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"The ball is round, a game lasts ninety minutes, everything else is pure theory. Off we go!"
Herr Schuster, Run Lola Run Opening Narration, quoting former German national coach Sepp Herberger

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)—either that, or it was the game where you were allowed to touch the ball with your feet (which is permissible in all codes of football but impermissible in many other sports). 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 (and antipodean) 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 the keeper is sent off by the ref, you must substitute the reserve keeper for another player. If you've used 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 classic 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:
    • Defenders:
      • 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 from 2010 onwards, centre-backs have become faster and more elegant, expected to be able to either play the ball out from the back or bring it out from the back on their own, such as Liverpool and Netherlands centre-back Virgil Van Dijk, who came within 2 votes of winning the Ballon d'Or, the highest individual award in the game, which with one exception has been passed between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the last 10 years. 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 (who refer to the position as libero). 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.
      • Recent years have seen the evolution of the 'Sweeper-Keeper', when particularly technically adept goalkeepers come out of their box to take the role of a traditional sweeper and get play moving again. Needless to say, this is a position fraught with risk and only very good and very daring keepers are willing to even try it (or at least, do more than occasionally scuttle out the box to return a relatively easy pass), such as Trope Codifier Manuel Neuer, a World Cup winner with Germany, who was widely considered to one of the best goalkeepers on the planet. Now, he's a little past his prime, and wound up horribly embarrassed by South Korea in the 2018 World Cup, when Germany were on the point of being knocked out in the group stage for the first time since 1938. He'd moved right up the pitch, into the Korean half to try and help the attack, was robbed of the ball, and then could only watch it was launched up to the Korean striker who finished off the game into an empty net.
      • Full-backs. These play at each side of the defense - one Right-back and one Left-back. They defend against any opposition 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, it is actually probably the most under-appreciated position in the game - though one undergoing something of a golden age. It is also 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, and nowadays are far more technical than they once were - a modern full-back is expected to be able to defend, pick a good pass, provide a good cross (in play and from a dead-ball situation), and to be an occasional goal threat from range or a dead-ball situation.
      • Wing-backs. The same as full-backs, but they play further up the pitch and are more focused on attacking, usually via pumping crosses into the box for taller attackers to get on the head of. Usually only used if the team is using three centre-backs, though sometimes used in other cases, such as England's World Cup winning team of 1966, nicknamed 'the Wingless Wonders' for their unusual (at the time, bloody unique) 4-2-4 formation, which is still very rare today. They also tend to provide the width in a 4-3-3 system (something best demonstrated in the modern game by Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool team, with attacking full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson notching 25 assists - direct contributions to goals - between them in a single season, and compared to another famous wing-back pair, Brazil's Cafu and Roberto Carlos), and other systems that use a narrow midfield or a set of inverted wingers.
    • Midfielders:
      • Central Midfielders. Arguably the most important and influential position on the pitch, and consequently the province of some of the best players in the game. 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. Different players and different systems emphasise different sides of the role more than others. The traditional English type is the 'box to box' Midfielder or 'Number 8', who runs from one penalty box to another, involving themselves all over the pitch, who's expected to at least border on being Master of All - one modern example being Steven Gerrard. Another variant is the "Playmaker", who tends to be less mobile and controls the flow of the play, with their midfield partner doing most of the running - that being said, there is some overlap between the two (Gerrard, for instance, became a Playmaker in his later years). Some of the most famous modern examples of this are Italy/AC Milan-Juventus' Andrea Pirlo, England/Manchester United's Paul Scholes, Croatia/Real Madrid's Luka Modric, Spain/Liverpool-Real Madrid-Bayern Munich's Xabi Alonso, and Spain/Barcelona's Xavi. The former and latter especially being considered among the best players of their time, and Modric was the one player to break the 10 year streak of Messi and Ronaldo's game of pass the parcel with the Ballon d'Or. They are essentially the glue holding the team together, as they have to link the defence with the attack, though with the wider advent of Defensive Midfielders, they generally have to track back less.
      • Defensive Midfielder (Sometimes called Holding Midfielder, Midfield Anchor, Midfield Destroyer, or Number 6). They play in the centre, between the defenders and midfielders. Their job is to stop anything getting to the defence, and in teams with attacking full-backs, they often drop back into the middle of defence between the two centre-backs to help out. They are usually the best tacklers in the game (hence the name 'midfield destroyer'), and are usually expected to be good passers too, starting attack, overlapping with the above-mentioned "Playmaker". 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 the more technically able ones usually dictate the pace of the game. In the last few years Defensive Midfielders have become so important that a number of teams now opt to take two of them (4-2-3-1) in favour of the second striker. Even though the Defensive Midfielder is one of the most important positions, it is probably the least glamorous, because they work like a horse, but the others get the spotlight a lot more. Unless they're a Playmaker variant, the the general rule is that if you don't see much of a defensive midfielder, it's because they're doing their job properly. If you do, it's because they really, really aren't.
      • Attacking Midfielder a.k.a. 'the Number 10'. 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. Often the playmakers, who provide the killer final pass to the strikers, or have a shot themselves. Examples include England/Chelsea player Frank Lampard and Spain/Barcelona player Andres Iniesta. There is a lot of overlap between this position and the later-mentioned 'False Nine' and 'Secondary Striker', but the gist of the difference is that Number 10s tend to be less mobile and more fixed in position - play revolves around them rather than vice versa. Indeed, a lot of more attack-minded central midfielders and technical False Nines/Second Strikers settle into the 10 position as they get older, in the same way as more defensive midfielders become Playmaking defensive midfielders, as it's less physically demanding, especially for a player experienced enough to read the game.
      • 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 the fastest players on the pitch, with the fastest, Wales' ex-Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale, being clocked at 36.9 kilometres per hour. With the ball.note  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 either providing a pass from a different angle shooting at goal. "Winger" and "Wide midfielder" are basically interchangeable as terms nowadays, though "Winger" usually implies a more attacking mentality. A special form of the Winger is the so called "wrong footed"/"inverted" Winger (e.g. a left footed player on the Right Wing). These guys either cut back to provide a different crossing angle, or cut inside to shoot with their strong foot, often attacking the space between centre-back and full-back, on the full-back's weaker side. Because this can be extremely effective, most professional teams will encourage their Wingers to occasionally switch sides to confuse the defence.
    • Forwards (Or Strikers):
      • Centre-forwards a.k.a. 'the Number 9'. The main job of this player is to get into scoring positions, wait for the ball to come to him, and then score. Traditionally, a "target man", a physically large player that others can hoof up passes to (so they can hold the ball up to bring other attackers into the game) or target with crosses for a headed goal. While this variant has historically been a common feature of British teams, as seen with West Ham and England striker Andy Carroll, the most successful example in the modern game is probably Bayern Munich's Polish striker, Robert Lewandowski. More recently, alternatives have emerged, including fast players who will run onto through-balls, out-pacing the defence, or more technical players who can hold up the ball and use their greater technical abilities to more effectively bring team-mates into the game - the latter is often interchangeable with the below-mentioned 'False Nine', the only distinction being where they primarily position themselves. Sometimes, players even combine styles, as with living meme Sweden, Barcelona, Manchester United, and AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic who managed to be outrageously quick-footed and agile enough to spontaneously lob England's goalkeeper with an overhead kick from 30 yards away on the right wing, and the famously lanky and surprisingly skilful former Liverpool, Stoke, and England forward Peter Crouch. Both were an aerial threat and good on the floor, being clever passers of the ball. However, when someone is referring to a 'Number 9', they usually mean the traditional definition.
      • 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 defence. The line between this and the aforementioned Attacking Midfielder is quite blurred, it's a matter of semantics really. However as a general rule, Attacking Midfielders tend to be less mobile and play revolves around them, while Secondary Strikers move around and cause as much mayhem as possible.
      • The False Nine. A variant on the Secondary Striker and the Attacking Midfielder, players who play in this position tend to be forwards who drop deep into midfield to collect the ball and/or draw defenders out, creating gaps for onrushing midfielders and other forwards to exploit. The name comes from the confusion this causes, since the number nine is traditionally the primary centre-forward and when someone talks about a classic number nine, they usually mean a big centre-forward who's good in the air and can hold up play for other attackers. A False Nine is usually smaller, more skilful, with good positioning and an eye for a pass. This often means that, with one or two exceptions, they don't score as often as might be expected - however, their general importance is believed to compensate. Surprisingly, the position is not a modern invention as most assume. Instead, it tended to be a feature unique to sides playing 'Total Football', which is discussed below, such as the Austria side of the 1930's and the Hungary side of the 1950's. Following Cesc Fàbregas' deployment as a False Nine behind striker Fernando Torres in Spain's winning campaign at the Euros in 2012, the position has gone mainstream. Popular examples include PSG's Lionel Messi (widely regarded as the best player on the planet, and one who defies the 'scores less than they should' rule) and Liverpool's Roberto Firmino.
      • 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 as much. Frequently, they're wrong-footed/inverted, and cut inside to score. This position has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, with Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool playing Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah as Wide Forwards, flanking False Nine Roberto Firmino, in a 4-3-3 formation to great success.
    • "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. (Interestingly, 1930s Austria, 1950s Hungary and 1970s Netherlands were teams that were "supposed" to win the World Cup but never quite managed it;note  on the other hand, contemporary Spain—composed heavily of Barcelona players—won the World Cup in 2010 with European championships in 2008 and 2012, so...)
    • Most teams have at least one 'dead ball specialist', a player with a particular talent for free kicks, corners and penalties. Their responsibility is to either threaten the goal directly or to pick out a player to score. This, needless to say, requires incredible technical skill, a great deal of precision and, in the case of penalty takers, Nerves of Steel. It also means that it is usually a midfielder or attacking player, such as England's David Beckham, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Brazil's Ronaldinho, Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri, and Italy's Andrea Pirlo, the former famous for his skill at bending the ball (hence the title of Bend It Like Beckham), it's not uncommon to see fullbacks take on this role, such as England's Trent Alexander-Arnold and most famously, Brazil's Roberto Carlos. Even goalkeepers have been known (albeit very rarely) to take this role, with Rogério Ceni being one of the Brazilian team São Paulo's top 10 goal scorers - with 131 professional goals at the time of writing.
  • 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 between three and five may be used as substitutes, depending on the competetion. 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/five 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 (A two-year trial is currently being undertaken into allowing a fourth substitute if a game goes into extra time, and after a series of in-depth studies regarding the impact of concussion on players, concussion subs are also under discussion.)
    • 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 is usually considered seriously shameful unless the player is injured, or unless there's a pressing tactical consideration (i.e. a defender has been sent off).
  • Each team names a team captain and a vice-captain. The captain is identified by wearing a coloured bandage around his left upper arm. Their job is to do the end choice at the beginning of every game, as well as motivate team mates and lead them by example. If the captain is a goalkeeper, then the vice-captain will usually do this instead. If the captain is substituted or sent off, the vice-captain takes over. Also, in theory at least, the captain is the only player on the field who is allowed to discuss with the referee. In reality, every player does this anyway - however, 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).
      • As a result of this, the VAR system - where referees can review contentious incidents in a similar fashion to rugby's TMO (though in football, the referees sometimes do this themselves if it's still unclear, heading over to screens on the sidelines) was trialled at the 2018 World Cup, and has since gone mainstream in the top 5 leagues in Europe. It has, aside from the expected grumbling about how it's ruining the atmosphere of the game, received a positive response - and resulted in considerably more penalties than usual.
    • 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, an infraction is committed, Or the period of play ends for something like a goal, of course. Additionally, if a player is deemed to be in need of immediate medical attention, then the referee will stop the game. However, if they appear to merely be suffering from cramp, or a pulled muscle, then play will often go on.
    • An unwritten rule of the game is that if a player looks to be in pain - but isn't necessarily injured enough to require treatment - and is down on the ground for an unusual length of time while the opposition have the ball, the opposition should do the gentlemanly thing and put the ball out of play to allow treatment. When play restarts, the team with the injured player will then either put the ball out of play again (usually deep in the opposition's half), or return it to the opposition goalkeeper. While this is not a formal rule, crowds and players alike will express severe displeasure if it is not adhered to. It's even been taken to the point where in the 18/19 season, Leeds scoring against Aston Villa, not stopping while one of Villa's forwards was down injured, sparked a general melee and one of the Villa players being sent off, before the referee restored order. The Leeds manager then decreed that Villa should be allowed to equalise unopposed, which they promptly did. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, and Leeds later won a Fair Play Award for it.
    • 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, usually between one to five, based on the referee's judgement (mainly depending on interruptions during the game; some more hectic matches have seen injury times nearing the ten-minute mark). 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 (divided in two 15-minute halves), 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 only exception to the latter, sort of, is the 'away goals' rule in European knock-out competitions, where in the case of an aggregate stalemate over two-legs, the team that has scored the most goals away from home goes through. If they have scored the same number of away goals, it goes to extra time, then penalties.
    • 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 United'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 Luis Suárez 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. Normally, five kicks apiece are taken, with the team who scores the most winning. If no one got a minimum two-goal advantage by the time all five kicks are taken, the shootout can be extended until one team manages to have a clearnote  one-goal advantage. In addition, if one team takes a lead that is greater than the number of kicks the opponent has remaining (say, 3-0) during the first five rounds of the shootout, it's an automatic win for them. 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). In the Round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup, however, they finally managed to break the streak against Colombia. The response was a mixture of rejoicing and disbelief.
  • Football is, at least in theory, a non-contact sport (sort of), 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 fine, as long as the intent is obviously to play the ball and the tackler actually succeeds/mainly succeeded before hitting the other player (not "going through the back").note . Some competitions (especially in the British Isles) give more leeway when defining incidental contact, and players from other leagues - particularly smaller and more technical players - usually find it difficult to adjust to British football, as the players are often much more physical and unlike back home, the referees don't care. It gets to the point where commentators often remark that players wouldn't get away with the sorts of things they do in Britain in other parts of Europe. The British see this as proof that other leagues are composed entirely of soft nancy-boys. Everyone else, particularly the French, Italians and Spanish (the German Bundesliga, while not quite as physical as the Premier League, is a lot closer and players find it easier to adapt to one from the other), see this as proof that the British are graceless thugs. There is some truth in the stereotypes - the Premier League isn't as dominant as in the mid-noughties (though after providing all four finalists in the 2018-19 Champions League and Europa League finals, that may be changing), but it is widely agreed by most players to be by far the most physically intense and competitive league in Europe, while lacking the polish of other European leagues. And the competitiveness is real: while usually dominated by the so-called 'Big Six' (formerly the 'Big Four'), and Manchester City have won the league with 100 points and 98 points from a possible 114 in successive years (the second time, Liverpool were right behind them on 97, but Chelsea, the next closest, were on 72), teams like Leicester City have shown that it is possible to break into the club. Given the increasing dominance of Liverpool and City, however, this is increasingly looked on with suspicion. 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. While diving or 'simulation' is a yellow card offence, it can be remarkably difficult to catch players at it.
    • 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. It wasn't made just to make things harder — well, okay, it was, but for the right reasons: In the old days of the game (back when it was still essentially a British sport), a common tactic was to have an attacker hang around the opposing team's goal so that once his team got control of the ball, they could pass it to him, and he would just tap it in to score. Some early players thought that this just wasn't cricket—er, football—and made a rule against this sort of thing. The problem was, trying to figure out a way to do that by a rule proved to be far harder than expected, with the result that the supposedly simple rule to prevent the simple mischief they were after ended up incredibly murky.note  A troper who also referees soccer (he's from the USA, sorry) attempts to clarify:

  • 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 rule of thumb laid down by 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. Often a victim of this was Italian striker Filippo 'Pippo' Inzaghi, who was once remarked to have been 'born offside'.
    • The risk of this being, obviously, that if they do it incorrectly they've allowed a free run at their goalkeeper, meaning that defences are often in a high stakes poker game with opposition attackers, each side attempting to outfox the other.
Alternatively, John Cleese explains it nicely.