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Law 1 – Field of Play


Law 1: Field of Play

Most of the rest of the world refers to the game of soccer as football (known formally as association football).  As such, a soccer field is called either a football pitch or football field in most other parts of the world.   According to the Laws of the Game, “The Field of Play” is defined by markings on the field to designate areas of play.  The longer lines on the sides of the field (where the players sit on one side and the fans on the other) are referred to as the touchlines.  The two lines that run perpendicular to these lines are referred to as the goal lines.  The entire ball must cross the entire line for a goal to be scored and for the ball to be considered out of bounds.  See more on touchline.  The area designated by the 18 yard line is referred to as the penalty area.

Imperial soccer field diagram In summary, the field is rectangular in shape.  The longer sides are touchlines. The other opposing sides are called the goal lines. The two goal lines must be between 50 and 100 yards.  The two touch lines must be between 100 and 130 yards in length.  This requirement is different for international matches in which case the goal lines must be between 70 and 80 yards long and the touchlines must be between 110 and 120 yards.  All lines must be equally wide, not exceeding 5 inches wide.  The corners of the pitch are marked by corner flags.  These dimensions are for adult matches, for youth matches, the size of the field may be smaller.  

The goal lines stretch from flag to flag and it is not uncommon for the areas to the left and right of the goal posts to be referred to as by-lines.  While you probably will not hear this term at a local youth soccer game, you might hear in as commentary during a professional match.


Football goal dimensions and law for soccer fieldsThe goals are placed at the center of each goal-line.  The goal is a horizontal crossbar connected by two upright posts.  The posts are 8 yards apart and the crossbar must be 8 feet above the ground.  Most often there is a net behind the goal, however this is not required by the laws of the game.

The Goalposts and crossbars must be white, and made of wood, metal or other approved material.  The shape of the goal is not specified, however it cannot be harmful or dangerous for players.

A goal is scored when the ball crosses the goal line between the goal-posts, regardless of which player touched it last. (see own goal).  If a foul is committed by the attacking team prior to the goal being scored, the referee can deem the goal void and therefore not a goal.

Penalty and goal areas

Penalty Area of soccer fieldThe penalty area is designated by the line drawn 18 yards from the goal line and there is a smaller box drawn on the field marking 6 yards called the goal area.  A penalty area is designated on either side of the field in front of each goal.  This area has a number of functions, including designating where the goalkeeper may handle the ball and where a foul by a defender, usually punished by a direct free kick, becomes punishable by a penalty kick.  The penalty mark is 12 yards from the very center of the goal, this is the exact location where penalty kicks are taken.

The goal area is the  marked off area extending 6 yards from each of the goal posts.   Goal kicks and any free kicks by the defending team may be taken from anywhere in this area. Indirect free kicks awarded to the attacking team within the goal area must be taken from the point on the line parallel to the goal line nearest where an incident occurred; they can not be taken further within the goal-area. Similarly drop-balls that would otherwise occur in the goal area are taken on this line.

Other markings on the field 

The center circle is 10 yards from the centre spot,  this circle indicates the minimum distance that opposing players must keep at kick-off.  At the beginning of the game and after goals are scored, the ball is placed on the center spot. During penalty shootouts all players other than the two goalkeepers and the current kicker are required to remain within this circle.

The half-way line divides the field in two, each half being defended by one team.  Field players must be within their own half at a kick-off.

The arcs in the corners denote the area (within 1 yard of the corner) in which the ball has to be placed for corner kicks; other players have to be 10 yards away during a corner kick.


Grass is the normal surface of play, although artificial turf may also be used, especially in locations where maintenance of grass may be difficult due to inclement weather. The strain put on grass pitches by the cold climate and subsequent snow clearing has necessitated the installment of artificial turf in the stadiums located in colder climates.   The latest technology in  artificial surfaces use rubber crumbs.  At the professional level, all artificial turfs must be green and also meet the requirements specified in the FIFA Quality Concept for Football Turf.


About Author

Mike Slatton is a 2nd generation American youth soccer coach since 1984, and the son of one of the nation's first female licensed youth soccer coaches (Anita Slatton, 1979). He's also a professional soccer scout, a player since 1977, and the father of three adult and teenage children who all play or have played the game. "My job as a youth soccer coach is to develop detail oriented problem solvers who can react quickly under pressure. This relates to life - not just soccer."

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