As much as someone might love the game, the rules prescribed by the governing body i.e. 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 in the 90 minutes of the game.
There are a total of 17 rules that need to be followed during a game of football again, the rules prescribed by FIFA and the breach of these rules might be slated a breach of code of conduct and is worthy of penalties and fines.
The rules are summarized below - but before you read them, know that there's no substitute for actually playing the game to experience how difficult it can sometimes be to apply the laws of the game (which is why referees have such a tough time of it).
As spectators who may watch the game casually or indulge in a bet now and then, the rules of the game offer a quick primer to what's legitimate, what's illegitimate and what can influence your picks when betting online, but the real test for decision making comes in the often unique situations offered by football where a split-second judgment call can ruin or make the game.
1. The field of play
To begin with, the surface of any football field is extremely important and according to the rulebook the playing surface can be artificial grass or proper grass but the color of the surface has to be in every case 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 regarding the turf (FIFA quality concept for football turf).
The football field is supposed to be rectangular in shape and there are line markings called touch lines and goal lines. The touch lines are the line markings that run along the boundary of the field whereas 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 half way line and is surrounded by a circle which has a measurement radius of 9.15m.
The dimensions of the touch lines are as follows:
Length of the touch line 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
Whereas for international matches, the dimensions are different and they 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 touch line 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. The goal area 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. Subsequently the area that is made after these lines are drawn is called the goal area.
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 center 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.
2. The Ball
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 sphere and can be made of either leather or other material which has to be approved by FIFA.
However, if the ball becomes defected during the course of play, the referee stops the match and gets the replacement ball and the match is re-started. The process of re-starting the match is basically the referee dropping the replacement ball at the same place where it got defected and the play was stopped. If the ball bursts or gets defected when not in play, the match is re-started using the new ball.
Although these rules exist, the ball may NOT be changed at anytime in the game without the authority and consent of the referee.
3. The number of players
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 7 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 7 substitutes available but the total substitutions a team can exercise are 3.
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 penalize them at his discretion.
4. The Players equipment
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 shorts, the jersey, stockings, a shin pad and shoes. The shin pads are covered completely by the stockings and the material of which they should be are rubber, plastic or other suitable material. Both teams should wear colors that don’t coincide and the goalkeepers should wear colors 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.
5. The referee
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 array 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 the referee himself after consulting his assistant referees reverses the decision.
6. The assistant referees
There are two assistant referees in a game of football. The assistant referees basically have the job to do things only when the referee supports. The assistant referees have the important job of waving the offside flag if any player drifts from the defensive line. 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.
7. The duration of the match
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 exceed in normal circumstances but if 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 and even after the stoppage time is played, the referee can allow for one last play if he deems reasonable and also if there has been a penalty awarded at the end of the stoppage time, the referee allows for the penalty to be taken before he blows the whistle to signal the end of the match.
8. The start and restart of play
Before the match is started, the referee does a coin toss and the team captain who wins the toss gets to choose his side of play. The team that loses the toss gets to start the match via the kickoff. 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 kickoff is a way to start the game be it to start the match, or the second half or after the other team has scored a goal. A goal that is scored directly from the kickoff is an allowed goal. Before the kickoff takes place, the ball must be put down on the centre line, the team doing the kickoff 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 penalized by the referee.
9. The ball in and out of play
During the course of the game, there are certain laws that govern when the ball is considered “out” of play or “in” play per se. 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.
On the other hand, if the ball rebounds off the goalpost, the corner flag or the assistant referee provided he is in the field of play. If the ball hits the referee during the game, the referee does not stop play and the ball is still considered to be in play.
10. The method of scoring
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 however there was a breach and the referee called back/whistled before the kick was made, then the goal doesn’t count.
After the game finishes, the team scoring the most number of goals wins the match. If however 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.
11. Offside - Law XI
A player is said to be in an offside position if he is more 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 teams half or if he is level with either the last two or the second last opponent when the ball is played.
The offence is termed an offence if when the ball is played, the player who is in an offside position continues to move and tries to make the best of his position to score. 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 offside offence took place.
12. Fouls and misconduct
If a player rams into the other player, or tackles him with malicious intent, or does anything that hampers the other player’s progress like pull the shirt or push him with force, the referee has no choice but to award a free kick. The free kick that is as a result of these actions is called a direct free kick.
A direct free kick is supposed to be taken from the same place where the offense took place.
A penalty kick is awarded if any of the above mentioned offenses take place inside the penalty area. Even if the player who is the subject of the offense 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 half when a fellow team mate passes it to him or a fellow team mate throws the ball towards him.
The referee also has the liberty to show either a yellow or a red card as a result of any foul or misconduct done on the pitch during the course of the game. The offenses that get a yellow card are called cautionable offenses 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 re-does another offense even after he has been cautioned or does something that shows malicious intent.
13. Free kicks
There are two categories of free kicks in a football game, there is an in-direct free kick and there is a direct free kick. The in-direct free kick as the name suggests is when the ball needs to be played to another player before further proceedings and if an in-direct free kick goes directly into the goal, the opposing team is awarded a goal kick. A direct free kick however 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 the free kick should be re-taken. 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.
14. The penalty kick
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 goal keeper should stand on the goal line and the assistant 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 team 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 but in a situation where there are penalty kicks after the course of the extra time has been played, there is no rebound option.
15. The throw in
The throw in is a method by which play is re-started after the ball has crossed the touch line. The method to actually take a throw in sounds complicated but it isn’t. The player taking the throw should have both his feet behind the touch line or on the line and he should hold and throw the ball with both his hands swiveled 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 goal keeper 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 in-direct free kick. The opposing team’s player is also penalized if he deliberately hampers the process of the throw in.
16. The goal kick
The goal kick is also a way to re-start play after the opposing team has kicked the ball over the goal line and it has not gone in the goal. The goal keeper places the ball anywhere along the goal area of his goal and kicks it into play. The opposing teams player must stay outside the penalty area till the kick has been taken and once the ball is kicked outside the penalty area, 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.
If however the proper protocol of placing the ball in the right place is not followed or any other circumstance occurs, the referee signals for the free kick to be re-taken.
17. The corner kick - Law XVII
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, this would also result in an in-direct free kick.
If the streamline motion of the corner kick is broken via an offense or anything that the referee sees as hampering, he orders the team to re-take the corner kick.
These are summarized versions of the laws so check out the more in-depth explanations of the 17 laws of the game of football stated by FIFA.