The Football Rules | Complete Guide 2020
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Football Rules: The Complete Guide

Football is a game that is played with discipline and regulations. FIFA is the supreme regulatory authority of football all around the globe, and the one who sets up and makes all the football rules. Let’s dive deep into knowing these rules, which might help you when you’re on the pitch next time!

Each game of senior football is 90 minutes long. They are split into 2 halves of 45 minutes, with a 15-minute break in between. When there are stoppages in play, the clock is not paused.

Instead, the referee will usually have a second watch in which they will time it. The stoppages recorded will be added on at the end of each 45-minute period, this is known as added time. 

In a single football game, each team is allowed to substitute 3 players off the pitch for 3 different players at any time, other than a penalty. Each team consists of 11 players each, with one goalkeeper and 10 outfield players.

The objective is to outscore your opponent by putting the ball in the back of the net. In a league format such as the English Premier League, a win will give you 3 points.

On the other hand, a draw is 1 point and a loss means 0 points. These points will add together with any other games played in the season and will place you in a league table.

The Offside Rule 

The most debated of football rules and is probably the most confusing to get your head around. This law here is quoted by the FA:

A player is in an offside position if: 

  • Any part of the head, body, or feet is in the opponent’s half (excluding the halfway line) and 
  • Any part of the head, body, or feet is nearer to the opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent 
  • The hands and arms of all players, including the goalkeepers, are not considered. 

A player is not in an offside position if level with the:

  • Second-last opponent or 
  • Last two opponents 

To put it simple, there will be offside if the ball is played forward to your own player in the opposing team’s half, and there is no opposing player between them and the opposing goalkeeper during this sequence of play. 

When there is an offside a foul is given against the team who has played offside and so the ball is stopped dead and a free kick is given where the player who received the ball was when the pass was 1st played. 

Hand Ball 

The only player on the pitch that is allowed to use their hands or arm on the ball is the two goalkeepers. This means that when the ball hits the arm of an outfield player, a foul is given against them. 

Depending on how blatant and deliberate the offense is you could receive a warning, a yellow card, or a red card. If you use your hand to stop the ball from going into the net deliberately, it is a straight red card. 

There has recently been a change to this set of football rules and so it’s a handball when the ball hits “the boundary between the shoulder and the arm is defined as the bottom of the armpit”.

Last year in football, a foul was given to an attacking player when the ball, accidental or not, hit the arm in the build-up or directly impacted the goal. This has been changed so that a foul is only given when it occurs immediately before a goal. 

Direct Free Kicks 

Direct free kicks are free kicks which you are allowed to directly shoot at the goal from. A direct free kick is given when a player: 

  • Charges at another and so blocks him off without cleanly winning the ball 
  • Jumps into one another without making clear contact with the ball 
  • Attempts to kick or kicks another player 
  • Pushes another
  • Strikes or attempts to strike another player 
  • Tackles or challenges for the ball but does not win it 
  • Trips a player who has or does not have the ball deliberately 
  • Deliberately handles the ball  
  • Holds on to another player 
  • Bites or spits at another player 
  • Throws an object at a player or match official 

Some of these offenses will vary depending on the severity and so some will receive a warning, a yellow card, or a red card.

These offenses above will always result in red cards if they are denied a goal-scoring opportunity or if they are the last defender and no other defender will get back in time. 

Indirect Free Kicks 

An indirect free kick is a free kick that cannot be directly shot. It has to touch another player before an attempt at a goal can be made. An indirect free kick is given if a player: 

  • plays in a dangerous manner 
  • impedes a player/ blocks a player off without any contact being made 
  • is guilty of dissent, using abusive or insulting language towards anyone involved in the game 
  • prevents the goalkeeper from kicking the ball from his hands or from a goal-kick 

These particular football rules only apply to goalkeepers: 

  • controls the ball with their hand or arm for more than 6 seconds 
  • touching the ball with their hand or arm after releasing it before it has touched another player 
  • the goalkeeper touches the ball with their arm or hand after receiving it from their teammate 

VAR (Virtual Assistant Referee) 

VAR is something that has recently been added to football, in top-tier leagues in Europe. It is a new addition to football that involves a trained professional referee being allowed to watch back incidents on the pitch that the referee is unsure about.

The VAR is allowed to change the decision originally made by the referee. After just one season in the Premier League, it has already caused some much-talked-about controversy.

Some fans, players, and managers have called out VAR suggesting that it ruins the natural flow of the game and that it takes the excitement out of it as goals can be given, and celebrated, only to be ruled out minutes later.

The way in which VAR uses its system to check for offsides is the most criticized part of VAR. It has ruled multiple goals out by the lengths of a toenail, on multiple occasions

 VAR is also allowed to check for handballs and it also caused some heated debate as many goals were ruled out by little nicks off the arms of players. VAR is also allowed to check for fouls 

A new addition in the Premier League is that referees have been urged to check the pitch side monitors for red cards so that they can make the final decision. 

Cup Competitions

The Knockout Stages

Some formats in football are cup competitions such as the FA Cup or the Champions League, these contain knockout stages, so if you lose you are out of the competition.

 In these competitions, if they result in a draw, two things can happen, either a replay which means that the tie will be swapped so that the current away side in the tie will play the game at home in another full 90 minutes.

Or sometimes what happens is the game goes to extra time and so the game is finished on the night. Extra time involves the same game to be continued for an extra 30 minutes, split into two halves of 15.

If this then results in a draw, then the game goes to a penalty shootout. In a penalty shootout, each team has 5 shots each from the penalty spot, from different players, until one team has an insurmountable lead and wins. If after 5 spot kicks each the scores are still level; then the scenario goes to “sudden death. 

The Away Goals Rule

In some knockout stages, they have two-legged affairs. After the two legs, the overall aggregate is what determines the winner. In some tournaments such as the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, they have this rule called “the away goals rule”, which is used when a two-legged game finishes in a draw.

This means that the team with the most away goals after both legs automatically go through. This might be on the slightly confusing side of football rules for some so we will give you an example.

In 2019, Manchester City played Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League Quarter Finals. The first leg was played at Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium and Tottenham beat Manchester City 1-0.

The second leg was played at City’s home ground, and Manchester City won 4-3, however, the aggregate score was 4-4. But because of the away goals rule, Tottenham Hotspur won because they scored 3 away goals and Manchester City did not win any. 


There are many more little intricate football rules. These can be explained but really are not necessary for someone who just wants to know the basic football rules.

This should give you a better understanding of how football works as a whole and hopefully, you can implement your knowledge whether you want to play or just watch football! 


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