switch, or to waste a little time at the end of a finely poised game. In standard adult matches, a player who has been substituted may not take further part in the match.


A game is presided over 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" (Law 5), and whose decisions regarding facts connected with play are final. The referee is assisted by two assistant referees (formerly called linesmen). In many high-level games there is also a fourth official, who assists the referee and may replace another official should the need arise.

Playing field

Standard pitch measurements (Large version) (Metric version)
Standard pitch measurements (Large version) (Metric version)

The dimensions and markings of an adult football field (or pitch) are defined by the Laws of the Game. Due to the original formulation of the Laws in England and the early supremacy of the four British football associations within IFAB, the standard dimensions of a football pitch were originally expressed in imperial units. The Laws now express dimensions with approximate metric equivalents (followed by traditional units in brackets), however popular use tends to continue to use traditional units.

All line markings on the pitch form part of the area which they define. For example, a ball on or over the touchline is still on the field of play; a ball on the line of the goal area is in the goal area; and a foul committed over the 18-yard line has occurred in the penalty area. Therefore a ball must wholly cross the touchline to be out of play, and a ball must wholly cross the goal line (between the goal posts) before a goal is scored; if any part of the ball is still on or over the line, the ball is still in play.

The field descriptions below apply to adult matches:

Pitch dimensions and markings

The length of pitch for international matches should be in the range 110-120 yards (100-110m) and the width should be in the range 70-80 yards (64-75m). For other matches the constraints are looser: 100-130 yards (90-120m) length by 50-100 yards (45-90m) width. The pitch must be rectangular, this is longer than it is wide.

The longer boundary lines are touch lines, while the shorter boundaries (on which the goals are placed) are goal lines.

The halfway line divides the pitch in half lengthways. Halfway across the halfway line is the centre spot, from which kick-offs are taken at the start of each playing period and after a goal is scored. The centre circle (radius 10 yards; 9.15m) surrounds this spot, and serves to indicate the distance opposing players must stay from the ball at a kick-off.

In each corner of the pitch is a corner arc (quater-circle radius 1 yard; 1m) which marks the area from which a corner-kick may be taken. Corner flags (minimum height 5 feet; 1.5m) are required to be placed at each corner; similar flagposts may be optionally placed 1 yard (1m) from each end of the halfway line.

A goal area, penalty area, penalty spot and penalty arc are marked in front of each goal; these are discussed below.


Goals are placed at the centre of each goal-line. These consist of two upright posts placed equidistant from the corner flagposts, joined at the top by a horizontal crossbar. The inner edges of the posts must be 8 yards (7.32m) apart, and the lower edge of the crossbar must be 8 feet (2.44m) above the ground. Nets are usually placed behind the goal, though are not required by the Laws.

Penalty and goal areas

See also: Penalty area (provides expanded information on the role of the penalty area)

Two rectangular boxes are marked out on the pitch in front of each goal.

The goal area (colloquially "6 yard box"), consists of a the area formed by the goal-line, two lines starting on the goal-line 6 yards (5.5m) from the goalposts and extending 6 yards into the pitch from the goal-line, and a line joining these. Goal kicks and any free kick by the defending team may be taken from anywhere in this area. Indirect free kicks awarded to the attacking team within the goal area must be taken from the point on the line parallel to the goal line nearest where an incident occurred; they can not be taken further within the goal-area. Similarly drop-balls than would otherwise occur in the goal area and taken on this line.

The penalty area (colloquially "18 yard box") is similarly formed by the goal-line and lines extending from it, however its lines commence 18 yards (16.5m) from the goalposts and extend 18 yards into the field. This area has a number of functions, the most prominent being denoting where the goalkeeper may handle the ball and where a foul by an attacker usually punished by a direct free kick becomes punishable by a penalty kick.

The penalty mark (or "penalty spot") is immediately in the middle of, and 12 yards (11m) in front of, the goal; this is where penalty kicks are taken from. The penalty arc (colloquially "the D") is marked from the outside edge of the penalty area, 10 yards (9.15 m) from the penalty mark; this marks an exclusion zone for all players other than the kicker and the opposing goalkeeper during a penalty kick.

Associated areas

Aside from the field of play, the Laws and by-laws can be used to regulate related areas off the field. The most prominent of these is the technical area, which defines the bench areas and nearby areas to which coaching and managing staff are generally restricted. Note that the referee's authority extends not only to the field of play, but also other areas, including the technical area, players race, and so on.


Standard durations

A standard adult football match consists of two periods (known as halves) of 45 minutes each. There is usually a 15-minute break between halves, known as half-time. The end of the match is known as full-time.

Football matches are fast-paced and rarely break for the prolonged time periods seen in many other sports like baseball. In turn, this makes it hard for television broadcasters to run commercials without skipping large parts of the game. Even when players suffer injuries, the game usually continues until the ball is next put out of play, except when the referee believes the injury is serious, and the player is removed from the field for treatment as soon as possible so that the match can continue.

Extra time and shootouts

Most games simply end after these two halves, either with one team winning or with a draw (a tied game). However, some games, particularly knockout competition matches, provide for extra time in the event of a tied result at the end of the two halves of normal time: two further periods of 15 minutes are played. Until recently, IFAB have experimented with various forms of 'sudden death' extra time (see below for details); however, these experiments have now been abandoned.

If the score is still tied after extra time, some competitions allow the use of kicks from the penalty mark (colloquially known as penalty shoot-outs) to determine a winner. Other competitions may require the game to be replayed.

Note that goals scored during extra time periods count towards the final score of the game, unlike kicks from the penalty mark which are only used to decide the team that progresses to the next part of the tournament (with goals scored not making up part of the final score).

Referee as official timekeeper

The referee is the official timekeeper for the match, and it is part of his duties to make allowance for time lost through substitutions, injured players requiring attention, cautions and dismissals, sundry time wasting, etc. (although normally no allowance is made for small amounts of time lost during most short breaks in play, such as for throw-ins or free kicks, unless the referee anticipates a large amount of time will be lost before the restart). When making such an allowance for time lost, the referee is often said to be "adding time on". The amount of time is at the sole discretion of the referee, and the referee alone signals when the match has been completed; there are no other timekeepers, although assistant referees carry a watch and may provide a second opinion if requested by the referee.

In matches where a fourth official is appointed, towards the end of the half the referee will signal how many minutes remain to be played, and the fourth official then signals this to players and spectators by holding up a board showing this number.

Note that there is often semantic debate as to whether the referee is "adding on" time to the end of a half, or rather treating time during stoppages as though it never existed as part of the match time; this distinction has little bearing on the practical conduct of a game, however it may be noted that the pre-1997 wording of the laws stated that the referee "shall ... allow the full or agreed time adding thereto all time lost through injury or accident" (Law V), and later FIFA guidelines regarding the annotation of goal scoring times suggested that time is indeed "added-on" to the end of the agreed half period.

Golden and silver goal experiments

See main articles: Golden goal; Silver goal.

In the late 1990s, the IFAB experimented with ways of making matches more likely to end without requiring kicks from the penalty mark, which were often seen as an undesirable way to end a match.

These involved rules ending a game in extra time early, either when the first goal in extra time was scored (golden goal), or at the end of the first period of extra time if one team was by then leading (silver goal). Both these experiments have been discontinued by IFAB.

Starts and re-starts

Each playing period in football commences with a kick-off, which is a set kick from the centre-spot by one team. At kick-off all players are required to be in their half of the field, and all players of the non-kicking team must also remain outside the centre-circle, until the ball is kicked and moved. Kick-offs are also used to restart play following a goal.

From the initial kick-off of a period until the end of that period, the ball is "in play" at all times unless the ball leaves the field of play or play is stopped by the referee; in these cases play is re-started by one of the following methods:

  • Kick-off: following a goal by the opposing team.
  • Throw-in: when the ball has wholly crossed the touchline; awarded to opposing team to that which last touched the ball.
  • Goal kick: when the ball has wholly crossed the goal-line having last been touched by an attacker; awarded to defending team.
  • Corner kick: when the ball has wholly crossed the goal-line having last been touched by an defender; awarded to attacking team.
  • Indirect free kick: awarded to fouled team following "non-penal" foul or when play is stopped to caution/send-off an opponent without a specific foul having occurred.
  • Direct free kick: awarded to fouled team following certain listed ("penal") fouls.
  • Penalty kick: awarded to fouled team following "penal" foul having occurred in their opponents penalty area.
  • Dropped-ball: occurs when the referee has stopped play for any other reason (e.g. an serious injury to a player, interference by an external party, or a ball becoming defective).

The procedure for each restart is described in the relevant chapter of the Laws of the Game.


See main article: Offside law (football)

Major international competitions

Worldwide international competitions

The major international competition in football is the World Cup organized by FIFA. This competition takes place over a four year period. Over 190 national teams compete in regional qualifying tournaments for a place in the finals. The finals tournament, which is held every four years, now involves 32 national teams (increased from 24 in 1998) competing over a four week period.

There has been a football tournament at the Summer Olympic Games since 1900, except at the 1932 games in Los Angeles). Originally this was for amateurs only, however since the 1984 Summer Olympics professionals have been permitted as well, albeit with certain restrictions which effectively prevent countries from fielding their strongest sides Currently, the Olympic men's tournament is played at Under-23 level with a restricted number of over-age players per team; consequently the competition is not generally considered to carry the same international significance and prestige as the World Cup. An women's tournament was added in 1996; in contrast to the men's event, the women's Olympic tournament is played by full international sides without age restrictions; consequently it carries international prestige considered comparable to that of the FIFA Women's World Cup.

Confederation competitions

The major international competitions of the continental confederations, followed by their major club events where appropriate, are:

Names of the game

The rules of 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 versions of football played at the time. The word soccer is a colloquial abbreviation of association (from assoc.) and first appeared in the 1880s. The word is sometimes credited to Charles Wreford Brown, an Oxford University student said to have been fond of shortened forms such as brekkers for breakfast and rugger for rugby football. In the late 19th century the word soccer tended to be used only at public schools; most people knew the game simply as football. Today the term association football is rarely used, although some clubs still include Association Football Club (AFC) in their name. The game is sometimes known colloquially as footy; the term footer was also once used but is now obsolete.

Football was exported by expatriate Britons to much of the rest of the world and many of these nations adopted this common English term for the sport into their own language. This was usually done in one of two ways: either by directly importing the word itself, or by translating its constituent parts, foot and ball. Most Romance languages use the word football, albeit with a different pronunciation and occasionally a different spelling (Spanish: fútbol, Portuguese: futebol, Romanian fotbal). In French, le football is often shortened to le foot. By way of contrast, Germanic languages usually translate the term (for example, German: Fußball, Norwegian: fotball, Swedish: fotboll, Danish: fodbold, Dutch: voetbal), Turkish: futbol. Finnish (jalkapallo), Arabic (kurat al qadam) and Hebrew (kaduregel) use translated terms. In Polish both ways (futbol and piłka nożna) are used.

In Italy, football is called calcio, from calciare meaning to kick. This is due to the game's resemblance to Calcio Fiorentino, a 17th century ceremonial Florentine court ritual, that has now been revived under the name il calcio storico (historical kick or kickball in costume). In Greece podosfero (ποδόσφαιρο), a direct translation, is used.

Aside from the name of the game itself, other foreign words based on English football terms include versions in many languages of the word goal (often gol in Romance languages) and schútte (Basel) or tschuutte (Zürich), derived from the English shoot, meaning 'to play football' in German-speaking Switzerland. There's also nogomet in Croatian and Slovene which is composed of the words for "foot" and "target". Also, words derived from kick has found their way into German (noun kicker) and Swedish (verb kicka).

Football is more commonly known as soccer in certain English-speaking nations where the word "football" refers to a rival code of football developed within that nation, specifically Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United States, and also in areas where Rugby football is more popular than association football, such as Australia, New Zealand and the white communities of South Africa. In these countries "football" was often included in the names of the earliest leagues and governing bodies of the sport, but as that word became increasingly associated with other domestic form of the game so soccer became more widely used. For example, the governing body of the game in the US is the United States Soccer Federation. This body was originally called the US Football Association, and was formed in 1913 by the merger of the American Football Association and the American Amateur Football Association. The word "soccer" was added to the name in 1945, making it the US Soccer Football Association, and it did not drop the word "football" until 1974, when it assumed its current name.

A few Australian authorities, such as the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) have always used the name "football". In 2004, the Australian Soccer Association changed its name to Football Federation Australia, and announced that the official name of the sport in Australia will now be "football". This has been met with controversy and/or bemusement by followers of Australian rules football and rugby league, the most popular forms of "football" in Australia. Nevertheless some media outlets in some areas have accepted the usage.

In Canada the usage of "soccer" is so uniform that even in Quebec the game is known as le soccer and the provincial governing body is the Fédération de Soccer du Québec.

In Ireland, Gaelic football is also played but nonetheless the governing bodies for soccer are the Football Association of Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland, and the similarly titled Irish Football Association in Northern Ireland. Many Irish people refer to both codes simply as "football" while reserving the terms "soccer" and Gaelic for occasions when context cannot resolve any ambiguity.

The use of "soccer" in South Africa is common to speakers of both English and Afrikaans; the Afrikaans word for the sport is sokker.

In Japan, use of the term sakkaa (サッカー) is more common than that of the term futtobouru (フットボール), although the latter term would seem to be gaining popularity.

Outside of these countries the word "soccer" has not been commonly used and "football" remains by far the most common name to describe the sport, being the name officially used by both FIFA, the sport's world governing body, and the International Olympic Committee. However, the use of "soccer" is on the rise, perhaps due to the global influence of American culture on the English language.

Football culture


Football around the world


Memorable moments

The game has brought many memorable moments, including:

See also

Teams and players


Other types of the game



External links

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