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Football (soccer)
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Football (soccer)

Football (or soccer) is the most widely played and watched team sport in the world. The game is occasionally known by its official name of association football to differentiate it from other codes of football.

Football is a ball game played between two teams of 11 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 goalkeeper is the only member of the team allowed to handle the ball in the field of play.

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 FIFA, the sport's governing body, and 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, South 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.

Table of contents
1 The laws of football
2 Major international competitions
3 Names of the game
4 Troubles
5 Football around the world
6 Famous incidents
7 Famous sayings
8 See also
9 External links

The laws of football

History and development

See the article at football for 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 in 1863 which first met on the evening of 26 October 1863. Between October and December the Freemason's Tavern in Great Queen Street, London, was the setting for a series of six meetings which eventually produced the first comprehensive set of rules. At the final meeting, the representative from Blackheath withdrew his club from The FA over a rule outlawing hacking (kicking an opponent in the shins). The Blackheath club later went on to form 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

The official Laws of the Game are:

In addition to the seventeen Laws, numerous IFAB decisions and other directives contribute to the regulation of football. The laws of the game can be found on the FIFA website.

Object of the game

Two teams of eleven players each contend to get a spherical ball into the other team's goal (thereby scoring a goal). The side which does this the most frequently is the winner. The primary rule for this objective is that players, other than the goalkeepers, may not handle the ball with their hands or arms while on the field during play.


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 games there is also a fourth official, who assists the referee and may replace another official should the need arise.


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 (usually eight).

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 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 the ball is kicked out of play over the touchlines and a throw in occurs to return the ball into play.

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.

Playing field

) ()]] Because of the game's origins in England and the original supremacy of the four British football associations within the IFAB, the standard dimensions of a football field (or "pitch") are measured in Imperial units with approximate metric equivalents. According to IFAB regulations the length of pitch for international matches should be in the range 110-120 yards (100-110 m) and the width should be in the range 70-80 yards (64-75 m). (For other matches the constraints are looser: 100-130 yards (90-120 m) length by 50-100 yards (45-90 m) width.) The dimensions are sometimes changed to accommodate younger players, but the pitch should always be longer than it is wide. The area is under a hectare.

The pitch is divided at the centre: this is the halfway line. Exactly halfway across the halfway line is the centre spot. Kick-offs, at the start of each half after a goal is scored, are taken from this spot. When a team kicks-off from centre spot, players from the opposing team must remain a distance of at least 10 yards (9.5 m) from the spot until the kick is taken. A circle drawn around the centre spot, known as the centre circle, marks this distance.

At either end of the pitch is a goal mouth. This is formed by two upright posts placed equidistant from the corner flagposts, 24 feet (7.3 m) apart and 8 feet (2.4 m) in height, joined at the top by a crossbar. Nets are usually placed behind the goal, but are not required by the Laws of the Game. Two boxes are marked out on the pitch in front of the goal. The smaller box, called the 6 yard box or "goal area, is laid out to surround the goal at an equal distance of 6 yards (5.5 m). "Goal Kicks" and any free kick to the defending team may be taken from anywhere in this area; indirect free kicks to the attacking team must be taken from the point on this line parallel to the goal line nearest where an infraction occurred. The outer box is known as the penalty area or the 18 yard box, and is set 18 yards (16.5 m) to each side of the goal, and 18 yards in front of it. A small semicircle (called the restraining arc) is also drawn at the edge of the penalty area, the D, 10 yards (9.5 m) from the penalty mark. This is an exclusion zone for all players other than the one taking the kick in the event of a penalty being awarded.

The penalty spot (or penalty mark) is immediately in the middle of and 12 yards (11 m) in front of the goal.

In each corner of the pitch a small quarter circle with a 1 yard radius is drawn where corner kicks are taken from.

All lines drawn on the pitch are a part of the area which they define. A ball on 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 is in the penalty area. 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 over the line, the ball is still in play.


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.

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 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 required to 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 overtime early, either when the first goal in overtime was scored (golden goal), or at the end of the first period of overtime if one team was by then leading (silver goal). Both these experiments have been discontinued by IFAB.

Major international competitions

The major international competition in football is the World Cup organised by FIFA. The World Cup competition takes place over a four year period. Over 190 national teams compete in regional qualifying tournaments for a place in the finals. The final tournament, which is held every four years, now involves 32 national teams (increased from 24 in 1998) competing over a 4 week period.

There has been a football tournament at the Summer Olympic Games since 1900 (except for the 1932 games in Los Angeles). Originally this was for amateurs only, but since the 1984 Summer Olympics professionals have been admitted as well, within certain criteria, meaning that countries are not able to field their strongest sides. Consequently the competition does not carry the same international significance and prestige as the World Cup. Before 1984 the Olympic competition was dominated by eastern bloc countries where the distinction between amateur and professional players was vague.

The major international competitions of the continents are:

The major club event in Europe is the Champions League, while the major club event in South America is the Copa Libertadores.

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 footie; the term footer was also once used but is now obsolete.

A football

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). In French, le football is often shortened to le foot, and in Quebec the word is le soccer. By way of contrast, Germanic languages usually translate the term (for example, German: Fußball, Swedish: fotboll, Danish: fodbold, Dutch: voetbal). Finnish (jalkapallo) and Arabic (kurat al qadam) also use translated terms.

In Italy, football is called calcio, from calciare meaning to kick. This is due to the game's resemblance to Calcia 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).

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 (Zurich), 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".

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, the Republic of Ireland and the United States and also in nations where Rugby football is more popular such as New Zealand and 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 the 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.

Outside 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.



The level of passion with which football teams are supported has from time to time caused problems, as groups of fanatics have participated in disturbances and sometimes tragedies (see hooligans, Heysel Stadium disaster and Football War). As of 2004 this aspect of the game seems to have passed its peak though by no means disappeared completely. Specialist police units and information sharing between regional and international police forces has made it much harder for the hooligans to organize their displays of hatred. Violence has also affected players, with the Colombian international player Andres Escobar being murdered shortly after returning home from the 1994 World Cup. This was reputedly for scoring the own goal which eliminated Colombia from the competition [1].

Football violence, while usually occurring among fanatic supporters, has also occurred among players during games. For examples, see:

Accidents and disasters

There have been many accidents and disasters in the history of football. Some of these, such as the Hillsborough and Ibrox disasters, were due to problems with crowd control. The Heysel Stadium disaster was a combination of hooliganism and poor crowd control. The Bradford City Disaster occurred due to poor fire safety in the stadium. Lessons learned from these disasters have led to better and safer football stadia.

There have also been deaths on the pitch. On 5 September 1931, the Celtic F.C goalkeeper John Thomson suffered a skull fracture when he collided with the Rangers F.C player Sam English during an Old Firm match. He was fatally injured and died later that day [1]. The Cameroon international player Marc-Vivien Foé also died on the pitch. He collapsed during a match of the Confederations Cup against Colombia in 2003. His death was attributed to heart problems. Several players have been struck by lightning while playing during sudden storms.

Football around the world

See: Football around the world; List of association football competitions.

Famous incidents

The game has brought many memorable moments, including:

Famous sayings

See also

Teams and players


Other types of the game



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