Over the hundreds of years that football has been played, the rules have been shaped and developed by the various players and associations.

There are 17 rules of football that all of those playing the game must adhere to. These include the following:

Rule 1: Field of play

A standard football pitch must be 45-90 metres wide, and 90-120 metres long.

Markings must be in place for the following areas of the pitch:

  • Goal lines
  • Goal areas
  • Touch-lines
  • Side-lines
  • Halfway line
  • Centre circle
  • Penalty areas, spots and arcs
  • Corner arcs (a flag-post must also be planted on each corner of the pitch)

Rule 2: The ball

The ball must have the following dimensions:

Diameter: 8.65 inches (22cm)

Weight: 14-16 ounces (410-450 grams)

If the ball bursts while in play, the referee must stop the match and order that a new ball is brought on to the pitch. The referee then restarts the match by dropping the ball between two players from opposing sides.

Rule 3: Number of players

Each football team must consist of no more than 11 players (including the goalkeeper) and no fewer than seven.

A match may not start or continue if there are fewer than seven players in a team. The maximum number of substitutions is three.

Rule 4: Players’ equipment

During a football match, players must wear the following equipment:

  • Shirt
  • Socks
  • Shorts
  • Football boots
  • Shin pads

Goalkeepers from both sides should wear a kit that distinguishes them from the outfield players and from the referee.

Rule 5: Referee

As part of his or her duties, the referee must, amongst other things:

  • Ensure that players wear the proper strip and equipment
  • Signal the start and end of a match
  • Punish rule violations of rules
  • Stop play if any player needs medical attention
  • Keep time
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Rule 6: Assistant referees

The assistant referees’ main role involves signalling for throw-ins, corner kicks, and when players are offside. They may also bring the referee’s attention to any misconduct that he/she didn’t notice. The referee always has the final word.

Rule 7: Match duration

Match length: 90 minutes, played in two equal halves of 45 minutes. The referee may add time to compensate for stoppages (known as ‘injury time’).

Rule 8: Start/restart of play

A kick-off starts the match, and also occurs after a goal is scored and at the start of the second half. A coin toss determines which team kicks off first; the opposing team kicks off at the second half. During kick-off, only the two players kicking off may be in the centre-circle.

Rule 9: Ball in and out of play

The ball is out of bounds when it crosses the touchline or goal-line whether on the ground or in air. If it rebounds off a goal frame, corner flag, referee or either assistant referee, it is still in play.

Rule 10: Scoring

A goal is scored if the ball crosses the goal-line (under the crossbar and between the goalposts), provided no-one has violated the rules. The team that scores the most goals wins.

Rule 11: Offside

A player is offside if he/she is closer to the opposing goal-line (within the opposing half) than a defender when the ball is kicked. A player caught offside concedes a free-kick.

Rule 12: Fouls and misconduct

Fouls in football include doing any of the following to an opposing player:

  • Tripping
  • Kicking
  • Pushing
  • Charging
  • Striking or attempting to strike them

It is also considered foul-play when an outfield player handles the ball while in play, or when a goalkeeper handles it outside of the penalty area.

Rule 13: Free kicks

A free-kick restarts play after a foul or other rule infringement. It is usually taken from the spot where the violation occurred. The two types of free-kick are:

Direct: The taker can score directly.

Indirect: Another player must touch the ball before a goal can be scored.

Rule 14: Penalty kick

A penalty kick is awarded when a player commits a foul inside his own penalty area. It is taken from the penalty spot. Only the taker and the goalkeeper are allowed in the penalty area and penalty arc when the penalty kick is taken.

Rule 15: Throw-in

A throw-in is awarded if the ball goes over the touchline. It is conceded by the team that touched the ball last.

The throw-in is taken from the spot where the ball goes out of play. The taker must throw the ball with both hands, have both feet on the ground, and be facing the field of play.

Rule 16: Goal-kick

A goal-kick is awarded to the defending team if the opposing team causes the ball to go over the by-line. Any player from the defending side is allowed to take the goal kick.

It can be taken anywhere in the goal area and must travel beyond the penalty area; otherwise it must be retaken. The ball must be touched by another player before the taker can touch it again.

Rule 17: Corner-kick

A corner kick in football is awarded to the attacking team if a defending player is the last to touch the ball before it goes out of bounds on the byline.

The attacking team resumes play by placing the ball in the corner arc nearest to where it went out of play and kicking it back in.

The 17 rules listed above form the basis of what is known across the world as ‘the Beautiful Game’. Many players try to flout these rules for their own benefit, yet it is the referee’s job to ensure that players follow the rules and to punish misconduct.

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