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Everything You Need to Know About 5-a-Side Football

For football fans, players, and aspiring players of all abilities and ages, 5-a-side football is the ultimate way to get involved in the sport and boost fitness levels at the same time. Depending on ability and skill level, it can be fast and frantic or played at a more leisurely pace.

Whichever level you play at, one thing is assured – Great fun!

The rules and regulations that govern the game are fairly standard and will be familiar to anyone who follows the 11-a-side game, although there are some differences, which are covered below.

What rules govern 5-a-side football?

As mentioned, the rules that govern 5-a-side football games are similar to that of the 11-a-side game. Some of the laws that apply equally to both disciplines include no handball for outfield players and foul play.

However, there are also some fundamental differences including:

Offside rule

Unlike the 11-a-side game, there is no offside rule in 5-a-side football. This heightens the excitement because it allows teams to leave a player deep in their opponents’ half at all times.

Size of the pitch

According to the FA’s handbook governing the 5-a-side game, a 5-a-side football pitch should be between 25 and 50 metres in length and between 16 and 35 metres in width.

All pitches must be rectangular, with the touchline always longer than the goal line.

Goalkeeper and goalkeeping area

Whilst there are some variations in certain tournaments, most of the time, the goalkeeper is not allowed to venture outside their defined area, nor are other players allowed into either goalkeeping area. If the goalkeeper is deemed to have left their area to gain an advantage, a penalty is awarded to the opposing team. The same penalty is applied if a defending player enters the goalkeeping area. In cases where goalkeepers are also not permitted to kick the ball except when making a save. When distributing the ball, it must be delivered using an underhand throw, infringements are penalized by the award of a free kick.

The pass back rule also differs slightly from the “big game”. A player who receives the ball from the goalkeeper cannot pass it straight back, it must touch another player, which can be an opposition player before it is passed back.


In cases where there is no defined penalty spot, the penalty is normally taken from the center of the pitch, a meter back from the edge of the goalkeeping area. The player taking the kick must be identified to the referee prior to the kick being taken.

As in the 11-a-side game, the goalkeeper must remain on his line until the kick is taken, but the penalty taker is not allowed any long run-ups, with a maximum of one step allowed before striking the ball.

The head height rule

Apart from the number of players, another fundamental difference between the disciplines is the “head height rule.” This rule dictates the height at which the ball must remain under.

In most instances, this height is set at the head height of the tallest player on the pitch, although some venues and tournaments may have a level marked or some other defining level somewhere around the playing area that sets the maximum height.

A free kick is awarded to the opposition when the ball is played above the allowed height. The rule aims to encourage the playing of the ball along the ground and prevent teams from merely launching the ball high up field at every opportunity.


Tackling is allowed in 5-a-side football and falls under the same rules as 11-a-side in deeming what constitutes a foul tackle. The exception to this is slide tackling; on most occasions, any form of slide tackling is not allowed.

In 5-a-side football, slide tackles are regarded as dangerous. This is particularly true on artificial surfaces. Even if the ball has been cleanly won in a slide tackle, it will generally end up with a free kick awarded to the opposing team.

How long does a game last?

This can vary depending on the terms of the league or tournament the match is being played in. In just about every instance, the matches are shorter than the standard 90-minutes of the normal game.

Most five-a-side matches will consist of two halves of 20 or 25 minutes, with a five-minute break at half-time. Because of the confined area of a 5-a-side football pitch, players tend to run around more during a game compared to on a full-sized pitch, and this length of game gives ample opportunity to improve fitness levels.

Cards and Discipline

As in the full-sized game, referees can dish out yellow or red cards in cases where players are guilty of offences. Yellow cards will usually mean being banished from the field of play for a set period, usually around 5 minutes. These are awarded for offences including a serious foul tackle or persistent fouling, dissent, time-wasting, and unsporting behavior.

For more serious offences, a red card can be shown, and this results in the expulsion of the player for the remainder of the match. These are awarded for offences including the deliberate denial of a goal, violent conduct, abusive or threatening language, or a second yellow card.

The final whistle

For football enthusiasts, there is no better or more fun way to improve your fitness and enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded individuals than to get involved in 5-a-side football.

There are teams, tournaments, and leagues to suit all levels of fitness, skills and age groups, and one of the great joys of the game is improving your skills along with your fitness.


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