School football rules


There has been a lot of nonsense written about Manchester United coming to the end of a ‘long, hard season’ recently. Frankly, 66 games is not a long season.

At school, matches began before school started at 9 o’clock. They continued through morning break, entered their Battle of El Alamein stage during the lunch hour, and then meandered on indefinitely after school. This happened five days a week, with two 11-a-side matches at the weekends. There were no subs, no squad rotation, no injuries and no summer break. That’s a proper season.

Of course playground rules are slightly different to those used in the Premiership, and playground football is all the better for it. In case it’s been a while since you hung up your blazer, here’s a quick guide to the most important regulations.

Picking teams

As everyone knows, teams are picked by the two captains – the owner of the match ball and his best mate. All the other combatants line up against a wall and are selected in descending order of perceived footballing skill and social popularity.


Managers in the school games traditionally employ the 1-25 formation. The 1 being the hapless goalkeeper and the 25 being everyone else in the year scrapping in a 10-yard radius around the ball.

Rush goalkeepers

A novel way of appeasing the boy press-ganged into going in goal. Once appointed rush goalie, the boy is also allowed to take part in the outfield action when his other duties allow. Generally found leading the attack within 10 minutes of kick-off.

Monkey rush

A variation on rush goalie, monkey rush allows the post of goalkeeper to be filled by whoever is standing closest to the goal. Invariably leads to confusion and violence.

The goals

Goals are generally marked by any two landmarks a suitable width apart – fence posts, dustbins, soon-to-be-destroyed-saplings etc. In emergencies they can, of course, also be marked by the placing of two jumpers. The distance between said jumpers should always be sombrely paced-out by taking an arbitrary and entirely random number of steps.

The height of goals varies, depending on a complex equation involving the height of the goalkeeper and whether he chooses to jump or not as the shot flashes past him. In an interesting twist, the relative size of the young thug who took the shot can also have an important bearing.

Post and in

Another complicated ruling made necessary by the often bulky nature of the posts. A shot that passes goal-side of the post is generally determined to have gone ‘post and in.’ Shots passing over the outer side of the post are ruled ‘post and wide.’ Again, disputes and violence will follow.

The match ball

At middle school the ball of choice was a size-two World Cup ‘94 replica that McDonald’s gave away with Happy Meals. Small, and with the firmness of a composite hockey ball, they suited skilful dribblers and hopeless toe punters alike.

Other suitable balls include: floaty ‘Match’ ball from newsagents, tennis ball, Nike Air Jordan basketball, size three Puma King (£14.99 from Argos), year four boy’s graphic calculator.


Playground football doesn’t feel the need to criminalise players who lurk offside. Instead it relies on social ostracism to self-police the problem. Anyone found standing next to the goalkeeper for more than 20 seconds is instantly dubbed a goal-hanger and doomed to the status of pariah for ever more.


Another form of self-policing. Beats can be dished out for offences as varied as kicking the ball over a fence, failure to successfully complete the Baggio Seven or the late onset of puberty.

The seriousness of the beats reflect the offence. A minor transgression warrants a stiff jab to the BCG, while more serious crimes necessitate a brutal kicking against a chain link fence.


Are you joking? Don’t be such a girl.


7 responses to “School football rules

  1. F***ing QUALITY!!!

    I kid you not, I’ve still got one of those mini USA ’94 balls! Ideal for a kickabout with my brother in the living room!!

    Ah, the memories, the memories… 🙂

    • You’ve got one? Then you’re a very rich man. They were the only footballs ever manufactured that you can throw further than you can kick.

  2. Haha brilliant.

    Jumpers for goal posts – great times.

    I remember in primary school, the head teacher used to come out with a box of footballs to throw out to the playground at the beginning of our break. The footballs ranged from a half destroyed foam ball (terrible in the rain), to a rock-hard mitre. We had to send about 10 of our group to be in the mix to catch a ball as the teacher threw them out on to the play ground, and hope one of them caught something decent to play with. Once we had one, we played about 15vs15 with everybody chasing the ball for an entire hour (usually including the keeper).

    My other fond memory of school football was returning home after the first week of a new term, only to have my mum go mental at me for about an hour for wrecking my new school shoes by playing football in them.

    • Wrecking your school shoes playing football is an essential right of passage. I remember my mum and I having a serious talk about whether I was being bullied because she refused to believe anyone could get so muddy without being dragged through a copse by a vicious gang.

  3. samblackledge

    ah, the memories are flooding back.

    i always got stuck in defence. i think it was because i had glasses and was better at cricket.

    good times.

    well, not really good times. traumatic times.

  4. Pingback: How did I become an expert in playground football? Search me. «

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