Soccer, which is called football in most countries outside of the United States, is played by 265 million people worldwide, as of 2006, according to the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international soccer governing organization. This game culminates with the World Cup, which is held every four years, but is popular year-round with both adults and children.
Soccer as we know it today was created in 1863 with the establishment of the English Football Association, though there's evidence of soccer-like games as far back as 2,000 years ago in China, and it is also said that ancient Greeks and Romans played versions of the game. The English Football Association was the first to establish ground rules to the game. In 1882, all of the soccer-related organizations in England collaborated to create a single set of recognized rules, and the International Football Association Board (IFAB) was born to oversee these rules. FIFA was founded in Paris in 1904, and in 1913, became a member of the IFAB. At that point, FIFA only had seven members--Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Today, this organization has 208 members.
The laws of the game were modified and republished by FIFA on July 1, 2009, but the basic rules of the game have nearly remained the same for over 100 years. Games typically have two periods of 45 minutes each, unless teams mutually decide on a different length. The match starts with a kick-off, with all the players on their team's side of the field and the ball stationary in the center. One player from each team lines up 10 yards from the ball and at the referee's whistle, the players rush forward to gain control of the ball. A goal is scored when the ball passes between the goal posts and over the goal line. Only the goalie may use his hands to stop or move the ball. Free kicks, penalty kicks, corner kicks and throw-ins occur when the ball is kicked out of play or a member of the other team breaks a rule.
Soccer fields are rectangular and marked off with white lines to show game play boundaries. The longer sides of the field, called the touch lines, are between 100 and 130 yards long, while the shorter ends of the field, called goal lines, are between 50 and 100 yards long. Goals are set up at the goal lines. The field also has a line marking the center, an equal distance from each goal, and a circle with a radius of 10 yards is marked around the exact center of the field. At each corner, the field has a quarter arc inside the field of play, with a distance of one yard from the corner. Each goal is surrounded by a rectangle that touches the goal lines and extends 18 yards from both sides and the front of the goal. This is called the penalty area. The penalty mark is made directly in front of the goal, 12 yards from the goal line.
A soccer goal is made of a rectangular frame that consists of two upright goalposts joined at the top by a crossbar. The goalposts are eight feet tall and the crossbar is eight yards long. They must be white and not more than five inches thick. Most soccer goals have a net attached to catch the ball when there is a goal.
Regulation soccer balls are spherical and made of leather or a similar material. They are between 27 and 28 inches in circumference with a weight of between 14 and 16 ounces at the start of the match. Regulation balls must be inflated to a pressure of between 0.6 and 1.1 atmospheres, which is equal to 8.5 to 15.6 pounds per square inch.
A regulation game is played with between seven and eleven players, including the goalie, with more substitutes waiting on the sidelines to replace players on the field. Teams must reach an agreement on the maximum number of substitutes that can be used before the game starts. Teams wear different colors to help them distinguish players on the field.
The game official is called a referee. This person judges the game by following all of the rules set forth by the laws of the game. The referee can also show red or yellow cards to players not following the rules or showing unsportsmanlike conduct, which could lead to the player being removed from the game.
- Photo Credit soccer ball image by Mitchell Knapton from Fotolia.com