A geek’s guide to Football

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It’s the beautiful game, widely regarded as world’s favourite sport, football. This summer will see the globally watched event that only happens every four years, the FIFA World Cup, take place in Russia. So here is a geek’s guide to the wonderful sport we call soccer.

The objective of the game is simple, to outscore the opposition by kicking or heading the ball into a net, easy right? Well there is of course a little more skill involved than that, but one thing is for sure, football has changed a lot in the last century since the early days of its primitive roots. In a time where whole villages would aggressively tussle to kick the ball, and each other, in unspecified numbers.

But those features of ‘Shrovetide’ or ‘mob’ football as it was known, where it was founded in England, didn’t last long. The now more organised and successful version of association football was one of three variations that derived from the early version on the turn of the 20th century, alongside rugby football and Gaelic football.

Brian Clough starts a game of Shrovetide football Brian Clough starts a game of Shrovetide football

What are the rules?

The game as we know it today is contested between two teams of 11 players, with between five or seven substitutes on the bench. The field of play must be green and can either be grass or an artificial rectangular surface with a halfway line splitting the pitch down the middle. The goals are at each end of the surface, surrounded by two boxes, the six-yard-box and a penalty box beyond that.

There is obviously a referee that is in charge, and has the final say when it comes to key decisions. The ref is helped by match officials including assistant referees and linesmen, all of which are there to make sure the rules are upheld.

A match lasts 90 minutes which is split into two 45-minute halves, the half-time break lasts up to 15 minutes and the referee can determine how much added time is played on the end of each half due to stoppages in play or injuries for example.

Referee sends Eintracht Frankfurt's Gelson Fernandes off Referee sends Eintracht Frankfurt's Gelson Fernandes off

A kick-off takes place in the middle of the centre circle and occurs at the start of each half and after a goal. Both teams will get the chance to kick-off, the team that wins a coin toss will start the match, while the other will start the second half. After a goal, the team that concedes will kick-off.

A goal is scored when the ball crosses the goal line inside the goal mouth, it does not have to hit the net as long as it fully crosses the line. Recent technology implemented into some prestigious competitions will show the referee on his watch whether the ball has crossed the line.

Although, in most competitions worldwide that technology does not exist, therefore the final say is of course down to the referee whether a goal has been scored, which can cause controversy.

When the ball goes out of play, a throw-in, corner kick or goal-kick may be awarded depending on what area of the pitch the ball goes out in. In terms of conduct, fouls such as handball (unless you’re a goalkeeper) or a bad tackle may result in free-kicks and penalty-kicks. Depending on the severity of the misconduct, a yellow or red card may be issued to a player by the referee. A red card results in a sending off, as does receiving two yellows.

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What about the players?

So that’s the complex stuff out of the way, but what about the players? Well each team consists of one goalkeeper, who is the only player permitted to use his hands, (as long as it’s inside his penalty area), and 10 outfielders.

The outfielders consist of defenders, midfielders and strikers. The number of each depends on what formation the team opts to choose. Four at the back systems such as 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and 4-3-3 are the conventional systems used. Five or three at the back formations are another way in which teams set up. In present times, there is a deeper tactical understanding of the game, therefore we see a variety of formations used by different teams worldwide.

For example, the Italians are well renowned for using a defensive three at the back and 3-5-2 formation. Whereas one of the most successful club sides in history, Barcelona, often use a variation of 4-3-3 centred on possession and Tika-taka which results in lots of short passing and movement.

Barcelona celebrate a goal Barcelona celebrate a goal

Who are the governing bodies and federations?

FIFA are the main federation for football, with 211 members it is the globally recognised body for international football. Below FIFA are confederations such as UEFA, which deal with representing European interests. As well as staging an international tournament every four years like FIFA do with the World Cup, UEFA stage two prestigious club competitions known as the Champions League and Europa League. Of course, other confederations exist worldwide, such as AFC for Asia and CONCACAF for North America and the Caribbean for example.

Then on a national scale, bodies such as the Football Association (FA) in England take care of their own matters. The FA Cup, which is the only club competition to involve teams from grassroots to the very top, is known as the greatest club competition on earth. Every country will have at least one domestic cup competition alongside a series of leagues.

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Who are the teams that play?

Like in pretty much every sport, there are club teams and international sides. The best players from each country are selected for international duty and friendly matches between nations are contested all year round. Qualifying for big tournaments such as the World Cup or continental competitions such as the European Championships (Euros), Copa America (South America) and African Cup of Nations (Africa) also take place. One of these big tournaments will take place at least every two years.

The FIFA World Cup is back this year, amongst the front runners out of 32 qualified countries to be crowned World Champions are favourites such as Germany, Spain and Brazil.

FIFA World Cup trophy, currently held by Germany FIFA World Cup trophy, currently held by Germany

In terms of club teams, most nations have their own leagues. However, globalisation and transfers mean that widespread player movement occurs, so most countries contain players in their leagues not just native to that place, but also foreign countries as well.

The leagues that contain the best players are largely based in Europe. The Premier League in England, La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy and Bundesliga in Germany are regarded as the best in the world. But in each country, there are many divisions, for example in the UK there are four tiers regarded as ‘Football League clubs’ with part-time non-league clubs operating below the fourth division. Similar structures are present in other countries too.

Words: Luke Saunders

Images: PA

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