Soccer 101 Lesson 2: Basic Rules

By Kevin Kernen

In the last edition of Extol Sports, we covered the

first 4 of the 17 rules of the game of soccer. In

this month’s issue, we continue.

Rule 5: The Referee

In any professional or international match in the world,

there will be a minimum of 4 referees on hand. They are

responsible for enforcing the laws of the game and act as

a team of their own, comprising of a Center Referee (the

main official with the whistle on the pitch), two Assistant

Referees (the ones running up and down half a sideline

with the flag, also called an “AR”), and the Fourth Official

(the referee on the sideline). The Center Referee bears

the responsibility of deciding if a pitch is game-worthy,

enforcing the laws of the game during a match, keeping

official time, taking disciplinary action against players,

as well as supervising most other procedures during a

match. To keep spectators abreast of Referees’ decisions,

they employ a series of hand signals (not to worry, their

meanings will become clear later on):

Rule 6: Other Officials

As mentioned previously, there are a minimum of 3 officials

apart from the Center Referee involved in any professional

match. Each of the Assistant Referees is in charge of a half

of the pitch, running up and down opposite sides, from one

goal line to the midfield line. The ARs’ job is to help the

Center Referee in making decisions, as well as identifying

incidents of offside, a somewhat nebulous rule that is a law

unto itself. Between the Center Referee and both of the ARs,

almost all of the 22 players are under constant supervision,

but a Fourth Official also serves to catch offenses away

from the ball, or to lend a different perspective to an offense

in question.

Usually a junior referee or a well-seasoned official, the

Fourth Official also deputizes as a Center- or Assistant-

Referee should they become injured or otherwise unable

to continue during a match. Beyond keeping an extra set of

eyeballs on play, the Fourth Official also serves as a verbal

abuse whipping boy for disgruntled managers in their

technical area, as well as conducting substitutions and

keeping track of added time. All referees are in constant

communication during play, and usually employ a radio

system to talk to one another during a match.

Rule 7: Duration of the Match

Universally, matches consist of two halves of 45

minutes. Regular season games can end in a tie

after 90 minutes, but in knockout competitions,

like the US Open Cup and the USL Playoffs a winner

must be decided. Overtime (called “Extra Time”

in soccer) consists of two 15 minute halves. If the

game is still tied, the game goes to Penalties, lined

out in Rules 10 and 14. Since the clock never stops

running in soccer, time is added at the end of each

half for stoppages for substitutions, time wasting

(a gamesmanship tactic), disciplinary sanctions or

other major stoppages.

Rule 8: Start and Restart of Play

Halves are commenced by a kick off from the center

spot of the match, and restarts after goals are taken

from the center spot as well, taken by the team that

just conceded.

Rule 9: The Ball in and Out of Play

In Soccer, the lines on the field are considered in

bounds for the area they demarcate. The ball has

to completely pass over the line to be out, either

on the ground or in the air, a decision chiefly made

by the ARs.

Rule 10: Determining the Outcome of the Match

Goals are awarded by the Center Referee after

the ball passes completely over the goal line, as

illustrated when the ref points to the center of

the pitch.

Regular season matches in any league are over

after 90 minutes, whether there is a winner or not.

For knockout games, the team with the most goals

at the end of Regulation or Extra Time wins, but if

the game is tied after 120 minutes, Penalties must

decide the game. Teams alternate shots from the

Penalty Mark (the spot 12 yards from the goal)

unless the competition has specified otherwise

(some competitions employ the A-B-B-A order

to negate any advantage that could be had by the

alternating nature of shots) and the best of five

shots, wins. Should the teams remain tied after five

shots, it goes to a round by round “sudden death”

format. The pressure is on the penalty taker to

convert the shot, as they require great anticipation

and a healthy dose of luck to save, and shootouts

rarely go beyond the first five rounds of shots.

Rule 11: Offside

Probably the single most difficult decision in the

game, offside offenses are almost exclusively

identified by an Assistant Referee. The rule was

installed to keep players in check and not “cherry

pick” in front of opponents goals, and has evolved to

both a lightning rod for video replay advocates and

excuse for beleaguered managers. In the simplest

terms, any attacking player between the second-tolast

defender and the goal is in an offside position.

For an advanced attacking player to legally receive

the ball, they must be either:

A. I n their own defensive half, or

B . E ither in front of, or in line with the secondto-

last member of the defending team at the

moment the ball is played

Essentially, a player cannot be passed the ball if

they are between last defender of the defending

team and the goal, BUT they can be level with the

second-to-last defender.

Additionally, if an attacking player is in an offside

position and doesn’t interfere with play and a

goal is scored, no rule has been infringed upon.

If an attacking player is in an offside position and

interferes with play (like screening the goalkeeper,

for instance), then they are offside, and the goal is


The signal for offside is given by the Assistant

Referee when they hold their flag straight up in

the air to alert the Center Referee, then holding

it in front of them. To restart play after an offside

offense, the referee awards an indirect free kick to

the defending team (that’s to come).

Rule 12: Fouls and Misconduct

The following is a list of fouls in the game. They are

interpreted differently by different referees, and

also their enforcement changes significantly from

league to league and country to country. England

has a history of a physical game, where the Spanish

appreciate more style over substance. As the law

goes, a Free Kick is awarded if an opponent commits

any of the following offenses:

A. Charges (running shoulder to shoulder in an

aggressive manner)

B . jumps at

C. kicks or attempts to kick

D . P ushes

E . strikes or attempts to strike

(including head-butt)

F. tackles or challenges

G . trips or attempts to trip

H. handles the ball deliberately (except for the

goalkeeper within their penalty area)

I . holds an opponent

J . impedes an opponent with contact

K . spits at an opponent

If you stand with a supporter during a match and

you see a referee whistle after a slide tackle, you

will hear some version of the refrain “they got the

ball!” While slide tackles and challenges are part of

the game, they must be going for the ball- not the

player. It is erroneously assumed that if a player

gets the ball, they have carte Blanche to take out the

player as well. This is simply not the case, as many

considerations are taken into account by the referee

around judging challenges, with speed, position,

where the challenging player made contact with the

player in possession, among other things.

In addition to awarding a Free Kick, a referee can

award a yellow card (a caution) for a foul judged

to be reckless in nature, and a red card (a sending

off) for fouls judged to be dangerous or employing

excessive use of force. Should a player earn two

yellows, they will then be shown a red after their

second yellow card offense. If a player is sent off,

they cannot be replaced and their team has to play

down a player for the duration of the match.

Cards will also be issued in the case of what are

informally referred to as “professional fouls,” or

fouls that deliberately break up an attacking team’s

forward play if the defending team are caught out

of position or undermanned. If there is a covering

player between a defender, an attacker, and the

goal, a foul only warrants a yellow card. If the fouling

defender is the last man before the goalie, however,

expect a straight red card to be shown.

As with Offside offenses, handling situations often

find themselves being a point of contention, as

it’s largely a judgement call from the Referee. It’s

a matter of identifying whether the ball is moving

toward the hand or arm, or if the player moves their

hand or arm to intercept the path of the ball, while

taking into account whether the player’s hand was

in a “natural position.” Depending on the situation, a

player may find themselves sent off for deliberately

handling the ball.

There are other procedural fouls, like time wasting

and illegal substitutions, which can also be awarded

with a yellow card.

Rule 13: Free Kicks

For all infringements listed in the law previous, a

Direct Free Kick is awarded, meaning that the ball

can directly be scored from the Free Kick. There are

also Indirect Free Kicks, meaning that the ball must

touch another player before it can be scored.

Indirect Free Kicks are awarded after an Offside

offense and for Playing in a Dangerous Manner,

which includes preventing nearby players from

playing the ball. An example of this is a “high kick,”

which is not an inherently illegal action, but becomes

illegal when it either causes a player to react to the

kick (an Indirect Free Kick) or if it makes contact

with an opponent (a Direct Free Kick).

Rule 14: The Penalty Kick

Penalties are taken from the penalty mark, which

is 12 yards from the center of the goal. During play,

they’re awarded for Direct Free Kick fouls within

the Penalty Area. We’ve already covered this pretty

comprehensively, but another detail is that during a

penalty kick, the goalkeeper must stay on the goal

line, and for penalties taken during regulation and

extra time, players can enter the box as soon as the

kick taker touches the ball.

Rule 15: The Throw-In

For restarting play after the ball goes out over a

sideline, the team opposite of the one that played it

out is awarded a throw-in. For the player throwing

the ball in, they must

A. K eep both feet on the ground outside

the touchline

B . T hrow the ball in with both hands, starting

behind the head

Players cannot be offside if they receive the ball

directly from a Throw-In, Goal Kick, or a Corner Kick.

Rule 16: The Goal Kick

For restarting play after an attacking team played

the ball over a defending team’s endline, the

goalkeeper plays it outside of the penalty area (18

yard box) from any point within their goal area (6

yard box)

Rule 17: The Corner Kick

After the defending team plays the ball over their

own endline, the attacking team is awarded a corner

kick, taken from the corner closest to the point

where the ball exited play. Although a goal can be

scored from a corner(called an “Olympico”), it’s

exceedingly rare and quite difficult.

That is the streamlined version of the rules of soccer,

as detailed by the International Football Association

Board. Rules and their interpretations are quite

nuanced and are tweaked from year to year, and

although the rules themselves do not change that

much, they will come under more scrutiny as the tide

of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) sweeps through the

world’s game in the very imminent future.

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