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What Is Soccer?

The game of soccer – more commonly referred to outside the United States as football – has long been one of the most popular sports in the world. With origins that date back many centuries, soccer is played by young children, college students and professionals. Amateur clubs and weekend warriors add to the passion that swells up every four years for the most-watched sporting event in the world, the World


Although soccer’s international governing body, the International Federation of Association Football, recognizes the birth of the modern game as 1863 in England, the deepest origins go back centuries. The Han Dynasty in the second century B.C. saw the emergence of a game similar to soccer called tsu’ chu. Several centuries after that, the Japanese game Kemari began. Kemari was less competitive, with participants passing the ball from one another using their feet, trying to keep it from touching the ground. Much later, a violent town game emerged called mob football in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Premise and Rules

The game of soccer is built around the pursuit of scoring goals. Teams move the the ball up and down the field in an attempt to kick it within the goal, a framework that measures 8 feet in height and 24 feet in width at the professional level. The player guarding the goal, the goalkeeper, is the only player on a team typically allowed to touch the ball with his hands. Except during a throw-in, the other players must use their feet, knees, head and chest to control and advance the ball. A regulation game is played in two 45-minute halves.

Players and Boundaries

Eleven players, including the goalkeeper, are allowed on the field at one time for each team. These players must keep the ball in play on a rectangular field that measures between 100 and 130 yards in length and 50 and 100 yards in width. The builders of an individual stadium or field determine the dimensions for their facility based on how close they want the fans to the field, the style of game — a smaller field provides greater advantage to the technical, rather than fast, players — and the attendance capacity they hope to manage.

Corner Kicks

If the ball crosses the goal line — the line creating the width of the field — and the defense touches it last, its opponents are allowed a corner kick. On a corner kick, the ball is placed within an arc laid out at one of the two corners on the side where it went out. A player from the offensive team kicks it from there, typically aiming it to an area in front of the goal in the hope that one of his players can deflect it into the goal for a score.

Penalty Kicks

Fouls and penalties committed by one team can lead to penalty kicks for the opposing team. This occurs when a foul is committed inside the penalty area — anywhere 18 yards and in from the goal line — and the player suffering the foul receives a penalty kick. For such a kick, the ball is placed 12 yards from the goal line and the fouled player kicks toward the goal, facing the goalkeeper only — a great chance to score.

Free Kicks

Free kicks occur when a foul is committed — usually a player tripping or pushing an opponent inside the penalty area. This type of kick does not feature the one-on-one matchup against the goalkeeper. Instead, the opposing team may line its players up no closer than 10 yards from the ball. If the referee determines that the free kick should be a direct free kick, the player taking the free kick may kick the ball in the goal without having it touch another player first. An indirect free kick must touch another player before going in the goal. The type of free kick is determined by the nature of the foul.

How It Measures Up

The goal area measures 6-by- 20 yards in front of the goal. It runs the length of the goal line, extending 6 yards to either side of the goal posts, as measured from the inside edge of the posts. From this point, the area extends 6 yards onto the field — which is why it’s also known as the 6-yard box. Those lines are connected at the end by a 20-yard line that completes the box.

What It’s All About

The ball can be placed anywhere within the box for a goal kick. If the defenders get a free kick here, they can play the ball from anywhere within the box. That’s an exception to the norm where a free kick is played from the spot where the infraction occurred. If the offensive team is awarded an indirect free kick in the goal area, it’s taken on the 20-yard line of the area on the side opposite the goal. The kicker has to line up parallel from the spot of the foul.

A Summary of the Rules of Professional Soccer

At first, the game of soccer as played in England operated by a free-for-all mentality and rules that changed from one place to the next. The year 1863 is considered the birth date of the Football Association, the first body to set down specific rules that unified the game. Today FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, oversees the game on a worldwide level. Professional soccer mostly follows the same rules set down for international competitions.

Field Measurements

The game is played within an area that measures between 100 and 130 yards long and between 50 and 100 yards wide. The goal is 24 feet wide and 8 feet high. The penalty area extends 18 yards from the goal and is 44 yards wide. A center line divides the field into two halves.

Number of Players

Each soccer team is allowed 11 players on the field at one time. One of those players is the goalkeeper, the only player allowed to use his hands. Players move the ball by dribbling or passing the ball using any part of their body except their hands and arms. Teams are allowed to replace players with substitutes, but in professional and international soccer a player is not allowed to return once he is removed from the game.

Scoring and Offside

The object of soccer is to score more goals than your opponent. A goal occurs when the ball goes inside the goal posts and under the connecting crossbar. The ball must also pass all the way across a line that stretches from one goal post to the other. Scoring is influenced by the offside rule. A player must have two opponents, one of whom is usually the goalkeeper, between him and the goal when the ball is passed.

Types of Fouls

Players can be called for fouls in soccer. Physical fouls, such as tripping or pushing, result in a direct kick. In a direct kick a player can shoot directly on goal if he is close enough. Non-physical fouls, such as offsides or obstructing an opponent, result in an indirect kick, in which the ball must touch a teammate before it can be struck at goal.

Goalkeepers and Hands

Goalkeepers are only allowed to use their hands within the penalty box that surrounds the goal. Once a goalkeeper has possession of the ball, he must release it with a pass or kick within six seconds. In addition, he cannot receive a pass from a teammate with his hands. In that instance he essentially becomes another field player.

Soccer History & Development

Many ancient civilizations played ball games long before soccer became a formal sport. The Greeks played episkyres; the Romans had their own form of the game called harpastum. But these pastimes resembled rugby more than soccer. By 50 A.D. the Chinese were playing tsu chu, which involved kicking a ball toward a square goal. Ball-oriented games developed in Japan and Persia, as well as North America, where the Aztecs played a kicking game called tlatchi.

English Origins

In the middle ages, the French played a form of soccer called laSoule ro choule. The game developed in England after the Norman invasion of 1066. Today England is considered the cradle of modern soccer. The early game was essentially a mass of players on each side trying to kick a ball at a specified goal. There were no rules and games often became violent free-for-alls. In 1365, King Edward III banned the game for a time because it was distracting his soldiers from preparing for war.


The modern game of soccer began within the schools and universities of England. In the early 1800s schools played different forms of soccer; each developed its own informal set of rules. It wasn’t until 1845 that the sport of rugby adopted its first written rules. In 1863 members of several schools came together and produced the first widely organized set of soccer rules. They adopted the title of the Football Association and their new game was dubbed association football.

Modern Era

The formation of the Football Association, informally known as the FA, ushered in the modern era of soccer. The adoption of a common set of rules gave birth to leagues, competitions between different countries and tournaments, such as the FA Cup, which began in 1871. The game’s popularity quickly grew among all social classes in England. There were originally 12 members of the FA, most of the school-based clubs. By 1871 that number had increased to 128 as cities and towns formed organizations.

International Soccer

England and Scotland were the first countries to take part in soccer on the international level. The first match between the two took place in 1872 in front of 4,000 spectators in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1904 the Federation International de Football Association was formed as soccer’s international governing body. FIFA included a number of European countries among its founding members; interestingly England and the FA was not among them.

World Cup

Soccer had a successful run as an Olympic sport, which inspired FIFA to organize a world championship-style tournament. The first World Cup was played in 1930 and hosted by Uruguay, which won Olympic soccer gold medals in 1924 and 1928. The host nation continued its string of success by capturing the first World Cup.


Scoring in football requires the ball to break the plane of the end zone for a six-point touchdown or two-point conversion. The ball must go through the goalpost uprights for a kick to count as an extra point or three-point field goal. In soccer, the ball must fully cross the goal line between the goal uprights and under the crossbar to count as a goal. Soccer fans roughly equate a one-point soccer goal to a touchdown and extra point, such that a 4-2 soccer game translates into the same amount of offense as a 28-14 football game.


As of 2011, the 208 member nations of FIFA compete to qualify for the quadrennial World Cup to determine the world champion of all national teams. Club teams compete in regional cups to determine the best team in Europe, Africa, South America and other FIFA regions. The American football champion is determined in the Super Bowl, the annual February matchup of the champions of the NFC and AFC, conferences with 16 teams each. All the players in the NFL are professionals, while World Cup can include amateurs; New Zealand’s undefeated team in the 2010 World Cup, for example, included amateurs and managed to tie Italy’s pros.

Description of the Game of Soccer

The object of the game of soccer, also known in some countries as football, is to drive a soccer ball into the opposing team’s goal in order to score a point. The team that scores the most points by the end of a soccer match wins; if there is a tie score either the game goes into extra time or the official declares a draw. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association reports that 265 million people world-wide play this popular sport.


Soccer as we know it today was created in 1863 with the establishment of the English Football Association, though there&#039;s evidence of soccer-like games as far back as 2,000 years ago in China, and it is also said that ancient Greeks and Romans played versions of the game. The English Football Association was the first to establish ground rules to the game. In 1882, all of the soccer-related organizations in England collaborated to create a single set of recognized rules, and the International Football Association Board (IFAB) was born to oversee these rules. FIFA was founded in Paris in 1904, and in 1913, became a member of the IFAB. At that point, FIFA only had seven members–Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Today, this organization has 208 members.

Game Play

The laws of the game were modified and republished by FIFA on July 1, 2009, but the basic rules of the game have nearly remained the same for over 100 years. Games typically have two periods of 45 minutes each, unless teams mutually decide on a different length. The match starts with a kick-off, with all the players on their team&#039;s side of the field and the ball stationary in the center. One player from each team lines up 10 yards from the ball and at the referee&#039;s whistle, the players rush forward to gain control of the ball. A goal is scored when the ball passes between the goal posts and over the goal line. Only the goalie may use his hands to stop or move the ball. Free kicks, penalty kicks, corner kicks and throw-ins occur when the ball is kicked out of play or a member of the other team breaks a rule.



Soccer fields are rectangular and marked off with white lines to show game play boundaries. The longer sides of the field, called the touch lines, are between 100 and 130 yards long, while the shorter ends of the field, called goal lines, are between 50 and 100 yards long. Goals are set up at the goal lines. The field also has a line marking the center, an equal distance from each goal, and a circle with a radius of 10 yards is marked around the exact center of the field. At each corner, the field has a quarter arc inside the field of play, with a distance of one yard from the corner. Each goal is surrounded by a rectangle that touches the goal lines and extends 18 yards from both sides and the front of the goal. This is called the penalty area. The penalty mark is made directly in front of the goal, 12 yards from the goal line.



A soccer goal is made of a rectangular frame that consists of two upright goalposts joined at the top by a crossbar. The goalposts are eight feet tall and the crossbar is eight yards long. They must be white and not more than five inches thick. Most soccer goals have a net attached to catch the ball when there is a goal.



Regulation soccer balls are spherical and made of leather or a similar material. They are between 27 and 28 inches in circumference with a weight of between 14 and 16 ounces at the start of the match. Regulation balls must be inflated to a pressure of between 0.6 and 1.1 atmospheres, which is equal to 8.5 to 15.6 pounds per square inch.


A regulation game is played with between seven and eleven players, including the goalie, with more substitutes waiting on the sidelines to replace players on the field. Teams must reach an agreement on the maximum number of substitutes that can be used before the game starts. Teams wear different colors to help them distinguish players on the field.


The game official is called a referee. This person judges the game by following all of the rules set forth by the laws of the game. The referee can also show red or yellow cards to players not following the rules or showing unsportsmanlike conduct, which could lead to the player being removed from the game.

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