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Soccer Rules



As much as someone might love football, the rules laid down by the governing body FIFA are sometimes not understood properly.

No-one is to blame for it, but at times it’s best to know everything about the game so you can fully understand what happens on the football field during the 90 minutes of the game.

There are 17 main rules that must be followed, with breaches of these potentially leading to sanctions being imposed by FIFA. The rules are summarised below:


The surface of any football field is extremely important and according to the rulebook it can be artificial or real grass, but the colour of the surface has to be green.

If an artificial surface is used for a club game or an international fixture, the surface or turf (as it is more commonly known) needs to be in accordance with FIFA’s quality control procedures.

The football field must be rectangular in shape and there are line markings called touchlines and goal lines. The touchlines are the line markings that run along the boundary of the field, while the goal lines are the relatively shorter lines.

One line called the halfway line divides the football field into two halves and joins the boundary lines via their centre point. A mark is made on the centre of the halfway line and is surrounded by a circle which has a measurement radius of 9.15m.

The dimensions of the touchlines are as follows:

  • Length of the touchline is a minimum of 90m and a maximum of 120m
  • Width of the goal line is a minimum of 45m and a maximum of 90m

For international matches the dimensions are:

  • Length of the touch line is a minimum of 100m and a maximum of 110m
  • Width of the goal line is a minimum of 45m and a maximum of 90m

However, all lines, be it the touchline or the goal line, have to be of the same width i.e. not more than 12cm.

On the field of play is also the goal area. This is basically comprised of two lines that are drawn on a 90-degree angle to the goal line itself and are drawn 5.5m from the inside of each goalpost.

There is also the penalty area which is used in the case of any penalty kick that is to be taken. It is also made by drawing lines from within the goal post area going up to 16.5m at a 90-degree angle from the goal line itself. There is a spot placed in the middle of the penalty area from where the kicks are taken.

On every corner is placed a flag post which is a non-pointing top with a flag and is 5ft high.

The goal is placed at the centre of each goal line. It consists of two vertical bars that are at an equal distance from the corner flags are joined together from a horizontal bar.

The material that is to be used for the purpose of making the goal has to be FIFA approved – for example, it can be wood or metal. A net is to be attached to the goal itself and for safety purposes it must be stuck firmly in the ground as to avoid any injuries from it.


The ball to be used in a football game should have certain physical attributes. For instance, it should always weigh a minimum of 410g and a maximum of 450g before the match starts, whereas the circumference of the football to be used should be a minimum of 68cm and a maximum of 70cm.

The shape of the football should be a sphere and can be made of either leather or other material which has to be approved by FIFA.
However, if the ball becomes defective during the course of play, the referee stops the match and gets the replacement ball before the game is restarted.

The process of restarting the match is basically the referee dropping the replacement ball at the same place where it got defective and the play was stopped. If the ball bursts or gets defective when not in play, the match is restarted using the new ball.

Although these rules exist, the ball may NOT be changed at any time in the game without the authority and consent of the referee.


The total number of players allowed for both sides in a game of football is 11 including the goalkeeper. However, subject to red cards, a team may be allowed to play if it has seven players on the field.

The number of substitutions allowed in a game of football is three. Depending on the competition, the substitute bench can have a maximum of seven substitutes available but the total substitutions a team can use is three.

The names of the substitutes have to be given to the referee prior to the start of the game or they don’t count as substitutes. When a substitution is to be made, the referee is notified and a substitution can only be made when play is stopped.

The substituted player comes off and the player who replaces him goes on the field. After this is done, the player who comes off cannot re-enter the match. If the normal protocol of substitutions is breached, the referee has the authority to caution the players and penalise them at his discretion.


Another important constituent in a football game is what the players use as equipment. For the safety of the player himself and others around him nothing should be worn that could hurt anyone during the course of play.

The necessary things for a player to play are jersey, shorts, socks, shin pads and boots. The shin pads are covered completely by the socks and should be made of rubber, plastic or other suitable material.

Both teams should wear colours that don’t clash and the goalkeepers should wear jerseys that differentiate them from the other team players and the referees alike.

If a player is found to be in breach of these requirements, the referee sends the player to the side lines to correct anything that is wrong and then is allowed to come back on.

The ball needs to be out of play for the player to go off the field and correct it and, once he has, after the referee gives the green signal, the player is allowed to come on.


The referee is a person who is in entire control of the match and its proceedings. He is someone who makes sure the laws of the game are followed at all times during the game.

The referee has a wide range of responsibilities that include making sure the ball being used is in accordance with the laws and that the players are wearing the correct equipment. The referee also has the authority to stop play for any infringements of football laws.

The referee can also show a yellow or a red card to a player who has committed a foul or a malicious intent tackle. The referee also has the right to stop the game if some outside interference takes plays during the game.

The referee also stops the match if a player is injured, and depending on the severity of the injury, calls on the medical staff to assist the player off the field.

The decision of the referee is final and cannot be changed unless after consulting with his assistant referees he reverses the decision.


There are two assistant referees in a game of football. The assistant referees have the important job of waving the offside flag if any player drifts beyond the last defender.

The assistant referees also have to signal throw ins or if the ball has gone for a corner. If something like a malicious tackle or any other action happens which requires the immediate attention of the referee, the assistant referees can stop the game if the referee hasn’t witnessed the action taking place.

The assistant referees also indicate when the ball goes out of the field of play. The assistant referees are also entitled to request the player to retake a penalty kick if the goalkeeper got off his line before the ball was kicked.

The assistant referees also have the job to assist the referee to carry on the game in accordance with the laws laid out, but if the referee finds that the assistant referee is in breach of any disciplinary conduct the referee can strip the assistant referee of his duties and inform the authorities.


A game of football is divided into two time periods of 45 minutes each. This can only be changed if the half needs to be shortened due to unforeseen circumstances that may hamper the course of play, but this decision should be made before the game actually starts.

Between the two 45-minute periods, a half-time break of 15 minutes is given which cannot be exceeded unless the referee agrees it can be.

After the total 90 minutes are played, the referee allows for extra time called “stoppage time” which takes into account any action that hampered the course of play like a substitution or an injury that took up time. The stoppage time period is entirely up to the referee discretion.


Before the match is started, the referee does a coin toss and the team captain who wins this gets to choose his side of play. The team that loses the toss starts the match via the kick-off.

The second-half subsequently is started by the team that won the toss. After the first-half, the teams change sides on the football pitch.

A kick-off is a way to start the game, the second-half or after a team has scored a goal. A goal that is scored directly from the kick-off is an allowed goal.

Before the kick-off takes place, the ball must be put down on the centre line, the team doing the kick-off starts the proceedings only after the referee blows the whistle.

Another way of restarting play is a dropped ball where the referee drops the ball and the two teams fight for it only after it hits the ground first – any action that violates this law is penalised by the referee.


During the course of the game, there are certain laws that govern when the ball is considered “out” of play or “in” play.

The ball is considered out of play when a player plays the ball and it goes out of the touchline. The basic law is that the ball should pass the touchline, either in the air or along the ground. Either this or the ball is deemed out of play if the referee stops the proceedings of the game for some reason.


It is said to be a goal if the ball hit passes the goal line completely between the goal posts and under the crossbar. But it can only be considered a scored goal if during the course of action leading to the goal itself, there was no breach of any law prescribed by FIFA.

If there was a breach and the referee blows his whistle before the kick was made, then the goal doesn’t count.

After the game finishes, the team scoring the highest number of goals wins the match. However, if there are home and away fixtures in cup ties that need to decide a winner, the aggregate (home, away) law is in place or in cups there is extra-time and if no winner can be decided, there are penalty kicks to determine the winner.


A player is said to be in an offside position if he is nearer to the goal line than the ball played and the second last opponent before the goalkeeper.

If a player is caught in an offside position, the assistant referee raises his flag and the opposing team is awarded a free kick.

A player is said to be not in an offside position if he is in his own team’s half or if he is level with either the last two or the second last opponent when the ball is played.

If the referee stops play due to an offside, the opposing team is awarded an indirect free-kick to be taken from the same place where the offence took place.


If a player rams into another player, or tackles him with malicious intent, or does anything that hampers the other player’s progress like pull his shirt or push him with force, the referee has no choice but to award a free-kick.

These instances result in a direct free-kick which must be taken from the same place where the offence took place.

A penalty kick is awarded if any of the afore mentioned offences take place inside the penalty area. Even if the player who is the subject of the offence doesn’t have the ball, a penalty kick is still awarded.

On the other hand, an indirect free kick is awarded if the goalkeeper handles the ball inside his box when a fellow teammate passes or throws it to him.

The referee also has the liberty to show either a yellow or a red card as a result of any foul or misconduct on the pitch during the course of the game.

The offences that get a yellow card are called cautionable offences and the referee sees the foul or misconduct as something that needs to be addressed, like a tackle from behind or abusing the referee or another player on the field.

A red card or a sending off action is done when the player commits another offence even after he has been cautioned or does something that shows malicious intent.


There are two categories of free- kicks in a football game – indirect and direct. The indirect free-kick is when the ball needs to be played to another player before a goal can be scored. If an indirect free-kick goes directly into the goal, the opposing team is awarded a goal kick. A direct free-kick can be played directly into the goal and it is counted as a score.

In both the cases, be it the direct or the in-direct free-kick, the ball must be placed on the field before they are taken.

However, if the opposing team during the process of the free-kick is too close to the ball, the referee signals that it should be retaken. Free-kicks can also be given inside the penalty area.

The free-kick can also be taken by the goalkeeper, but he must not handle the ball after he has touched the ball with his feet because that is a foul and a free-kick (indirect) is awarded to the opposing team.


In football, a penalty kick is awarded if an offence is committed inside the penalty area that would on any other part of the pitch either produce a yellow or a red card or quite simply a free-kick.

The procedure of taking the penalty kick is quite simple – the ball is to be placed at the penalty mark, the player who is about to take the penalty kick must stand out and be identified easily.

The goalkeeper should stand on the goal line and the referee has the authority to call back the penalty even if it is a goal if the keeper gets off his line before the penalty taker kicks the ball.

The other players should stand outside the penalty area when the kick is being taken. In normal course of play if the goalkeeper saves the penalty and it rebounds off him, the penalty taker can kick the ball back in the goal and it would count. However, in a situation where there are penalty kicks after the course of the extra-time has been played, there is no rebound option.


The throw-in is a method by which play is restarted after the ball has crossed the touchline. The player taking the throw should have both his feet behind the touchline or on the line and he should hold and throw the ball with both his hands swivelled over his head.

If the player who takes the throw in touches the ball right after he throws it, it counts as a foul. A goalkeeper also has the right to take a throw-in, but if he handles the ball right after he has thrown the ball back into play it counts as a foul too which results in an indirect free kick.

An opposing team’s player is also penalised if he deliberately hampers the process of a throw-in.


The goal kick is a way to restart play after the opposing team has kicked the ball over the goal line and it has not gone in the goal.

The goalkeeper places the ball anywhere along the goal area of his goal and kicks it into play. The opposing players must stay outside the penalty area till the kick has been taken and once the ball is kicked it is said to be in play.

The keeper cannot take a goal kick and handle it right after unless it touches another player of his team. If the keeper violates this law, an indirect free-kick is awarded to the opposing team.

However, if the proper protocol of placing the ball in the right place is not followed or any other circumstance occurs, the referee signals for the goal kick to be retaken.


A corner kick is awarded to a team if the ball goes out of the goal line in the opposing half after touching either the goalkeeper of a player of the opposing team.

The corner takes place when the ball is put down on the corner arc and is kicked into play by a player without touching the corner flag.

A direct goal can also occur from a corner and it counts in the score line whereas the person taking the corner kick cannot kick the ball right after he has taken the corner until another player touches the ball. This is considered a foul and an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team.

The goalkeeper can also take the corner kick, but is not allowed to handle the ball after he has kicked it into play as this would result in an indirect free-kick.

These are summarised versions of the laws so check out the more in-depth explanations of the 17 laws of the game of football stated by FIFA.

Senior editor. Hate divers, racists and homophobes. Have the ability to start an argument in an empty room. Follow me on Twitter @mjblack_ if sarcasm is your thing.