While association football is a fairly simple game to understand, knowing the different areas of the field of play makes it even easier to follow.
As in most sports, the specifications of the playing area are enshrined in the Laws of the Game.
Law 1 – The Field of Play – in the FIFA Laws of the Game outlines all there is to know about the important areas of the football pitch.
The soccer pitch
The most important and obvious aspect of the football field is that it must be rectangular. Secondly the dimensions must be within a given range of measurements. Law 1 stipulates measurements for normal games and international matches.
For instance, the minimum and maximum lengths of the touchlines are 90m and 120m respectively. The minimum and maximum lengths of the goal lines are 45m and 90m. The football field is marked by two touch lines and two goal lines, which must be clearly visible and not exceeding five inches.
The two halves of the field of play
The football field is divided into two equal halves, which are symmetrical. A halfway line (which also does not exceed five inches in width) is very critical in outlining this division. Flags may be placed one yard from the touchline to mark the halves as well, but these are not mandatory.
Goals are central to association football and Law 1 gives clear guidelines concerning the material, colour, shape and measurements of both goals. The centre of the goals must match the centre of the goal line.
The uprights must be eight feet high and the crossbar should be eight yards long. Both the uprights and the crossbar should be white and equivalent to the width of the goal line. Interestingly, goals are not required to have nets, but they certainly are useful for match officials and spectators alike.
The goal area
The goal area defines where the ball should be placed for goal kicks. However, it is also important when taking indirect free kicks or dropped balls for restarts of play within the penalty area.
FIFA law dictates that the IFK or dropped ball should be taken on the 20-yard boundary line of the goal area parallel to where the ball was located when play was stopped. The goal area is 20 yards long (six yards from either upright) and extends six yards from the goal line as well.
The penalty area
The official name is the penalty area, but is unofficially known as the “18-yard box.” It is a rectangular box than surrounds the goal area. It extends 18 yards from either upright and 18 yards forward from the goal line; therefore, the dimensions are 44 x 18 yards. The penalty area is critical because of its proximity to the goal and because it is the area that determines penalty kicks. This area also defines where the goalkeeper can legitimately handle the ball (except in certain rare situations).
The penalty arc
One of the tests of a true football fan is knowledge of the penalty arc. Even some players are confused by the arc, assuming that it is part of the penalty area. However, the penalty arc at the top of the penalty area only serves to mark 10 yards from the penalty mark. This is because, during the taking of a penalty kick, all players are supposed to be at least ten yards from the penalty mark (except the kicker of course).
The penalty mark
The penalty mark (informally called the penalty spot or “the spot”) extends 12 yards from the goal line and is equidistant from the uprights. Only a real soccer fan would know the purpose of the arc drawn at the top of the penalty box is. It matches the circumference of a football and exists to place the ball for a penalty kick or kicks from the penalty mark.
The centre circle
The centre circle is a circle that straddles both halves and has a radius of 10 yards in radius at the centre of the field. The centre mark is the centre point of the centre circle and is used to place the ball at kick-off. The centre circle’s main purpose is to ensure that opponents remain 10 yards from the ball at kick-off.
The corner arc
The corner arc is used exclusively for placing the ball when a corner kick is taken. The law stipulates that the ball must be placed either on or within the corner arc when a corner is taken. The corner arc must be marked with a corner flag at the point where the touch line meets the goal line. Spectators may notice marks that are 10 yards from the corner and just outside the field of play. These are used as guidelines for referees, since opponents must be at least ten yards away from the corner when a corner kick is taken.
Markings on the soccer field are as critical to the game as the ball and players. Such is their importance that a football game can be abandoned without a ball being kicked if a field is not properly marked.