• Explaining the basics of the beautiful game
  • Analysing phenomenon of sport known by almost half of humanity
  • Answering to the eternal question: “what is an offside?”

Association football, more commonly known as football or soccer is one of the most popular sports around the world. 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. How did it all start? Why is football so popular around the world? In this article we answer these and more questions!

The article is a part of our beginner’s guide' series. Up till now you can also read:

The ultimate beginners guide to e-sports

What is football?

Football is a game played by two teams with 11 players each. Teams play on a field with a ball and the objective is to put it in the opponent’s goal. Matches last 90 minutes (two halves 45min each) and contain a 15-minute half-time period and extra time depending on injuries and stoppages. The winner is the team with more goals after regular 90 minutes. So far so easy, right?

The game is mostly known as football; in some other territories it’s called soccer. Other names include footy, fitba, fútbol, calcio, futebol, voetbol, le foot, foci, sakka, piłka nożna and bong da. Everywhere, however, soccer, as it’s known in the USA, is called the beautiful game. This phrase was popularized by brazilian legend Pele, until today known as “The King of Football”.

Football history

The history of football starts in October 1863, when representatives from a dozen schools and clubs met at London's Freemasons' Tavern in Great Queen Street to form the Association Football. Gathered representatives agreed for a set of official rules under which they could all play. Some of the agreed rules included pitch length, goal size and a prototype version of what we know today as an “offside”.

In 1966, during a clash between London and Sheffield both teams agreed that their game will last 90 minutes. This game is well-known for the first known prearranged duration in the game's history.

The first official international football match was founded by C. W. Alcock and staged at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground on St Andrew’s Day, 1872. The game between England and Scotland was watched by 4,000 spectators. The match ended in a 0-0 draw.

PA: PRESS ASSOCIATION

The world’s first football league was founded in Birmingham, England in 1888 by Aston Villa director William McGregor. The original format contained 12 clubs from the Midlands and Northern England.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international football body, was formed in Paris in 1904. Since then it’s FIFA’s responsibility to adhere to the Laws of the Game of the Association Football. Current FIFA headquarters is located in Zurich.

Football 101

Gametime -  the football game lasts 90 minutes. There are two halves of 45 minutes each and both end after the stoppage time. What's stoppage time? It’s the time added by a referee at the end of each half to make up for pauses in play - the clock doesn't stop in soccer. A 90 minute game normally lasts between 92 to 94 minutes at the discretion of the referee. In football players play until the referee blows the whistle and finishes the game.

The Soccer Field - there’s not one and only proper field dimension. Instead, football game uses minimums and maximums allowing fields to fit within those dimensions. The length for international adult matches is in the range of 100–110 m (110–120 yd) and the width is in the range of 64–75 m (70–80 yd). Fields for non-international matches may be 90–120 m (100–130 yd) length and 45–90 m (50–100 yd) in width, provided that the pitch does not become square.

SOURCE: FIFA LAWS OF THE GAME 

The Ball - Football balls have different sizes. The most popular sizes are between 3 and 5. The youngest players mostly use size 3, teenagers use mostly size 4 and the size 5 is dedicated for adults. The ball has changed significantly over time - in the very beginning players were using balls made of leather that weren’t waterproof. Today, plastic covering is a standard material used to produce the ball - it’s much lighter than leather ancestor.

The Referee - The referee is the official timekeeper for the match. There is one referee on the field, supported by two Assistant Referees (often unofficially referred to as linesmen), and the Fourth Official, who monitors substitutions, among other things.

VAR - A new thing in football refereeing is video assistant referee (VAR). Thanks to this system head referee uses video footage of controversial actions, analyses them and is capable of changing his previous decisions. If the VAR believes there has been a potential clear error, the referee connected with VAR via a headset will be contacted with that judgment. VAR can be reviewed in four types of calls: goals, penalty decisions, direct red cards decisions and mistaken identity in awarding a red or yellow cards. VAR referees give informations to head referee but final decision belongs to him. 2018 World Cup was first big tournament with this refereeing system.

Still have some doubts? Watch this FIFA video with VAR explanation.

Cards - In football, fouls and other behaviours that violate the rules can be punished by the referee raising a yellow or red card. A yellow card warns a player for breaking the rules. The referee can raise the red card immediately if the incident is serious. That means the player has to leave the field. After that, the team plays with 10 instead of 11 players. Team can play with no less than 7 players on the field. Two yellow cards to the same player equals a red one as well. The unique situation could happen when all the players from the team get the red card at the same time. This equals to an immediate walkover.

Offside rule - one of ootballs hallmarks and rule that affects the tempo and the way of actions being played. Maybe most argued-over rule in the world of football but in fact pretty simple. A player is in an offside position if any part of his head, body or feet are nearer to his rivals goal line than both the ball and the second last rival (usually, but not always, last rival is the goalkeeper). Other words: footballer can’t receive the ball from team-mate unless there are at least two rivals closer to goal than him.

Hard or simple? Make sure by watching Business Insider offside explanation.

Positions in football

There are four basic positions among 11 players in football - goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders and forwards. There is no fixed number of players on any position (except goalkeeper) - it varies depending on taken tactics.

Goalkeeper - The only player on the field allowed to use hands when the ball is in play, but only within the 16.5m (18 yd) rectangular area called penalty box. He or she is the last obstacle between attackers and goal. Goalkeeper’s job is to keep the ball from crossing the goal line.

Defender - They play in front of the goalkeeper and their job is not to let attackers get to the goalkeeper and score the goal. Defenders are distributed on the right and left flanks to protect sides of the field and in the center, to help defending middle field.

Midfielder - These players make the bridge between the defense and attack. They have to be prepared for the most physical and exhausting game, because statistically they are expected to run the most from all the team. Their role is to support forwards with penetration of opponents’ and be ready for the transition defence in case of counterattack.

Forwards - They score goals or help create scoring opportunities for their teammates. Center forward is known as a striker and in most cases he’s a team’s leading scorer.

Football is without hesitation one of the most popular sports around the world. But just how big is it, and how does it stack up against other big sports?

The data below from a survey conducted by Nielsen Sports in 18 markets across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, shows that football is consistently at the top of the chart, with 40% or more of respondents either “interested” or “very interested” in this sport.

In 2017, football’s 43% vote equated to 736 million people across the surveyed markets. Basketball is the second in the survey, capturing the interest of 36% of those interviewed, or 626 million, in 2017. Other sources mention that there may be even 3.5 billion football fans around the world!

Despite differences in actual number, all of the available analysis show that football is the most popular sport around the world. It’s also the most profitable, with the highly growing trend - in 2016/2017 it was estimated that the European professional football market was worth 25.5 billion euros and grew about 3.7% from the previous year.

Market size of the European professional football market from 2006 to 2017 (in bln euros). Source: Statista

If you ask four football fans who is the best player in the world, there’s a great chance you’ll get four different answers. Nothing strange about it. With football being so popular as a discipline, the best players enjoy the status of superstars that make people love them or hate them.

While debating who is the best player right now (not to even mention all time) might last forever, it’s much easier to tell who is the most popular. Ex Real Madrid’s superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo is the number one football brand on the planet.

The clear evidence of that is his outstanding social-media presence, where he was able to gather more than 570 million mentions across his online accounts, which include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He also has a number of devoted fans, counting almost 123 million followers on Facebook.

The second most popular football player is Neymar, who was transferred in controversial deal between Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain in summer 2017. He signed a mind-blowing contract of 263 million dollars with weekly salary of 653 thousands dollars. Being the most expensive player doesn’t mean to be the most popular, though. He gathered almost 50% less social mentions than previously mentioned Ronaldo.

Messi, FC Barcelona star and Neymar’s ex-teammate is less than 100 million mentiones behind the Brazilian.

Sergio Ramos, the controversial captain of Real Madrid is just behind the podium. He took the 4th place with 158 million mentions. After him is a rising superstar from Egypt, Mohamed Salah from FC Liverpool.

Biggest football tournaments

Aside from the domestic, national leagues there are some extraordinary football competitions taking place. Each of them can bring a long-lasting fame for both players and teams. We will mention three that are the most competitive and have the largest prestige in football world.

UEFA European Championship

This is the tournament with a long history. It was held for the very first time in France in 1958. Since then, European Championship has established itself as one of the most competitive and important football competitions.

The 14 tournaments to date have produced only 9 different winners, with Germany and Spain leading with three championships each.

UEFA Champions League

UEFA Champions League is the most glorious club competition around the world and brings only the best teams.

Introduced in 1992, the competition replaced the European Champion Clubs' Cup, which had run since 1955, adding a group stage to the competition and allowing multiple entrants from certain countries.

Real Madrid is the most successful club in the competition's history, having won the tournament 13 times.

FIFA World Cup

Even though the UEFA champions league ist he no. 1 in clubs’ competition, the FIFA World Cup is the biggest and the most prestigious event ever.

It’s an international competition contested by the senior men's national teams with the championship awarded every four years since 1930 (except in 1942 and 1946 when it was not held because of World War II).

The current champion is France, which won its second title at the 2018 tournament in Russia.

Conclusion

Football (or soccer), started as we know it in England, is the most popular sport in the world with a long tradition. Billions of people enjoy watching their favourite teams and players as well as playing with their friends every day.Hopefully, this guide made it easier for you to understand the beauty of this game and the impact it has in today’s sports environment.

If you found it interesting enough, you can find more materials easily on the internet. Or maybe football is already your thing? Then you can start making bets on your favourite teams and events with an online bookmaker. Just like OneHash.