Football, also called association football or soccer, game in which two teams of 11 players, using any part of their bodies except their hands and arms, try to maneuver the ball into the opposing team’s goal. Only the goalkeeper is permitted to handle the ball and may do so only within the penalty area surrounding the goal. The team that scores more goals wins.
Football is the world’s most popular ball game in numbers of participants and spectators. Simple in its principal rules and essential equipment, the sport can be played almost anywhere, from official football playing fields (pitches) to gymnasiums, streets, school playgrounds, parks, or beaches. Football’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), estimated that at the turn of the 21st century there were approximately 250 million football players and over 1.3 billion people “interested” in football; in 2010 a combined television audience of more than 26 billion watched football’s premier tournament, the quadrennial month-long World Cup finals.
The contemporary history of the world’s favourite game spans more than 100 years. It all began in 1863 in England, when rugby football and association football branched off on their different courses and the Football Association in England was formed – becoming the sport’s first governing body.
Both codes stemmed from a common root and both have a long and intricately branched ancestral tree. A search down the centuries reveals at least half a dozen different games, varying to different degrees, and to which the historical development of football has been traced back. Whether this can be justified in some instances is disputable. Nevertheless, the fact remains that people have enjoyed kicking a ball about for thousands of years and there is absolutely no reason to consider it an aberration of the more ‘natural’ form of playing a ball with the hands.
On the contrary, apart from the need to employ the legs and feet in tough tussles for the ball, often without any laws for protection, it was recognised right at the outset that the art of controlling the ball with the feet was not easy and, as such, required no small measure of skill. The very earliest form of the game for which there is scientific evidence was an exercise from a military manual dating back to the second and third centuries BC in China.
This Han Dynasty forebear of football was called Tsu’ Chu and it consisted of kicking a leather ball filled with feathers and hair through an opening, measuring only 30-40cm in width, into a small net fixed onto long bamboo canes. According to one variation of this exercise, the player was not permitted to aim at his target unimpeded, but had to use his feet, chest, back and shoulders while trying to withstand the attacks of his opponents. Use of the hands was not permitted.
Another form of the game, also originating from the Far East, was the Japanese Kemari, which began some 500-600 years later and is still played today. This is a sport lacking the competitive element of Tsu’ Chu with no struggle for possession involved. Standing in a circle, the players had to pass the ball to each other, in a relatively small space, trying not to let it touch the ground.
The Greek ‘Episkyros’ – of which few concrete details survive – was much livelier, as was the Roman ‘Harpastum’. The latter was played out with a smaller ball by two teams on a rectangular field marked by boundary lines and a centre line. The objective was to get the ball over the opposition’s boundary lines and as players passed it between themselves, trickery was the order of the day. The game remained popular for 700-800 years, but, although the Romans took it to Britain with them, the use of feet was so small as to scarcely be of consequence.
The football field is 120 yards long and 53 ½ yards wide. At each end of the field and 100 yards apart are the goal lines. The additional 10 yards at each end is the end zone. The field is divided up every 5 yards by a yard line. The middle yard line marker is called the 50 yard line. In parallel to the side lines are rows of hash marks. The football is always placed on or between the hash marks at the start of each play. This ensures that the teams have space to line up on both sides of the football. The position of the football that defines the sides of the ball is called the “line of scrimmage”.
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There are also goal posts at the back of each football end zone. One way to score is to kick the football through the goal posts. The ball must go between the uprights and over the crossbar.
If any part of a player with the football touches outside the side lines or the end zone it is considered Out of Bounds.
Football is a timed sport. The team with the most points at the end of the time period, wins the game. The game is divided up into 4 periods or quarters with a long “half time” between the second and third quarter. Time is counted while plays are running and sometimes between plays (i.e. time continues after a running play where the player was tackled in bounds, but stops on an incomplete pass). To keep the game going at a good pace the offense has a limited time (called the play clock) between plays.
The rules in football allow each team to have eleven players on the field at a time. Teams may substitute players between plays with no restrictions. Each team must start a play on their side of the ball.
The defensive players may take any position they want and can move about their side of the football prior to the play without restriction. Although there are certain defensive positions that have become common over time, there are no specific rules defining defensive positions or roles.
The offensive players, however, have several rules that define their position and what role they may take in the offense. Seven offensive players must be lined up on the line of scrimmage. The other four players must be lined up at least one yard behind the line of scrimmage. All of the offensive football players must be set, or still, prior to the play beginning with the exception of one of the four backs which may be moving parallel or away from the line of scrimmage. Further rules say that only the four backs and the players at each end of the line of scrimmage may catch a pass or run the football.
The Football Play
The team with the possession of the football is called the offense. The offense tries to advance the football on plays. The defense tries to prevent the offense from scoring or advancing the football. The down system: The offense must advance the ball at least 10 yards every four plays or downs. Each time the offense is successful in advancing the ball 10 yards, they get four more downs or what is called a “first down”. If the offense does not get 10 yards in four plays, the other team gains possession of the football at the current line of scrimmage. In order to keep the other team from getting good field position the offense can punt (kick) the ball to the other team intentionally. This is often done on 4th down, when the offense is outside of field goal range. Offensive plays on downs start with a snap. This is when the center passes the football between their legs to one of the offensive backs (usually the quarterback). The ball is advanced either by running with the football (called rushing) or passing the football. The football play is over when 1) the player with the football is tackled or goes out of bounds 2) an incomplete pass 3) there is a score.
The offensive team can lose possession of the football by:
* Not getting 10 yards in four downs.
* Fumbling or dropping the football and the defensive team recovers it.
* Throwing the football to a defensive player for an interception.
* Punting or kicking the football to the defensive team.
* Missing a field goal.
* Getting tackled in the end zone for a safety.
There are many rules and penalties that are enforced during a football game. Most football penalties result in a loss or gain of yardage depending on whether the penalty is against the offense or the defense. The severity of the penalty determines the number of yards. Most penalties are 5 or 10 yards, but some personal foul penalties result in 15 yards. Also, pass interference can result in a penalty that matches the length of the intended pass. The team that did not commit the penalty has the right to decline the penalty. We won’t list or detail every possible football infraction, but here are some of the more common football penalties:
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False Start: When a football player on the offense moves just prior to the snap. This is a five yard penalty. Note that one back on the offense can legally be “in motion” at the time of the snap.
Offside: If a player from the offense or defense is on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage at the time of the snap. A defensive player can cross the line of scrimmage as long as they get back before the snap, but if they touch an offensive player they can be called for encroachment.
Holding: When a player grabs a football player without the ball with the hands or hooks him or tackles him.
Pass Interference: When a defender contacts a pass receiver after the ball is in the air to prevent him from catching the ball. This is up to the referee to determine. If the contact is before the ball is in the air it will be called defensive holding. Note that pass interference can also be called on the offense if the defender has position and is trying to catch the ball.
Facemask: To protect the football players, it is illegal to grab another player’s facemask.
Roughing the Passer or Kicker: To protect kickers and quarterbacks, who are very vulnerable when they are passing or kicking the ball, players are not allowed to run into them after the ball has been thrown or kicked.
Intentional Grounding: When the passer throws a pass nowhere near an eligible receiver strictly to avoid being sacked.
Ineligible Receiver Downfield: When one of the offensive players that is not an eligible receiver is more than 5 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage during a forward pass.
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