A Quick Introduction to Football

Over the course of this spring semester, I will write about five different sports. In these articles, to the best of my ability, I will explain the rules of that particular sport alongside general facts. After the introductory article, the subsequent article, situated side by side in the print of The Saint will have an interview with that team’s president/captain here at the University of St Andrews. Our town has so many interesting sports on offer through the University that are worth sharing, so why not highlight our various teams and their hardworking student athletes. Up first, not surprisingly, is football. Also known to me, as an American, as soccer. While a majority of the world is familiar with the game, much of the minutia might get lost on the average viewer. Keep reading to expand your knowledge of football and then learn about the women’s program here at the University from first team captain Cally Wuthrich.

Football is commonly played on a surface of either grass or astroturf (a type of artificial grass) known as a pitch. On this pitch, two teams face off against one another. The clock differentiates football from other team sports. In football, the game clock counts upward as the match goes along, whereas in a lot of other team sports the clock starts at sixty minutes, for example, and counts down to zero. Football timing starts at zero and ultimately reaches ninety minutes by the end of the match. These ninety minutes are split into two forty-five minute halves. So, when talking about football, fans describe action as occurring in either the first or the second half. However, in certain instances, a match may enter into extra time. If the match reaches ninety minutes and the two teams are tied, the clock will continue to run for an additional thirty minutes, in what is known as extra time, allotted to determine a victor. Another reason a football match can last longer than the typical ninety minutes, is to allow for injury time. Injury time is given out by the referee to compensate for time lost during the match to injury stoppages, substitutions, or fouls. During these ninety minutes, or more, players run up and down the field attempting to score on their opponent’s net.

In a football match, two teams face off against one another on a field of grass roughly 100 meters long and 70 meters wide. On this pitch, each team has 11 players competing for the round ball. There are typically flags placed in each of the four corners, and white lines sprayed onto the green grass demarcate the end lines, sidelines, and halfway line. Of the 11 players on the pitch during a game, one is a goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders, and three forwards. This is known as a “4-3-3”. However, there are other, different formations teams can play. It depends on the team's strengths. Some teams may want to have more forwards than defenders or vice versa. The women’s first team here at St Andrews plays a 3-4-3 for example, so an extra midfielder, and three forwards. The goalkeeper is the only player allowed to use their hands, however, they can only do so within the rectangular penalty area which extends roughly eighteen yards from each side of the goal. When outside of this penalty area, the goalie is like any other field player and must use their feet, not their hands to play the ball. The defenders, midfielders, and forwards, can use their feet and any other body part to play the ball, except their hands. Fun fact: a “handball” is a penalty where a player has touched the ball with any part of their arm from fingertip to shoulder. So, although it is called a handball, and people often talk about not being able to use their hands when playing football, they really mean their whole arms. Another common football term is a “header”, this refers to when the ball is soaring through the air and rather than waiting for it to land to kick it with their feet, a player uses their head to headbutt the ball where they want it to go.

Another frequently used term is “throw-in”. During play, if the ball goes out of bounds, the team that last touched the ball before it exited the playing area loses possession. So, the other team gets to throw the ball back in bounds from the point on the sidelines where it crossed from in bounds to out of bounds. When watching a football match, a throw-in can be alerted by the sound of a whistle, one player taking the ball in both their hands, standing outside the sideline, and throwing the ball back into play from over their head. A key and often controversial rule in football matches is that of offsides. At a match, offsides calls often incur the most yelling from coaches, players, and fans alike. Offsides can sometimes be a difficult concept to grasp. However, in the most basic sense, a player is considered offside when they are closer to the opponent’s goal (that is the one they want to score on) and receive the ball from a teammate without their being a defender either in line with the receiver or between the receiver and the net. In other words, an offensive player could not hang around down by the goal waiting for a long pass to sneak by all the defenders to try and score. That would be considered offside.

A few more basic rules of the game of football. A corner kick happens when the ball goes out of bounds, specifically, leaving the field by crossing the endline, the line horizontal with the goal at the end of the pitch. If the ball went out of bounds because the offensive team, attempting to score, was last to touch it, then play restarts with what is known as a goal kick. A goal kick can be taken from anywhere inside the “goalie box” (the rectangular section of the field mentioned earlier where the goalie is allowed to use their hands). This goal kick can be taken by any player, though it is often the goalie who does so. The aim of a goal kick is to get the ball as far away from their own net as possible, up to their offensive player who will try to score on the other team’s goalie. The other type of kick is a corner kick. If the ball crosses the endline and goes out of bounds but the defensive team was the last to touch it, then play restarts with a corner kick. This corner kick is taken from the nearest corner to where the ball left the field. The offensive player will try to kick the ball back into play to one of their teammates in an attempt to score on their opponent’s net. A third kind of kick is known as a penalty kick. If the defending team commits a contact foul or handball within the penalty area, the ball is placed on the penalty spot twelve yards in front of the net. An offensive player kicks the ball in an attempt to score, with only the goalkeeper defending the net, and the rest of the players watching from behind on the penalty arc.

In order for a penalty kick to be rewarded, some kind of foul is usually committed. There are essentially three levels of fouls in football: basic fouls, yellow cards, or red cards. The referees of the game decide whether to give a cautionary yellow card for an action or an expulsive red card which kicks a player out of the game. Types of fouls are: kicking an opponent, tripping, jumping into an opponent when trying to head the ball, charging into an opponent, pushing, tackling from behind, tackling an opponent and making contact with the player before the ball, holding, touching the ball with your hands. If any of these types of fouls are committed, a free kick is awarded from the spot of the foul except in the penalty area and as described above in that case it is a penalty kick.

Yellow cards can be given out by the referee of the match for: unsportsmanlike conduct, arguing with the referee, excessive fouling, delaying the game, entering or leaving the game without informing the referee. With regard to entering and leaving the game, this is called a substitution. During a football match, each team is allowed five substitutions. To substitute a player into the game, the team can do so when there is a normal stoppage of play, but must let the referee know they wish to substitute. The team must wait for the referee’s signal and then the new player can enter into the match at the center line.

If the referee holds up a red card during a match, the player who committed the act leaves the field as they are expelled from the game. Red cards can be given for: a serious foul, violent actions against the referee or other players, a non-goalkeeper using their hands to stop a goal, use of bag language, and receiving a second yellow card. Additionally, there are certain fouls that only pertain to the goalkeepers. Goalkeepers can be called for: holding the ball for more than six seconds, touching the ball again with their hands after a teammate has kicked the ball to them, and touching the ball directly with their hands after a throw-in by a teammate.

Football is played all over the world, from professional leagues where players earn millions of pounds to learn-to-play teams for kids as young as three. Fun to watch, entertaining, and often televised, football is a great sport for anyone and everyone to enjoy. Hopefully this short introduction to some of the aspects of football piqued interest. Go grab a ball and play with some friends, join a recreational team, learn to play, or go watch the men’s and women’s teams at the fields by the sports center!



Image: [Cally Wuthrich]




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