Despite being a sport with roots reaching out to medieval and even ancient times, football was never really played under a set of strict rules until 1863.
On 26 October, 1863 several amateur and semi-professional clubs from England gathered up in London and formed up the Football Association and devised a “constitution” for the game, including a set of standardized football. Obviously the “Laws of football” as they were called back then were just a set of basic football rules and they didn’t cover all aspects of the game.
The main points covered by the Football Governing Bodies were regarding violence on the pitch, as oftentimes the tense clashes in no-rules matches lead to bloody fistfights between the teams. Since then, football rules constantly evolved and began covering more and more of the game’s principles and also adapting football to the age it was played in.
A simple example of this would be the offside rules which was introduced later on in the game, when matches became more and more tactical.
Without the offside rule, attackers would often have a hibernating role in the team, simply staying up front and waiting for the ball to come, hence with the new rule, they were forced to work as much as the other players on the pitch.
Let’s take a look at some of the official football rules of today and give them a small explanation for why they are there and how they affect the game:
Football field dimensions – since not all football pitches could share the exact same size, FIFA decided a small length and width size threshold in order for a pitch to be playable. So the minimum length of a football field must be of 100 yards (90 meters), whereas the maximum length must be 130 yards (120 meters).
A bigger size difference was allowed for the width, which can be as small as 50 yards (45 meters) and as big as 100 yards (90 meters). You might have noticed that the minimum length coincides with the maximum width! Although strange indeed, football could actually be played on a square field, however for entertainment’s sake no one built that kind of pitch yet (thankfully).
Number of players – The official football rules book states that each team can enter the field with 11 players (one of which is the goalkeeper).
The number of substitutes depends on the competition the match is played in, but in official FIFA matches the number of substitutes can range from none to 7, with 3 substitutions eligible for each of the two teams.
However, in friendly matches, it’s often the case that both teams agree upon a set number of substitutions or simply go all-out and allow every bench player to get in the game at some point, replacing one of the first team members.
Ball in/out play football rules – The ball is in play whenever the referee doesn’t intervene whistling a game stop and whenever it stays inside the play area.
If the ball crosses the goal line or touch line by more than half its circumference, then it goes out of play and a goal kick/corner or throw in is given to one of the teams (the opposition of the team that last touched the ball). If a ball hits the referee ,the corner flag, the goal post or any other object on the pitch, the game remains in play.
Fouls – Fouls are one of the most problematic football rules nowadays, since they can be easily misjudge or interpreted by the referee, which often causes arguments on and off the pitch. Theoretically, a foul is whistled and a direct or indirect kick is given when a player trips, kicks, pushes, punches, charges or holds an opponent.
However, in the fast pace of the game, it’s often hard for the referee to see if a tackle touches the feet of the attacker or the ball. It’s considered a foul even if the defending player doesn’t touch the attacker at all, but has a dangerous intervention such as a high kick.
Goals – Last but not least, the essence of football rules and the object of the game itself, the goal.
In order to score a goal, the attacking team must pass the ball beyond the other team’s goal line. The attacker can kick the ball, head the ball or push it in with any other body part other than the hand (in which case it is considered handball).
Not all shots that end up in the net are goals though, as a goal can be cancelled if it was scored after the attacker broke one of the other football rules, such as fouling a defender or the goalkeeper, using his hand to control the ball, being offside or scoring directly from an indirect free kick.
These are the basic football rules and although there are a few smaller twists to learn, if you manage to understand these, you’ll be able to watch, and understand a football match without problems. Outside the offside rule the other official football rules are quite easy to grasp.