Football for Dummies®

Table of Contents


About This Book

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organised

Part I: Kicking Off

Part II: Playing the Game

Part III: Exploring The World of Football

Part IV: The Fans’ Enclosure

Part V: The Part of Tens


Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Kicking Off

Chapter 1: Welcome to Planet Football

Football: the Simplest Game

The basic aim: it really is that simple!

So why is football so popular?

Where do people play footie?

Explaining a Few Rules

The pitch

The players

General behaviour


Keeping score . . .

. . . and keeping time

Playing the Game

Playing solo

Playing with others

Watching Football – and Supporting a Team

Following club and country

Winning trophies: the be-all and end-all?

Chapter 2: The Ball Starts Rolling: a Potted History of Football

The Birth of Football

Anyone for Cuju?

Kemari, Marn Gook and Calcio Fiorentino

England: The Home of Football

The 1850s: time to lay down some rules

Enter the FA

Step aside for the professionals!

The world’s first league

The first international

The World Takes Notice

The game takes over Europe . . .

. . . then South America . . .

. . . and finally the world

Football’s Golden Age

Television switches on

Players become stars

The Modern Game

How TV changed everything

Player power

Chapter 3: Getting Your Boots On: the Gear You Need

Having a Ball

Getting Kitted Out






Goalkeeping gear

The referee

Additional garments

Approaching Equipment

Goals and nets

First-aid kits

Training aids

Other kit and equipment

Meeting Up with Merchandise

Replica strips

Numbering and lettering

Retro shirts


Other official merchandise

Knowing Where to Get It All

Part II: Playing the Game

Chapter 4: Laying Down the Laws

Living by the Laws

Law 1: the field of play

Law 2: the ball

Law 3: the number of players

Law 4: the players’ equipment

Law 5: the referee

Law 6: the assistant referees

Law 7: the duration of the match

Law 8: the start and restart of play

Law 9: the ball in and out of play

Law 10: the method of scoring

Law 11: offside

Law 13: free kicks

Law 12: fouls and misconduct

Law 14: the penalty kick

Law 15: the throw in

Law 16: the goal kick

Law 17: the corner kick

Other Points to Note

Extra time

Penalty shootouts

Away goals

The technical area

Common sense

Chapter 5: Players, Positions and Tactics

Perusing Positions

The goalkeeper




Tactics: Linking It All Up

Dribbling: the first tactic

The main styles of play


Chapter 6: Honing Your Skills

Mastering the Basics


Basic passing skills

Trapping the ball

Heading the ball


Keeping It Tight at the Back



Key defensive principles

Sharpening Your Skills Up Front

Shielding the ball

Chip pass

Outside of foot pass

Back heel

Bending the ball


Free kicks

Taking penalties





Going for crosses


Parrying and tipping



Saving penalties

Chapter 7: Keeping Fit for Football

Keeping Fit

Stretching those muscles


Exercising aerobically

Training with weights

Sorting out your stomach

Cooling down

Balancing Your Diet

Investigating Injuries

Preventing injuries

Treating injuries

Chapter 8: Coaching, Managing and Leadership

A Brief History of the Manager

Coach or Manager (or Boss or Gaffer)?

What the role involves

Chess – or all-out war?


Building – and Picking – a Team

Building a squad

Choosing a captain

Selecting a first XI

Deciding on tactics

Taking Charge Yourself

Preparing the team

In-game decisions

Dealing with Kids

Chapter 9: Getting the Game On

Joining an Existing Team

Starting Your Own Club

Building the club from scratch

Affiliation: Counties and leagues

Finding players

Finding a manager


Booking a pitch

Match officials


Kit and equipment


Disciplinary procedures

Fees and funding

Social events

Volunteer roles

Commercial Leagues

Park Kickabouts

Five-a-side and Futsal

Soccer Schools and Training Camps

Becoming a Referee

Part III: Exploring the World of Football

Chapter 10: The World Cup

The Biggest Show on Earth

The long and winding road begins

The shape of things to come

The finals countdown

From Montevideo to Johannesburg: Eighty Years of Top-class Drama

Uruguay and Italy set the template

They think it’s the World Cup’s golden age . . . it is now!

Germany and Argentina take centre stage

Brazil bounce back

And so to 2010 . . .

Teams to look out for

Players to watch

And when it’s all over . . .

Chapter 11: Surveying the International Scene


The modern friendly international

The European Championships

How it’s organised

The early years

The Euros go large . . . and even larger

The Euros in the new millennium

Copa America

How it’s organised

The oldest – and the best?

An erratic history

The Copa’s revival

Africa Cup of Nations

How it’s organised

The ACN: A slow burner

The cup catches fire

Other tournaments

Asian Cup

Gold Cup

Nations Cup

Olympic Games

Confederations Cup

All Around the World . . .




Northern Ireland

Republic of Ireland








Chapter 12: The Club Scene

Clubbing Together

The first clubs

The rise of the super clubs

The ‘smaller’ clubs

Clubs today

The players

The manager

Backroom staff

The chairman, owners and the board

Club Competitions




The Big Leagues

England: The FA Premier League

Scotland: The Scottish Premier League

Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland

Italy: Serie A

Spain: Primera Division

Germany: Bundesliga

Brazil: Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A

Argentina: Primera Division


Domestic Cups

FA Cup

League Cup

Scottish Cup

Other famous cups

International Club Competitions

European Cup/UEFA Champions League

Europa League and UEFA Cup

Copa Libertadores

Other continental tournaments

Intercontinental Cup/FIFA World Club Cup

Chapter 13: Focusing on Famous Clubs



Aston Villa



Leeds United


Manchester City

Manchester United

Nottingham Forest

Tottenham Hotspur

West Ham United








Bayern Munich







Real Madrid

South America

Boca Juniors







River Plate


Some Selected Others

Al-Ahly and Zamalek

Raja Casablanca

Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak

LA Galaxy

New York Cosmos

Chapter 14: Women’s Football

From China to Crouch End: How It All Began

Dick, Kerr Ladies get popular . . .

. . . and the FA get sexist

The women fight back

The FA lift the ban – and FIFA get serious

The Game Today


Rest of the world

The Women’s World Cup

1991: The first World Cup

The tournament comes of age

The 2011 World Cup

Other Major Tournaments

Major International Teams

United States




Great Players

Lily Parr (England)

Kristine Lilly (United States)

Mia Hamm (United States)

Michelle Akers (United States)

Sun Wen (China)

Birgit Prinz (Germany)

Kelly Smith (England)

Marta (Brazil)

Part IV: The Fans’ Enclosure: Following the Game

Chapter 15: Going to the Match

Preparing for the Match

Season tickets

Choosing where to sit

Looking into club membership

Buying a single ticket in advance

Buying a single ticket on the day

Away games

Executive boxes

International matches

Making Your Way to the Match

Obtaining your tickets

Making travelling arrangements

Dressing for the occasion

Taking a look round the city

Checking out the ground

The club shop

A pint . . .

. . . and a pie

Matchday programmes

The Game Itself


Shouting, screaming and other matters of general etiquette

Wireless communication


Stewards, police and PA announcements

Keeping out of trouble

Chapter 16: Compulsive Viewing: Football on Screen



Satellite and cable

Official club channels

Essential shows and channels

The Internet

Live streaming

Recent action

Classic clips

Exploring Radio

Live commentaries


Listener phone-ins


Focusing on Football Films

Escape to Victory

Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait

The Damned United

The Firm (1988 TV movie)

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery

Gregory’s Girl

Looking for Eric

Discovering DVDs

Season reviews

Club histories

Other club titles

Country histories

Player histories

Tournament histories

Classic matches

Novelty titles

Classic television programmes

Chapter 17: Read All About It!

Knowing the Newspapers

What newspapers offer

The nationals

The locals

Employing the Internet

What the Internet can do for you

The mainstream media

Blogs and other websites

Making the Most of Magazines



When Saturday Comes

World Soccer

France Football

The Official Club View

Matchday programmes

Official club magazines

Official websites

The Fans’ View


Internet sites

Forums and message boards

Branching Out into Books



Club-specific books

Country specific books

General history



Chapter 18: Other Football-based Pastimes


The pools

Fixed-odds betting

In-game betting

Spread betting

The bookies or punter exchanges?

Taking Control with Fantasy Football

The rules

How to choose your players

Scoring points

Collecting memorabilia

Cigarette cards




Old shirts


Visiting Grounds

The 92 club

Playing Computer Games


Championship Manager and Football Manager

Joining Supporters’ Clubs

Regional clubs

Supporters’ federations

Owning Your Own Club

Part V: The Part of Tens

Chapter 19: Ten Great Players


Diego Maradona

Franz Beckenbauer

Johan Cruyff


Zinedine Zidane

Alfredo di Stéfano

Ferenc Puskás

George Best

Gerd Müller

Chapter 20: The Ten Greatest Teams of All Time

Preston North End (1881–1890)

Austria (1931–1934)

Torino (1943–1949)

Hungary (1950–1954)

Real Madrid (1955–1960)

Celtic (1967)

Brazil (1970)

Netherlands (1974–1978)

Milan (1987–1994)

Barcelona (2009)

Chapter 21: Ten Great Matches

Arbroath 36, Bon Accord 0 (Scottish Cup, 1885)

Brazil 1, Uruguay 2 (World Cup, 1950)

England 3, Hungary 6 (Friendly, 1953)

Charlton Athletic 7, Huddersfield Town 6 (English Second Division, 1957)

Real Madrid 7, Eintracht Frankfurt 3 (European Cup, 1960)

England 4, West Germany 2 (World Cup, 1966)

Manchester United 4, Benfica 1 (European Cup, 1968)

Brazil 4, Italy 1 (World Cup, 1970)

Nigeria 3, Argentina 2 (Olympics, 1996)

Liverpool 3, Milan 3 (Champions League, 2005)

Part VI: Appendixes

Appendix A: Roll of Honour

Appendix B: Glossary


About the Author

Scott Murray is a freelance writer and former sports editor of He writes regularly for, the Guardian, the Fiver, and FourFourTwo. He also has written for the Observer, GQ, Men’s Health, GQ Sport, Shortlist, the Evening Standard, and Arena. He is co-author of the football miscellany Day Of The Match: A History Of Football In 365 Days, and an upcoming biography of Maurice Flitcroft, the world’s worst golfer: Phantom Of The Open. The club he supports has won quite a lot of trophies, but then he also has to follow Scotland, so it all balances out.


I would like to thank everyone at Wiley, especially Simon Bell for his help and never-ending patience, especially upon being quizzed about the managerial merits of Frankie Gray. I would also like to thank Annabel Merullo and Tom Williams at PFD.

Publisher’s Acknowledgements

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Commissioning, Editorial, and Media Development

Development Editor: Simon Bell

Content Editor: Jo Theedom

Acquisitions Editor: Wejdan Ismail

Assistant Editor: Jennifer Prytherch

Copy Editor: Charlie Wilson

Technical Editor: Ollie Jones

Publisher: David Palmer

Production Manager: Daniel Mersey

Cover Photos: © PBWPIX / Alamy

Cartoons: Ed McLachlan

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Lynsey Stanford

Layout and Graphics: Nikki Gately, Joyce Haughey, Christine Williams

Proofreaders: Melissa Cossell, Lauren Mandelbaum

Indexer: Slivoskey Indexing Services



Congratulations! You’ve got a copy of Football For Dummies in your hands. This book has been written specially for people who want to know all they can about the greatest and most popular sport on the planet: association football. Football For Dummies aims to satisfy your curiosity, help you to understand the basics of how to play the game, arm you with knowledge so you can enjoy watching it to the full and show you that you have a whole world of football to be explore. There’s a reason football has taken off all around the globe, after all!

Millions are passionate about the sport, from fans of the ‘beautiful game’ in Brazil to lovers of ‘soccer’ in the US. And none more so than fans in the British Isles, where the game as you know it today took off back in the mid 1800s. It’s the simplest of sports in principle – in the final analysis, all you need to know is that one team has to score more goals than the other to win. Nevertheless, a plethora of laws, tactics and skills exist that can easily flummox the beginner.

That’s where this book comes in. I wrote it so that anyone who wants to enjoy football – whether by playing it or watching it – can get to grips with the sport quickly and easily, without feeling overwhelmed or intimidated. And I promise it won’t be long before you’ve become something of an expert on the most talked-about sporting pastime in the world. You’ll never look back!

About This Book

The simple aim of Football For Dummies is to provide you with all the basic skills and help you remember every scrap of crucial knowledge that you need to become a football fan. All the information you need is between the covers of this book. But although it’s all crammed in here, don’t feel daunted: you certainly don’t have to read every word, from start to finish, to get the most from the book.

Each chapter covers a separate topic about football, so you can easily dip into the chapters to find out about something you don’t quite understand. Say you’re watching a Champions League game on television, but don’t really know much about the history of the competition; just turn to the chapter that talks about important football competitions and Football For Dummies will fill the gaps in your knowledge.

If you fancy getting up off the sofa and turning out for a team yourself, Football For Dummies explains how you can set about getting involved as a player. The book offers plenty of handy hints and practical skills you can develop. Maybe you’d even like to become a referee. Well, that’s no problem. I even help you find a whistle.

And even if you’re not an absolute beginner, I’m confident that Football For Dummies can still help you discover plenty that’s new and fascinating from the long history of association football.

Foolish Assumptions

Assumptions are indeed foolish, so I’m not making any of them. Don’t worry if you feel you know absolutely nothing about football. Chances are you already know more than you think, and this book helps you gain confidence in your knowledge.

But even if you don’t have a scrap of understanding about the game to start off with, never mind! Football For Dummies soon gets you up to speed. And remember: even folk who think they know everything about the game have some gaps in their knowledge. Soon enough, I’m confident Football For Dummies will make an expert of you.

At the moment you might ask:

Why do some teams kick the ball up in the air but others pass it around the floor?

What on earth are the crowd singing?

Why are there two people dressed in black running up and down the side of the pitch waving flags?

What on earth is the offside rule?

Who was the greatest footballer who ever played the game?

This book answers those questions – and many, many more. My only assumption – and this one isn’t so foolish! – is that you know nothing about the game to start with. I take it from there, and it won’t be long before you understand all there is to know about football.

How This Book Is Organised

This book is organised into six distinct parts. Each section focuses on a different – but important – part of the world of association football.

Part I: Kicking Off

If you’re a complete beginner, this part gives you a basic grounding in what football is all about. This part describes what football is and why people love playing and watching the game so much. It tells the history of the sport, from its early days in China to the modern game that’s showcased in stadiums and on televisions all across the globe. And I show you how to get ready to join in, whether you’ll be getting your boots dirty or just watching from the stands!

Part II: Playing the Game

I don’t waste any time getting to the nitty-gritty here. The first chapter in this part explains the rules of the game – which are the same whether you’re having a kickaround in the local park or playing in the World Cup final! The part goes on to explain what each player on the pitch is expected to do, the tactics they’re told to employ and the skills they need to play the game. This part also includes tips on coaching and management, how to keep fit and where you can put it all into practice – on the pitch.

Part III: Exploring The World of Football

Football is the biggest sport in the world, and this part explains everything about the professional game. I explain all about the biggest show on earth – the FIFA World Cup – and other international tournaments such as the European Championships, Copa America and the African Cup of Nations. The part also details how club football is organised across the world, from the English Premier League to Major League Soccer in the US. I run down all the important international and club sides, so you know your Brazils from your Barcelonas and your Argentinas from your Arsenals. Plus there’s an in-depth look at women’s football – a fast-growing sport in its own right.

Part IV: The Fans’ Enclosure

If you love watching the game, this is the part for you. Chapters go through the routine of going to the match, as well as pointing you in the right direction of the best television programmes, Internet sites, newspapers, magazines, books, films and DVDs. I even explain what to do if you fancy a flutter, or just enjoy controlling a virtual match on your video-game console.

Part V: The Part of Tens

The part without which no For Dummies book would be complete. This part is packed full of nuggets of information you can squirrel away for use later, when you need to impress someone with your football knowledge. Was there really someone more talented than Pelé in the famous Brazil team of the 1950s and 1960s? The answer’s here – along with many other facts that are in turns funny, illuminating, tragic and interesting.


This part contains two really useful collections of information: a roll of honour of the greatest tournaments in football history and a glossary of useful phrases.

Icons Used in This Book

To help you navigate through this book with the ease of Diego Maradona slinking past Terry Fenwick, keep an eye out for these icons, the little pictures that sit in the margin. They help you spot particular snippets of information. This list tells you what the icons mean.

tip.eps This highlights small pieces of advice that can help you become a better player or a more knowledgeable football expert.

remember.eps This information is especially useful to remember. If you only remember one thing from each page, make sure it’s this bit!

warning_bomb.eps Hopefully, this won’t come up too much – but when it does, take heed, because the information accompanying it ensures you don’t come a cropper.

footyfact.eps The great thing about football is the amount of random trivia it generates. There’s lots of trivia in Football For Dummies, and you’ll quickly become an expert if you commit all these facts to memory!

Where to Go from Here

So here you are, ready for kick off. Exactly what you get out of Football For Dummies depends on your needs. If you’re a complete beginner the book gets you up and running. If you already know a bit about the game the book soon fills in the gaps in your knowledge. And even if you fancy yourself as a bit of an expert, well, everyone’s still learning, so hopefully you’ll find something new and fascinating in here too.

But although I’d advise beginners to start at the beginning, even they don’t have to. This book is designed for you to dip in and out of – so if you want to find out about the world’s most famous clubs first, turn to that chapter. You can always turn to a different chapter to bone up on the laws of the game. Or its history. Or its most famous stadiums. Or the hardest tricks to pull off down the five-a-side court. Or . . .

Part I

Kicking Off


In this part . . .

To break you in gently to the great game of association football, this part provides an introduction to the game, covering how it began, and what it is all about. Those of you who are new to football receive a comprehensive rundown of the whys and wherefores of the game right here.

In this part of the book, I describe how football has become the most widely played and watched team sport on the globe. I explain the basic aims of football, the pitch on which the game is played, and, last but not least, what gear you need to have to play it.

Chapter 1

Welcome to Planet Football

In This Chapter

Football: a simple game enjoyed the world over

The basic aims and rules

Playing and watching

Some reasons why people love football so much

Association Football is the most popular sport in the world. Depending on where you hail from, you may know it as football, footy, soccer, fitba, fÚtbol, calcio, futebol, voetbol, le foot, foci, sakka or bong da, but the game remains the same: two teams of 11 players, each one trying to kick a spherical ball into a goal more times than the other.

Football is fiendishly addictive, whether you watch or compete. Across the planet more supporters and spectators follow the professional game than any other sport, and at grass-roots level more amateur participants enjoy the game than any other athletic pastime.

Football arouses passion in spectators and players like no other game in the world – and perhaps like nothing else known to humankind. It has done so ever since some English rule-makers formalised the pastime of kicking a ball around into a sport during the late 1850s and early 1860s. (That’s 150 years and counting and it’s still getting more popular by the day.) But why have billions of men and women, boys and girls, adults and children been enthralled by this simplest of sports for such a long time? What makes football so special?

Football: the Simplest Game

John Charles Thring was bang on the money when, in 1862, he wrote a set of draft rules for the game that later became known as ‘Association Football’. With the sport yet to be christened, Thring decided to entitle his rules The Simplest Game.

Thring’s rules were tweaked before being ratified by the newly founded Football Association the following year, but the new sport of Association Football remained ‘the simplest game’. Because no game – with the possible exception of running in a straight line, and that’s not really a game, is it? – is less complicated than football.

The basic aim: it really is that simple!

The object of the game is simple: for a team of 11 players to guide a ball into a goal and do it more times than the opposition team can manage.

That’s it!

So why is football so popular?

Pop psychologists have written more words attempting to explain why football is so popular than on any other subject (except organised religion, maybe, although some supporters will tell you that’s pretty much the same thing).

The truth is, nobody’s ever been able to quite put their finger on why the game is so popular, so I’m not going to pretend to give you a definitive answer. There simply isn’t one. The best I can do is offer you the following three suggestions:

Its simplicity makes it readily accessible. You only have to watch a couple of minutes’ worth of action to work out what the teams are trying to do.

Goals have a rarity value and are at a premium. Cricket involves scoring hundreds of runs and a tennis player might win a point every 30 seconds. But you can watch 90 minutes of football and not see a single goal scored by either team. So when you do see one, the excitement is palpable.

The teams belong to the people. Despite its public-school origins, organised football quickly became a working-class sport, a release from the tedium of everyday life. Results really began to matter. Following a team became tribal, with a sense of belonging and a commitment to a cause.

Having said that, thousands of other, better reasons may exist. After you’ve watched a few matches, or played a few games, you’ll no doubt have a few theories of your own. Actually, that’s another great thing about football: everyone’s got an opinion about it.

Where do people play footie?

Everywhere, basically. The game, in a very basic form, is thought to have started out in China over 2,000 years ago, with the ancient Greeks, the Romans and indigenous Australians playing variations on a theme over the centuries.

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the game as you know it today developed in England, but by 1900 it had spread all over Europe and to South America. Fast-forward another 110 years and every country and continent in the world is now playing the game. That includes the United States of America, a country that held out for so long but is now slowly falling for its charms, with major men’s and women’s leagues now established Stateside.

Explaining a Few Rules

So how does this team of 11 players actually go about playing the game and scoring these elusive goals? I go into further detail about the laws of the game in Chapter 4, but first here’s a brief overview of how you play a football game.

The pitch

You usually play football on grass, occasionally on artificial surfaces, but always on a pitch no bigger than 73 metres (80 yards) wide and 110 metres (120 yards) long. Figure 1-1 shows you how the pitch looks.

Figure 1-1: The pitch.


Each end of the pitch has a goal, comprising two upright posts 7.3 metres (24 feet) apart and 2.43 metres (8 feet) high, topped with a horizontal crossbar. One team tries to score in one goal and the other team tries to score in the other goal. While both teams are trying to score they also try to stop the other team scoring.

The ball isn’t allowed to leave the pitch. If a player in one team kicks the ball off the pitch then a player in the opposing team must throw or kick the ball back in.

The players

Each team has 11 players. Ten of these players aren’t allowed to touch the ball with their arms or hands. They’re called outfield players. The other member of the team is called the goalkeeper; he can use his hands and arms in the penalty area around the goal he’s tending.

Four basic positions exist:

Defender: A defender’s job is primarily to defend his goal and stop players from the opposing team scoring.

Forward: A forward’s role is to score goals or create them for other players.

Goalkeeper: The goalkeeper’s job is to stop the ball going in the net at all costs, thus ensuring the opposing team don’t score a goal. He can do so by using any part of his body.

Midfielder: A midfielder – usually the team’s most adaptable players – covers a lot of ground, helping the defenders defend and the forwards attack.

These players are arranged in various formations. The most common is 4-4-2: four defenders, four midfielders and two attackers. The goalkeeper isn’t listed in the formation; his position is taken as read. Find out more about the fun of formations in Chapter 5.

General behaviour

A referee is on hand to officiate every game, and his decision is final.

Players aren’t allowed to barge each other off the ball, or kick each other, or trip each other up or obstruct each other. If they do, they give away a foul and the referee awards the other team a free kick. See Chapter 4 for more on free kicks.

If one team concedes a free kick close to the goal then the team awarded the kick has a fair chance of scoring direct. If a team concedes a free kick in the penalty box then the ref awards the opposition a penalty – a free shot from 12 yards out with only the goalkeeper in the way.

Referees can send off, or banish from taking any further part in the match, players who continually concede fouls. Find out more about free kicks, penalties and obeying the laws of the game in Chapter 4.


To score a goal the whole ball has to cross the goal line, going between both of the posts and under the crossbar.

Players are allowed to score by shooting with their feet or heading the ball into the goal. This sounds easier to achieve than it actually is, which is why goals are greeted with such unbridled joy by crowds.

Keeping score . . .

The scoring system in football is simple. If Team A has scored one goal and Team B hasn’t scored any then the score is 1-0. If Team B then scores two goals the score is 1-2.

A match may end with neither team scoring a goal. (This score is 0-0 – that’s ‘nil nil’, not ‘zero zero’ or ‘nothing nothing’.)

. . . and keeping time

A match lasts 90 minutes, split into two 45-minute halves. The team with the most goals at the end of 90 minutes wins the game. If both teams have the same number of goals then the match is a draw.

Playing the Game

The beauty of football as a sport is that anyone can play it, anywhere. That’s something you can’t say about horse racing or Formula One!

You don’t even really need any equipment, apart from a ball – and even then you can improvise. (Famous players, like the Brazilian legend Pelé and Argentinian icon Diego Maradona, both grew up in shanty towns playing with rolled-up newspapers.)

Playing solo

Although football’s a team sport, you don’t even need anyone else to play it with. Football is a game you can have just as much fun practising alone. Bobby Charlton, who won the 1966 World Cup with England and the 1968 European Cup with Manchester United, used to spend all his spare time as a little boy practising with a tennis ball up against a wall. As well as keeping him fit and healthy, it honed the skills that turned him into one of the greatest players the world’s ever seen.

Playing with others

If you do have a few friends to play with, but not enough to make two teams for a match, you can play hundreds of street football games, variations on the game that give a kickabout in the park some purpose and a little bit of competition.

But if you want a proper game, don’t fret: thousands of organised teams exist, at all age groups and levels of ability, that you can join. And who knows: if you’re good enough you may one day get a trial for a professional team. And then . . . well, we’re not promising anything, but somebody’s got to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo, haven’t they?

Watching Football – and Supporting a Team

Professional football is the most popular spectator sport in the world. Billions of people follow the game, either by going to a stadium to witness the action in the flesh or watching live coverage or edited highlights, either on television or over the internet.

Following club and country

Most people follow the fortunes of two favourite teams: the club side closest to their heart and their international team that represents the country of their birth or that of a parent’s.

Supporters choose club sides for different reasons. Perhaps they were born near the ground. Maybe their father or mother, or some other close family member, was a fan. Or it could be that a child watched a particular match and fell in love with the club immediately.

There could be other reasons. Their favourite player plays for them. They really like the colour of the team shirts. They visited the ground once and especially enjoyed the atmosphere. Anything is possible when people are making emotional attachments.

Who you support is up to you, and you can’t change what feels right. One warning, though: if you’re a Manchester United fan from Torquay, some fans will accuse you of being a glory hunter (someone who follows a club just to associate themselves with its success) and ask why you aren’t supporting the side from your home town. You’ll never win this argument, so don’t bother getting involved in it. Remember, who you support is a personal decision; no right or wrong answer exists.

Remember too that supporting Team X means that you’ll automatically dislike Team Y. (Think England/Scotland, Rangers/Celtic, Arsenal/Tottenham, Real Madrid/Barcelona.) These rivalries can generate a lot of pain – but a lot of joy as well. It might not be edifying but it’s an important part of the game.

Winning trophies: the be-all and end-all?

At a very basic level football is about winning things, whether watching or playing. Club teams compete to win league championships and cup competitions, and international sides try to win the World Cup.

But it’s not just about winning the big trophies, which is just as well because there aren’t that many to go round and it’s always the big sides and perennially successful nations who land them anyway. Football is also about:

Beating your arch rivals. Your team could end the season relegated while your rivals walk away with the championship. But if you’ve beaten them home and away – preferably convincingly – you still maintain the most important bragging rights that season. There’s logic in there – albeit logic that’s a bit twisted.

Avoiding relegation. If your team has looked doomed all season then pulls a couple of late-season victories out of the bag to secure their divisional status, the feeling of relief is so much greater than the joy of lifting a trophy. Seriously.

Registering an unexpected win. Some weekends it’s best to write off a result in advance, especially if you’re going to the league leaders in full knowledge that they’re miles better than you. It insulates you from the pain of defeat – and also makes it 100 times better when your side somehow come away with a ludicrous 4-1 win.

Schadenfreude. It’s not necessarily an emotion to be proud of. But few feelings are better in football than letting rip a guttural guffaw after watching a painful defeat befall a club you dislike intensely.

Formation and tactics. Football isn’t just a visceral thrill, it can be an intellectual pursuit too. Working out how your team played, and why they won or lost, can be enlightening and frustrating in equal measure.

Having an opinion (and an argument). Apart from the hard facts on the scoresheet, no absolute rights and wrongs exist in football. A heated discussion with fans of either your team or another club over the performance of various teams and the merits of different players can be one of the real joys of being a fan. And a pressure value to let off steam and keep you sane.

The game’s history. Football is over 150 years old and there are thousands of fascinating stories to be told. If you’re bitten by the bug you may never be able to stop reading about old-school players and what they got up to. Despite what Sky Sports want you to think, football didn’t begin with the Premier League in 1992!

A famous jaw-dropping moment. Everyone remembers where they were when Eric Cantona jumped into the crowd and kicked a supporter, when Zinedine Zidane headbutted Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final and when Liverpool scored three goals in six minutes to come back from 3-0 down in the Champions League final.

A personal jaw-dropping moment. Nobody will remember this one apart from you. Maybe it was a moment spent watching the game as a youngster with your dad, or the time a first-goal-scorer bet came in at 50/1.

Watching the biggest games. You may never see your team compete in one but still nothing shares the pomp, ceremony and sheer anticipation of the final of a major tournament.

The pain of defeat. Because without it, you wouldn’t appreciate the good times.