Rules of Football: How to play, scoring and all you need to know

Rules of football

Since its invention in 1863, football’s popularity has soared globally and is one of the most popular sports in the world. Here are the rules of football.

Football is one of the most celebrated sports in the modern era. Football is considered the most entertaining and challenging sport as it requires a lot of skills and discipline to master the beautiful game. Football isn’t just a sport, it’s an emotion for a lot of fans all around the world. 

For people unfamiliar with the sport, here are the modern-day football rules, the regulations, scoring system, positions, and new technologies.

Football rules and sport’s regulations

The game of Football lasts for 90 minutes: two halves of 45 minutes, plus a 15 min break at halftime. There may be stoppage time for injuries and extra time also in certain competitions. Play begins with a ‘kick off’ from one team in the first half and the other team in the second half. This decision is made with a coin toss beforehand.

Football is played on a rectangular pitch with a goal at each end of the field. Each team tries to put the ball in the opposition’s goal using their feet or head. The team that scores the most times wins, or there is a draw if the number of goals for each team is equal.

Each team has 1 goalkeeper, who may use his hands only within his penalty area to stop the other team from scoring. No one other than the goalie may use their hands. This, together with kicking, tripping, pushing, etc., is considered a foul and warrants a free-kick

Players cannot score from an offside position. Players are offside when they receive the ball or interfere with play when they are positioned beyond the opposition’s last defender, and this constitutes a foul. (Note this is a controversial and complex rule with far more to it!)


The sport’s Laws of the Game specify the minimum kit which a player must use, and also prohibit the use of anything dangerous to either the player or another participant. Individual competitions may stipulate further restrictions, such as regulating the size of logos displayed on shirts and stating that, in the event of a match between teams with identical or similar colors, the away team must change to different colored attire.

Footballers generally wear identifying numbers on the backs of their shirts. Originally a team of players wore numbers from 1 to 11, corresponding roughly to their playing positions, but at the professional level, this has generally been superseded by squad numbering, whereby each player in a squad is allocated a fixed number for the duration of a season. Professional clubs also usually display players surnames or nicknames on their shirts, above (or, infrequently, below) their squad numbers.

Assistant Referee

An assistant referee (known as a linesman or lineswoman). The assistant referee’s duties generally consist of judging when the ball has left the field of play – including which team is entitled to return the ball to play, judging when an offside offense has occurred, and advising the referee when an infringement of the Laws of the Game has occurred out of his or her view. Depending on the local match rules and the discretion of the referee, an assistant referee may also be responsible for various administrative tasks, for example managing substitutions, helping the referee control the players, or replacing the referee if he or she is unable to continue. The assistant referee functions in an advisory role and all judgments made by an assistant referee may be overruled by the referee.

Ball in and out of play

The ball leaves the field by entirely crossing a goal line or touchline (this includes when a goal is scored) or play is stopped by the referee (for example when a foul has been committed, a player is seriously injured, or the ball becomes defective).

The Law specifically notes that the ball remains in play if it rebounds off a goal frame, corner flag, referee, or assistant referee, assuming that they are on the field of play at the time.

When the ball is in play players may play the ball, contest the ball, and goals may be scored. Players are liable to punishment for committing either fouls or misconduct. Substitutions may not occur whilst the ball is in play.


The fouls are policed by a referee and his assistants. A free-kick can be direct or indirect. A direct free kick in the goal area is a penalty, whereby an attacking player has a free shot at goal with only the keeper to beat When the ball goes off the pitch, play re-starts with a throw-in, a corner, or a goal kick against the team that put the ball out of play.

When the ball becomes out of play, the ball is put back into play by the appropriate restart. The restarts in football are:


When the ball has entirely crossed the touchline; awarded to the opposing team to that which last touched the ball. (Law 15).

Indirect free kick

Awarded to the opposing team following “non-penal” fouls (like obstruction, offside, etc.), certain technical infringements, or when play is stopped to caution/send-off an opponent without a specific foul having occurred.

Direct free kick

Awarded to fouled team following certain listed “penal” fouls and certain “dead-ball” methods of restarts that include


Following a goal by the opposing team, or to begin each period of play.

Goal kick

When the ball has entirely crossed the goal line without a goal having been scored and having last been touched by an attacker; awarded to the defending team.

Penalty kick

Awarded to fouled team following “penal” foul having occurred in their opponent’s penalty area.

Corner kick

When the ball has entirely crossed the goal line without a goal having been scored and having last been touched by a defender; awarded to the attacking team.


Usually occurs when the referee has stopped play for any other reason (e.g. a serious injury to a player, interference by an external party, or a ball becoming defective). This restart is uncommon.

Some of the recent rules have helped players to increase the tempo, attacking incidents, and amount of effective play in games. The pass-back rule now prohibits goalkeepers from handling the ball after it is kicked to them by a teammate. “Professional fouls,” which are deliberately committed to preventing opponents from scoring, are penalized by red cards, as is tackling from behind. Players are cautioned for “diving” to win free kicks or penalties. Time wasting has been addressed by forcing goalkeepers to clear the ball from hand within 6-8 seconds and by having injured players removed by stretcher from the field. Finally, the offside rule was adjusted to allow strikers who are level with the penultimate defender to be onside. 

Latest Rules in EPL

A few of the latest rules that took place in the 2020-21 Premier League season are as follows:

  • Reverting to three substitute
  • No more drinks break
  • VAR changes

The Premier League temporarily increased the limit of making three substitutions in a match to five, which was brought in for the post-lockdown period to see out the remainder of the 2019-20 season. The temporary change in the rules was implemented to preserve players’ fitness following the three-month suspension of the sport due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision to revert to three substitutions despite FIFA’s extension of the five-substitute rule was believed to be based on a widely held perception that being able to make more substitutions during a game handed an advantage to bigger clubs. 

Most of the players were not happy with the decision and a lot of Premier League clubs voted against the continuation of the five substitutions rule in a shareholders meeting at that time, after the International Football Association Board (IFAB) initially extended the option to allow five substitutes per team in every fixture into 2021.

High-profile former players Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville were among those to immediately hit out at the notion of continuing with the five-substitute rule in the 2020-21 season, with Carragher branding it “nonsense!” Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho, however, was less strident and said that he did not see a problem with the rule.

Similarly, the evident issue with drinks/water breaks – with mandatory one-minute stoppages in both halves – was that it was perceived to cause a necessary distraction to the game, which could have a particularly negative impact on the team chasing the game in one way or another. Drinks breaks are also meant to be felicitous moments for coaches to impart timely advice to their players, something which did not sit well with Mourinho, who described them as “tactical breaks”. 

VAR changes

The Premier League 2021-22 season came up with a new set of rules concerning the Video Assistant Referee, offside decisions, substitutions, handball in the box, and penalty decisions.

The first new rule introduced is about offside calls, where decisions made are highly controversial. The Premier League has added thicker lines for the attacker and the defender. The larger lines help referees make easier decisions and not call off goals that have been ruled offside.

New changes have been brought in for handball regulations, where accidental handball to a built-up goal will not be ruled out. If it is deemed as an accident and a goal is scored, the goal will be given to the side. However, if the ball is handled accidentally to create a chance or to score a goal, officials have been advised to be vigilant in such matters and rule the goal out.

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