"The ball is round, a game lasts ninety minutes, everything else is pure theory. Off we go!"
Football is a sport played throughout the world, and is the most popular sport in much of it. Officially, the game is called association football, from which the abbreviation "soccer" comes (rugby football is likewise often called "rugger"), as well as the FIFA's official name: International Federation of Association Footballnote
. Association football differs from most other games with the name football
by being played primarily with the feet
. The original eighteenth-century etymology, of course, was that it was played by people who were on their feet (as opposed to the other major sports of the day, polo, horse-racing and hunting, which were played on horseback). There are at least seven modern sports that derive from the pre-1850 uncodified games - rugby league, rugby union, association football, American football, Canadian football, Australian rules football and Gaelic football. Additionally, both basketball (and thus its derivative netball) and ice hockey took inspiration from the football codes; in particular, the former was designed as a way to play a football-type game indoors during the cold New England winter.
The name comes from the Football Association, the governing body of the English game who codified the rules of the sport in the late 19th century, though the history of the game actually goes back to the middle ages and is known in England and Italy in different versions.
In its essence, football is a simple game - much more so in many ways than games like American football or baseball. So simple, it boils down to a single line. Two teams of eleven players must kick around a spherical ball into the rival's goal. Whoever does this the most times wins.
Of course there's a lot more to it than that, and if you want to know about the rules in detail, there's always the other Wiki
A few pointers to help leftpondian observers make sense of what's going on:
The Players and Their Positions
- Each team in association football has eleven players. (In the variation known as five-a-side football, each team has five players.) One of those players is declared "goalkeeper" (generally known as the "keeper" or "goalie"). He wears a different coloured kit (uniform) to distinguish him, and is the only player allowed to touch the ball with his hands or arms. Even then, he can only do so within the box drawn around the goal he defends, and not if the ball was passed to him from a kick by his own team. (If his own team heads the ball to him, however, he can use his hands.)
- The only times when a player other than the goalkeeper is allowed to touch the ball with his hands is when he is setting up for a stationary kick (free kick, corner kick, or penalty kick) or during throw-ins, where the ball is thrown back into play (with both hands) after going off the pitch.
- The goalkeeper is also the only position that someone MUST play. You must have one designated goalkeeper on the pitch at all times; you cannot play without one. If a goalkeeper gets hurt, the play is whistled dead, and is not resumed until he either signals that he can go on, or is replaced. If you happen to use up all your substitutions (or if you have no goalies to substitute in), a field player has to replace an injured or sent off goalie by taking his jersey and gloves. (Since the skills involved in playing and goal-keeping are completely different, this is a rare instance of sure-fire Instant Drama in real life.)
- The rest of the players do not have positions defined in the rules, but generally split into defenders, midfielders and attackers (also known as strikers), with varying flavours of each. This convention is maintained in order to facilitate training, since defenders must be good at intercepting, midfielders must be good at moving the ball, and strikers must be good at scoring. Most professional footballers specialise in one area or another, though there are some all-rounders.
- The exact positions of each player on the pitch make up the team's "formation". The most popular formation is 4-4-2note , especially among British teams, to such an extent that a popular football magazine was named after it. In recent years, alternative formations such as 4-5-1, 4-3-3 and 4-1-2-1-2 have become more popular.
- To give a more specific break-down of all the positions:
- Centre-backs. These players play in the centre, at the back. They are the most defensive players on the pitch, rarely if ever straying into the opponent's half. Their job is to tackle attackers, clear danger, and otherwise protect the goal and prevent the opposing team from having a scoring chance. They are usually stereotyped as big, hulking men with a lot of physical presence, but recently more elegant centre-backs that can play the ball out from the back have become more common. As these guys are usually large and have air superiority it's a common tactic to take them to the front when getting a corner kick or a free kick near the penalty box, as they will occasionally score a header. While they do so the Full Backs and Defensive Midfielders will secure the back line, as they are usually smaller and slender and not of much use in the heat.
- Sweeper. A specific type of centre-back, who plays behind the other centre-backs in order to "sweep up" any danger that slips through the defense. Not commonly seen in British teams, but traditionally a favourite of Italian sides. It is possible for a sweeper to play just in front of the centre-backs rather than behind them but they are then usually considered as a deep-lying midfielder rather than a defender.
- Full-backs. These play at each side of the defense - one Right-back and one Left-back. They defend against any oppostion attacking down the wing, but also have to run down the pitch to help their own team in attack. Commonly stereotyped as the "dump position", especially in kid's leagues, where it is usually a position the coach puts the useless kids in order to keep them out of the way, and probably the most under-appreciated position in the game. It is actually one of the most exhausting positions in modern soccer, as they usually run tirelessly from one goal line to the other, especially when they have to support their respective winger.
- Wing-backs. The same as full-backs, but they play further up the pitch and are more focused on attacking. Usually only used if the team is using three centre-backs.
- Central Midfielders. Arguably the most important and influential position on the pitch. Their job is to do... everything. They have to stop any oncoming attacks, and when they get the ball they have to pass or dribble it out, they are usually expected to get up the pitch and shoot and get back to clear the danger. Usually the "Playmakers", who control the flow of the play. They are essentially the glue holding the team together, as they have to link the defense with the attack.
- Defensive Midfielder (Sometimes called Holding Midfielder or Midfield Anchor). They play in the centre, between the defenders and midfielders. Their job is to stop anything getting to the defense. They are usually the best tacklers in the game, and are usually expected to be good passers also. In modern soccer the Central Offensive Midfielder may be the brain of the game, but the Defensive Midfielder is the heart. They function as a link between defense and offense, and they dictate the pace of the game. In the last few years Defensive Midfielders have become so important that most teams now opt to take two of them (4-2-3-1) in favor of the second striker. Even though the Defensive Midfielder is one of the most important positions, it is probably the least glamourous, because they work like a horse, but the others get the spotlight a lot more. Most of their work is rarely seen.
- Attacking Midfielder. Plays ahead of the midfielders but not quite in attack. Usually good at dribbling and shooting, this player's job is usually to attack and shoot from a deep position, or to provide an extra link between midfield and attack.
- Wingers (or Wide Midfielders). These play at the sides of the pitch (Right-wing and Left-wing). They specialise in dribbling and crossing, and are usually fast. Their job is usually to bring the ball past the defense at the side of the pitch and then cross it in for the strikers to score, though several instead specialise in coming in from the sides and shooting at goal. "Winger" and "Wide midfielder" are basically interchangable as terms, though "Winger" usually implies a more attacking mentality. A special form of the Winger is the so called "wrong footed" Winger (e.g. a left footed player on the Right Wing). These guys almost never cross, but instead dash to the middle of the field and try to score with their strong foot. Because this can be extremely effective most professional teams will encourage their Wingers to occasionally switch sides to confuse the defense and be more variable.
- Forwards (Or Strikers):
- Centre-forwards. The main job of this player is to get into scoring positions, wait for the ball to come to him, and then score. Often a "target man", a physically large player that others can hoof up passes to, or a fast player who will run onto through-balls, out-pacing the defense.
- Secondary Strikers. A forward who plays just behind the centre-forward(s), "in the hole" between midfield and attack. They are usually more creative players who use dribbling skill to pick up the ball in a deep position and then take it past the defense. The line between this and the aforementioned Attacking Midfielder is quite blurred, it's a matter of semantics really.
- Wide Forwards (or Outside Forwards). Forwards that play in a wide position. Again, they're not much different from Wingers, except that they play further up the pitch, and usually are not expected to defend.
- "Total football" is a playing model that basically means everyone plays all the positions (except keeper, obviously); needless to say, doing this needs a very serious Training from Hell and an unimaginable amount of tactical genius, but when it works, it's killer. So far, only Austria in the 1930s, Hungary in the 1950s, the Netherlands and Ajax Amsterdam in the 1970s, and modern Barcelona managed to pull this off.
- Substitutions are allowed either for tactical reasons or to replace injured or tired players, but most competitions only allow a very limited number - in the English League and most others, the rule is that seven extra players may be named in the match day squad, of which three may be used as substitutes. So there is no swapping of the entire team to bring in a "special team" (*ahem*) for particular situations. Friendly matches, however, allow for an unlimited number of substitutionsnote .
- Also note that you (usually) have only three substitutions, no matter what happens. One of your players got injured? You have to use one of your substitutions for it. One of your players got injured after you used all of your subs? Bad luck, then you have to play with one player less. If your goalkeeper gets injured or sent off the field (see Red Card below) and you are out of substitutions (or goalies) one of the field players has to replace him.
- A substituted player can't re-enter the game. For example: A goalkeeper picks up a minor injury and is substituted. He can't later return to the field if he recovers even if the team has not make all the substitutions it is allowed. A substituted player can himself be replaced by a third player, but this rare and considered seriously shameful unless injured.note
- Each team names a team captain. The captain is identified by wearing a colored bandage around his left upper arm, his job is to do the side choice at the beginning of every game, he has to motivate his team mates and lead them by example. Also, in theory at least, the captain is the only player on the field who is allowed to discuss with the referee, although in reality every player does this by his own right. This can and will net you a yellow card if you bother the ref too much.
The Four Officials
- Also on the pitch is the referee, who keeps an eye on the play. There are two linesmen on the two long lines of the pitch, who usually monitor things like out of play stuff and off-side, plus a "fourth official" who watches the video replay.
- The general rule, even with television replays being available, is that if the ref didn't see it, it doesn't count, although it can be looked at later on when determining an appeal. In top-level games, the referee is in contact with the officials and can take cues from them on infractions and goals; for example, in the 2006 World Cup Final, Zinedine Zidane was caught on camera head butting Marco Materazzi. The fourth official saw it, the TV cameras saw it and the ref (who didn't) gave Zidane a straight red card (see below). The rule that an official must see an action for it to be taken upon is controversial in the days of video replay (which referees are forbidden to use), especially when teams are disadvantaged from the referee not seeing actions which could influence the outcome of the game (e.g. Thierry Henry's handball-goal in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, or Frank Lampard's Goal-That-Never-Was in the same tournament's knockout stages).
- Referees in general frequently get a lot of abuse from the crowd, some players and managers (at all levels, although kids' matches have a particular reputation for parents doing this). In England, this has resulted in a lot of them quitting the English game (with negative impacts on lower leagues) and a "Respect" campaign from the FA, with limited results.
Period of Play
- Play is continuous, only stopping when the ball goes out of play or an infraction is committed. Or the period of play ends, of course.
- A match lasts 90 minutes, divided in two 45-minute halves. Except for the mid-game recess, the clock never stops ticking (not even for evacuating an injured player off the field). Both halves may be extended for a few minutes, between one to five, based on the referee's judgement (mainly depending on interruptions during the game). In games that must produce a win (namely, tournament play), if the game is a draw by the 90 minute mark, it may go on over time for some 30 minutes, and even a penalty round (see below) if needed.
- Continuous play is important, as teams have lost ground by celebrating a goal that wasn't awarded (England v. Germany, 2010). Portuguese Manchester United player Nani highlighted this in a game against Tottenham Hotspur, when he tackled the Spurs goalkeeper who had thought that a free kick for Nani's diving had been awarded.
- A goal is scored when the ball goes into a goal, irrespective of who sends the ball there. Sending the ball into your own goal is called, appropriately, an "own goal," and is probably the greatest humiliation a player can suffer. In any case, the ball must cross the goal line completely for the goal to be counted (something which, most of the time, isn't too hard to tell since shots tend to hit the net that hangs from the goalposts).
- There are exceptions from this rule: If a free kick (direct or indirect) is kicked directly into the team’s own goal, the opposing team gets a corner kick because an advantage (a free kick) should not turn into a disadvantage (a goal for the opposing team). In case of an indirect free kick a goal only is scored when the ball touches another player before entering the goal.
- Football is generally a low-scoring game, with most matches generating somewhere in the region of four goals or fewer. Winning by one goal is considered a bit of a tight win, winning by two is average, by three is an easy win, by four is a thrashing and by five or more is a complete Curb-Stomp Battle.
- Since scoring is difficult, it's absolutely normal and acceptable to yell "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!" at the top of your lungs when the goal falls — you can see the entire crowd going all wild, and that's pretty much a given for commentators (unless, of course, it's against their national team, when the shout is much less enthusiastic) — and some fans and tournaments have their trademark ways of celebrating a goal; the Brazilians, for example, play an improvised samba, while the 2006 FIFA World Cup stadiums played Bob Sinclar's "Love Generation" every time someone scored.
- Justified due to the size of the field (along with the non-stop action with the teams trading possession all the time), and the fact that scoring a goal only awards one point at a time (i.e. no three points for field goals).
- The other consequence of football's low-scoring nature is that in league play, draws are common. In most leagues nowadays, there are 3 points for a win and 1 for a draw (and none of course for a loss). Some leagues have experimented with awarding no points for the tenth and subsequent draws in a season. In 2010-2011, Premier League winners Manchester United won 23, drew 11, and lost 4 matches.
- It can also lead to unexpected results. Three of Man U's losses in that season were to other highly-finishing teams. The fourth was their 2-1 defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers, who finished 17th.
Fouls and Penalties
- There are three levels of infraction of the rules.
- At the lowest level, a free kick will be awarded to the opposing team. All players from the penalised team must step back from the ball and let the opposition play it. This can be dangerously close to goal and some players like David Beckham make a speciality of scoring from these.
- While the opposition can (and in most cases will) demand the penalised team to step back, they are allowed to start the play immediately if they want to.
- If a player is a little more aggressive or careless, he may earn a yellow card. The referee literally pulls a yellow card out of his pocket and brandishes it at the player. If he earns a second yellow card in the same game, it is then immediately followed by a red card. Additionally, some leagues give players a one-match ban when they reach a certain number of yellow cards over the course of the season. A yellow card is sometimes referred to as a "booking", as the referee writes down the player's name in his little book.
- Some offences are serious enough to warrant a red card - again, a literal red card brandished by the referee - and being sent off for the remainder of the game. Earning two yellows is by far the most common method of being sent off, but a straight-out red card is earned for violent or abusive behaviour, intentional handballs,note or for bringing down an attacking player if you're the last man defending.note A red-carded player is nearly always punished by being banned for further games, usually between one and three depending on the severity of the incident.
- Note that a player who is sent off by red card cannot be replaced by his team as if he has been stretchered off. The team of the offending player must play one man down for the remainder of the game. If multiple red cards happen, the teams can play even more short-handed. Note also that if either team has less than seven players on the field for any reason, the match is immediately abandoned.
- Another automatic red card is a player (other than the goalie) who uses his hands to block the ball from crossing the goal line. This is also followed by a penalty kick, so nine times out of ten, it's a waste of effort. But as Suarez showed in 2010, that tenth time can make you a national hero.
- Most offences committed by a team in the box around the goal that they are defending earns the attacking team a penalty kick. The ball is placed on a spot approximately 12 yards (11 meters) from the goal and an attacking player shoots from the spot at the goal, which may only be defended by the goalkeeper. Penalty kicks are infamous for being among the most tense moments of the game; players are generally expected to score from penalties, and a goalkeeper who saves the shot is cheered by his own fans, and players who miss a penalty can get a lot of flak.
- There are some exceptions, such as an illegal handball by a goalkeeper in the penalty box,note that are awarded only by indirect free-kicks which cannot be directly scored from (such as a pass-back). This can result in a free-kick from where it took place - even theoretically on the goal line.
- In many competitions where a game must produce a winner, penalty kicks are used to decide a winner if - even after extra time - the two teams cannot be separated. Five kicks apiece are taken, with the team who scores the most winning. The English football team have an unhappy knack of being eliminated from major tournaments on penalties, most notably in the World Cup semi-final in 1990, the European Championship semi-final in 1996 (both against Germany) and their last two tournaments in 2006 and 2004 (both against Portugal).
- Football is, at least in theory, a non-contact sport, though there have been no shortage of "hard man" players who specialise in being exactly as rough as the rules will allow - actor Vinnie Jones was formerly one of these.
- One completely legal body contact is defined in the rules: the shoulder charge. In effect, in a duel for the ball, a defender is allowed to use his upper body to push away the attacker from the ball. Note that it is illegal to interpose yourself between the ball and an attacker. Then there is the fact that the sliding tackle, while technically forbidden to contact the attacking player, is almost impossible to execute that way, and incidental contact is OK as long as the intent is obviously to play the ball and he actually succeeds and that he mainly initially succeeded before hitting the other person.note . Some competitions (especially on the British Isles) use a bigger leeway when defining incidental contact. In others, it is common for attacking players to overact and turn incidental contact into an apparent foul, referred to as "diving". Naturally [speaker's team] is always composed of upstanding sportsmen who would never do such a thing, while [opposing team] is full of scuba instructors and Oscar hopefuls who fall down if you look at them funny.
- The word "hacker" actually originally meant a player whose job on the field was to kick other players in the shins when the referee wasn't looking. Or someone who made crude wooden furniture.
- At some points in history, hacking was actually legal. Those opposing its abolition pointed out that "real men" could take it and banning it would mean that effete Frenchmen might be able to beat England.
The Offside Rule
Probably the most complex, least fathomable, and most misunderstood rule is the infamous offside rule. Nobody gets this right, including players, diehard fans, and sometimes even the referees. A troper who also referees soccer
(he's from the USA, sorry) attempts to clarify:
- Essentially, the rule exists to prevent attacking players from simply hanging around the opposition's goal and waiting to just tap in a long pass. It's essentially simple, just very difficult to put into words.
- Now, a couple terms: "Ahead of" is closer to your target goal. "Behind" is back closer to your own goal. "The ball" is... the ball. "A player" means an attacking player. "A defender" means a defending player. (Said clarifying troper was also a math major and insists on defining terms.)
- Okay. A player is in an "offside position" if he is ahead of the two defenders closest to their goal. That is, an attacking player is in an offside position if there are one or fewer defenders between himself and the goal. Qualifications:
- The player must also be ahead of the ball. If he has the ball, or someone closer to the goal has the ball, he cannot possibly be offside.
- The "two defenders" include the goalkeeper normally, but not necessarily: you can be ahead of the keeper but still onside if there are still two other defenders closer to the goal. (In practice, the goalkeeper virtually never strays farther from his goal than the defense, so "closer to the goal than all infielders" is a very good approximation.)
- Offside doesn't apply on your own half of the field. (Except to the other team, of course.)
- Being in an offside position is not illegal by itself.
- A player in an offside position is called for a foul if, while in that position, he interferes with play. This usually means one of two things:
- The player plays the ball when it was passed ahead to him. Again, a couple of qualifications:
- The player must have been offside when the ball was last played. You can run into an offside position to receive a pass as long as you didn't start there.
- You are not called offside if the ball is played to you by a defender. No one knows why this is; apparently the thinking is if a defender is going to play the ball to an attacker it's their own fault. (This does not include accidental deflections off a defender.)
- The player blocks the view or movement of the goalkeeper or other defender when a shot or forward pass is made.
- The above is all very technical and complicated, but even worse, FIFA (the world governing body) periodically changes the wording of the rule. Each time the theory is to close some loopholes or clarify the thing, but in fact each change makes the rule so complex that almost no-one, including top international players, actually knows what the rule is anymore.
- Essentially, the latest one just clarified that being "equally close" does not count as "closer" for off-side purposes, thus changing the set of possible off-side situations from a closed set to a semi-open set (mathematically speaking). Of course, this hasn't made adjudicating the rule any easier.
- The general route of the FIFA for the referees is that, when in doubt, don't call offside. This prefers the attacking team, and is done to increase the goals or at least the scoring opportunities per game. It is, however, very difficult - if not downright impossible - for the ref himself to see an offside position, so he is supported by two linesmen, who each watch half of the playing field from the sides and communicate with the ref by waving a flag if an infraction happens. He has to trust their judgement, but he is the one who gets called out if they screw up.
- It's worth noting that FIFA does not set the laws of the game; rather this role is filled by IFAB (International Football Association Board), composed of FIFA and the four British associations. Any change to the laws requires the approval of FIFA and any two of those four associations.
- Interesting situations occur uncommonly, but make a great debate when they do occur. For instance (this occurred in Euro 2008), a defending player who is behind his own goal line is counted as standing on that goal line in terms of offside. This prevents him simply leaving the field of play (which he is not allowed to do without the ref's permission) in order to play a striker offside. This caused controversy when an injured player played the opposition onside, resulting in a goal.
- Skilled teams can spend a lot of training trying to trick the attacking players into offside positions, commonly known as "the offside trap". Whenever a player was likely to get the ball, the defending team would walk forward in a straight line to get him accidentally offside.
- The risk of this being, obviously, that if they do it incorrectly they've allowed a free run at their goalkeeper.
Alternatively, John Cleese explains it nicely