Football Rules: Key rules in football including offside, cards and penalties

Football is perhaps the simplest sport to play in the world. But the rules run deeper than just knowing how to score a goal.

football rules


We all reckon we know the rules of football – and yet how often do we end up arguing with mates above whether there was an offside or handball in a game at the weekend? There are 17 laws of football outlined by the FA, which cover everything from goals to corner kicks, substitutions and stoppage time.

In this guide, Paddy will take you through the core rules in football and explain what bets correlate with each rule. This isn’t the definitive rulebook for the beautiful game, but if you need to know how the football offside rule works, or what happens to suspensions when players are sent off, then read on!

football rules and betting

Rules for football

Let’s start with the basics. Here are the main rules for football you really should know if you’re planning to bet on it:

  • Goals – The aim of football is to kick or head the ball into the opponent’s goal. The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins. Simple.
  • Teams – A football game is made up of two teams of 11 players each. Teams are allowed five substitutes in a game.
  • Game length – Football games are played across 2x 45-minute halves. Teams switch ends at half time. If the game is in a cup competition where a winner needs to be determined, then 30 minutes of extra time, and even a penalty shootout, will be required to split the teams.
  • Handball – Football is played with all parts of the body apart from the arms and hands. If the ball deliberately touches a hand or arm, then a foul is awarded.

The beauty of football is it can be played between just two people in a one-on-one kick about in the park, or a hundred school kids out in the yard. The aim is always to score more than the opposition.

Below are more detailed aspects of the rules for football, and what bet types accompany them.

Offside rule

Guaranteed to trigger the fury of fans across the country, it’s the offside rule football has the biggest problem with. The concept is simple. An attacking player is offside when their teammate kicks the ball forward and there are fewer than two opposition players between said attacking player and the goal. One of those opposition players is almost-always the goalkeeper.

The point of offside is to stop attacking players simple standing a yard out from goal and getting their team-mates to punt it towards them. Offside bunches up play and means teams need to pass and run around and through opposition teams to get to goal.

Free kicks explained

A free kick is given when:

  • A player is fouled by the opposing team (for being tripped, kicked, illegaly obstructed from the ball)
  • A player commits a handball
  • A player is offside
  • A goalkeeper picks up the ball from a deliberate pass from their own team-mate (back pass)

When a free kick occurs, opposition players need to retreat 10 yards. The free-kick taker can only touch the ball once when taking the kick.

Yellow and red cards rule

Yellow and red cards add an extra layer to the drama of a football game, and to your football bets. Players can get a yellow card for:

  • Fouling an opposition player
  • Handling the ball
  • Abusing match officials
  • Failing to control themselves when tensions spill over

If you get two yellow cards in a match, you get a red and are sent off. Straight red cards are also possible in football and are shown for:

  • Violent conduct
  • Deliberately hurting or injuring a player
  • Preventing a goal-scoring opportunity when fouling a player
  • Handling the ball to prevent a goal
  • Serious and/or physical abuse of match officials
  • Serious and/or physical abuse with fans or team-mates

You can bet on the number of red and yellow cards shown in a game in the football betting section of the Paddy Power sportsbook. It’s also possible to bet on individual players to get booked or sent off.

football substitution rules

How substitutions work

Football teams have five substitutions they can make in a game, spread over three windows of their choosing (they can also make subs at half time). A substitution is a direct swap of one existing player with one from the bench. Subs can be subbed off again, but once a player is subbed off they cannot re-enter the field.

There aren’t many options to bet on substitutions but punters will sometimes bet on a player who begins a match as a sub to come on late in the game and score the last goal. The player’s odds will naturally be quite high, as there is no guarantee they will be subbed on.

How to score a goal in football

The aim of football is to score goals and there are multiple ways in which teams can do this. They include:

  • Kicking the ball in the goal either from open play, a penalty or a free-kick
  • Heading or using any other part of the body (apart from the arm) to fire the ball into the net
  • The opposition score an own goal where they direct the ball into their own net

A goal is not awarded if a player throws it in the goal from a throw-in and the ball doesn’t touch anyone. Likewise, a player cannot score from an indirect free-kick (as opposed to a direct free-kick)

Paddy Power offers extensive odds on the types of football goals that may be scored in a game. This includes betting on individual players to score a header or penalty, a free-kick or perhaps even score with their left foot.

Extra time and penalties explained

If a game requires a winner and the scores are level at 90 minutes then it will go to extra time.

Extra time consists of 2x 15-minute halves, where teams change ends at half time. If a team is winning at the end of extra time then they win the game. If the scores are still level when the game heads to penalties.

A penalty shootout consists of five penalties for each team. Teams take it in turns to take a penalty, and whoever scores the most after five each wins the game. Players cannot take more than one penalty, so a team needs to figure out the five penalty takers they will select. If the scores are still level after five penalties each then the shoot-out goes to sudden death. Once a team has scored and the other missed, then that team wins.

You can bet on a game going to extra time and to penalties in the Paddy Power sportsbook, so long as the tie requires a winner. It’s a bet type commonly placed at the World Cup and in the Champions League.


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