Formal rules of 5-a-side football do exist, though they’re often adapted slightly different wherever you play. But generally people will tell you them freely and happily whenever you need to know them.
But then there are the unwritten rules as well. The ones that nobody ever really tells you, but you’ve got to figure out for yourself. Perhaps, in most cases, people feel they don’t have to tell you because many of them just describe sensible, sporting, courteous ways to behave.
But as we all know, at football there’s rarely ever a week that goes by where the words ‘sensible’, ‘sporting’ and ‘courteous’ can be used to describe proceedings. Make no mistake about it, there are some utter fools out there and, in order for you not to become one of them, this guide exists. Read it all, soak it in, change your ways and then gleefully send it to your mates at football who really need it.
1. The kicker always fetches
He who kicks it shall also fetch it – the first golden rule of any kickabout. Sending the ball sailing over the fence – likely into the nearest collection of brambles – and expecting someone to go and fetch it is a lot like expecting somebody else to flush for you after using the bathroom. The situation stinks and you are the worst of creatures if you won’t sort out your own mess.
It’s also fair to say that the importance of collecting the ball incresaes with the degree of inconvenience in fetching it. So if you’ve smashed it into nettles, over a fence that needs climbing, onto a roof, or somewhere that’s going to take a good few minutes to retrieve, that it’s even more imperative that you take responsibility for it or risk making enemies for life.
2. Don’t try to avoid your turn in goal
Unless your weekly kickabout is blessed to have a couple of specialist goalkeepers, it’s customary that everybody takes a turn in goal, swapping round every couple of minutes.
You’ll regularly hear the classic cry from a makeshift keeper who has served his time between the posts: “who is next in?” On hearing this, the decent thing for other players to do is to work out which one of them is next and quickly swap. But all too often the call goes unanswered because there’s at least one git who thinks he shouldn’t go in goal, like it’s somehow beneath him.
Eventually the call changes from “who’s next” to a slightly annoyed growl of “has everybody been in?”, which is really just a polite way of saying ‘oi, you, stop pretending you can’t hear me and get in goal, you slippery primma-donna scumbag’.
3. When you’re in goal, do it properly
When your turn in goal does come round, do it properly for goodness sake. There’s nothing more frustrating than somebody who doesn’t try, in the hope that they’ll be quickly removed from the responsibility.
We get it, you’re not a goalkeeper by trade. Nobody is expecting you to leap across the goal making full-stretch wonder-saves, but we are expecting you to do your bit for the team and do more than simply lean casually on the crossbar looking the wrong way as the ball flies past you into the net. Often you can identify these people straight away when you offer them the communal goalkeeper gloves (which are admittedly usually very smelly) and they turn them down as if to say: “well, I won’t be needing them because I’m not intending to make any saves at all.”
Deliberately not trying on your turn in goal makes you look like almost as much of a pillock than if you tried not to go in goal in the first place. “Well, you insisted that I go in goal even though I’m too good for it, and now you’re going to pay”. You arrogant @*&!.
Also, if each goalkeeper is supposed to go in for 5 minutes, then this really does mean 5 whole minutes. If you’re the character who starts looking for a way out after 30 seconds this makes you look like a lowlife. Everybody knows how long 5 minutes is, so stop trying to swap with someone after only 2 and a half. We’re on to you.
4. Sliding tackles don’t win any friends
It’s quite simple, if yours is the type of game where everyone has got work in the morning and values arriving there with two functional legs, the last thing you need is somebody going around putting in spicy sliding tackles. Nobody will make themselves popular going to ground to make tackles, and in 99% of cases it’s unnecessary anyway.
5. If it’s a friendly and there’s a 50/50 challenge, pull out
50/50 situations arise very frequently. The ball will be situated exactly equal distance between two players. Both players will want to win the ball and hurtle towards it, only taking their eye off it to stare briefly into the whites of each other’s eyes. In a competitive game it’s a dual to the death where only one can emerge victorious. It’s a lottery where functioning limbs are the price of admission, and your original stake is often not returned.
But in a friendly game all of that doesn’t apply. Of course you can make an effort to win the ball, but there’s no shame in pulling out if it’s clear that someone is probably going to get hurt. In fact, you’ll look a lot more stupid if you crunch through into the tackle and obliterate either the opponent or yourself. Sure, we all want to win, but do you want to do it at the expense of injuring someone in a friendly match?
6. Pay your fees promptly
The guy who organises your weekly game is, frankly, nothing short of a hero for putting up with your group’s organisational failings. Remember, he’s only doing it because he really wants football to be on and if it wasn’t for him then the game probably wouldn’t happen at all.
He’ll probably spend many dark moments of self reflection wondering why he ever took the sorry role in the first place, and will probably never get any thanks for dealing with your nonsense week after week.
But one thing is for certain, he definitely did not sign up for the job because he harboured a desire to become a part-time bailiff, chasing you for your weekly fees long after the game has finished.
The classic scenario is the one where a player trustworthily says “I’ve got the money in my car” and merrily goes to get it for you. The next time you see him, he’s speeding off into the sunset! Don’t be the guy who slopes off after the game hoping that you won’t be chased for your money. Thats just tight.
7. Don’t help yourself to a discount
When the organiser says it’ll be £3.50 each, he doesn’t mean that you can pay him £3.26… in a collection of coins that look like you’ve just done a clear out down the back of the sofa.
What is the thinking here: “don’t worry, what’s 24p between mates”? The accountant in me wants to stop the game 4 minutes from the end and ask them to leave. If you’re going to only pay for 93% of a game then you’re only going to play 93% of it.
And some call me petty… I don’t know why.
8. Let the organiser know your availability when they ask for it
Now, I like a good mystery as much as the next man, but it’s not my idea of fun to spend my week guessing where Clive from Wednesday night football has disappeared to.
After several texts and emails, even a little bit of Facebook stalking, just as I’m about to conclude he’s probably dead, he suddenly surfaces to tell me I should count him in for 5-a-side. And so the pattern repeats each and every week. Clive probably thinks it’s a huge relief I’ve heard from him, but it’s quite the opposite – I’ve secretly started to get my hopes up that he’s disappeared and will have to be replaced by somebody who will actually reply to my messages. I could do without that suspense thanks, Clive.
9. Don’t drop out
It’s 2 hours to the game, 10 players are signed up and looking forward to it. But then out of the blue, one of them decides to drop out. A frantic chase around ensues for a hero and saviour who is willing to be a replacement but despite 9 remaining players asking everyone they know to come and play, including people who have never even dreamed of playing football before, nobody can make it at such short notice.
So they play 4v5 with rush goalie (or some other modified rule) but it’s not the same. The dropout has ruined it for everyone.
Excuses tend to be along the lines of saying they:
- felt tired after a long day at work
- forgot to run it past the wife / girlfriend / husband /boyfriend
- are starting to come down with an illness
- have to work late (‘the timeless classic’)
None of the above are likely to result in any sympathy at all, but everyone can be reluctantly forgiven one instance of this. But to do it twice requires an excuse that is nothing short of a family bereavement – or even your own death – for everyone to find this acceptable.
10. Turn up on time
If 9 other people can turn up on time for a game, so can you. But there’s always that one player who comes jogging up 5 minutes (or more) after the game has started, then casually joins in, without apology, as if the rest of the group have only got themselves to blame for being so damned early.
And this isn’t a one-off, he does it every single week. It seems he lives in his own time zone and there’s nothing you can do about it. If he was as late into a tackle as he is to a game then it would be an instant red card.
Be keen. Be early.
11. Don’t gratuitously smash it at the keeper
If you are lucky enough to find yourself through on goal, under no pressure from the defenders and with a moment to think about how to beat the keeper, common decency says you do not blast it straight at him.
You’ve got so many options: you can place it, dink it, shift it to the side and slot it in. Nowhere on your list should be the thought: “I’ll just twat it at him as hard as I can from 2 yards away and hope that it works”. That sort of behaviour is poor form, and often ends up resulting in play being stopped for the next 5 minutes whilst everyone helps the keeper rearrange his nose, or waits for him to retrieve his displaced testicle. And nobody will thank you for that.
12. The organiser must try to pick even sides
It’s a friendly game of football and everyone wants it to be competitive. What they don’t want is you to pick the teams like you’re running some kind of cartel.
If you’ve picked the teams so that it’s you and your favourite all-stars against the dregs, each and every week, expect some abuse to be heading in your direction sooner or later, and possibly a case of mutiny.
Also questionable are those people who refuse to be separated from their ‘bestest mate’ for an hour of 5-a-side. They’ll tell us that they can’t play against their mate; that they’re an incredible partnership, on each other’s wavelength with near-telepathic understanding. The rest of us just look at them and wonder if there’s something else going on between them.
13. Don’t be a moaner
Your game is supposed to be a fun leisure-time activity. Nobody wants to be subjected to your incessant moaning to the point where they wish they’d rather poke their own eyes out with the stubby-end of their worn-down AstroTurf boots.
Be positive. You’ll enjoy the game much more.
14. Don’t pretend you’re better than everyone else
You might well be a lot better than everyone else, but the chances are that you’re really probably not. Either way, swanning around at 5-a-side with all the self-importance of Cristiano Ronaldinho is much like painting a big target on your legs and inviting everybody to line up and take turns having a kick at you.
5-a-side is the people’s game. Leave all the ego outside the pitch.
15. No running into barriers / walls
Where they exist, the barriers are there to stop the ball going out of play and ensure that there’s no time wasted continually fetching the ball. It seems that not everybody got this memo, as there are still a number of people who assume that the barriers are solely there as a surface to smash opponents into.
Wrestling with people in the corner can also fall into this bracket and is frowned upon. Step back, let the man out. If you feel inclined to closeline opponents into barriers then you should probably trade in your football shoes for some spandex and pursue a career in the WWE instead.
16. No sneaky farting in corners
Crop dusting, hit-and-runs, call them what you will – there’s no excuse. It’s the bodily function equivalent of fly-tipping and it should be illegal.
17. Don’t goal-hang
“Wow, I really enjoyed running around doing all the defending on my own and then passing it to that goal hanger on our team to have pot-shots at goal”, said absolutely nobody ever.
You have to be very popular among the group for people to tolerate you just loafing around in attack and doing no work in defending. Even if you are popular, being a goal hanger is usually a quick way to quickly become an outcast.
18. If you’ve got a substitute, everyone takes a turn (that includes you)
“Sub, lads…. Who’s next off? Sub, sub anyone? Sub? Sub? Lads?…….. Lads?”
That is the tragic sound of a substitute sitting on the side of the pitch desperately trying to convince his teammates that he didn’t get kitted up just because he enjoys the look of hanging around a sports centre in shorts. He’s there to play football, just like you.
When it’s your turn to be subbed, get off the pitch promptly and don’t moan about it. Everyone needs to take a turn so don’t be one of those people who strings it out saying “one more minute” for about 10 minutes in a row while the sub dies of boredom/hypothermia.
19. There’s no place for petty self-refereeing
If there’s no referee that’s provided to oversee your games then responsibility for making sure it’s a sensible, fair contest lies in the hands of everyone. The odds are naturally against 10 sweaty testosterone-fuelled individuals self-policing the game, but plenty of games manage just fine. Having a chance at succeeding means not playing dirty, but it also means not appealing every 30 seconds to an imaginary referee for petty decisions to go in your favour.
I’ve seen entire games stop for several minutes whilst two particularly petty individuals argue over whether somebody’s toe encroached into the goalkeeper’s area. It’s a friendly game of 5-a-side, for goodness’ sake, not the world cup final. If you’re prepared to endlessly argue over this stuff, you need to take a long, hard look at your life. Nobody else cares, just ask for a consensus vote and move on.
20. Pass the ball – it’s not exclusively yours
Nobody likes a kid who doesn’t share his toys. It’s the same with the ball – if you’re the sort of player who refuses to pass the ball, insisting instead on shooting or dribbling every single time you get it, then eventually none of the other kids are going to want to play with you.
Etiquette demands that you pass the ball to your teammate, rather than be a greedy ball-hog. Specifically:
- don’t avoid passing to the weak player or the new guy. He’s part of your team as much as you are.
- dont be that person who always runs straight to the feet of the keeper every time he’s got the ball demanding he simply rolls it to you. He has got other options and from time to time he’d like to use them.
21. Avoid kit disasters – dress for the game
When you’re playing with a group and you commit a kit disaster then you bring the whole group down with you. Turning up in jeans, Bermuda shorts, tennis shoes or vests, will result in instant ridicule -and rightly so.
The only exception to this is if you’re a very last minute sub. Such is the relief at finding someone to make up the numbers that they can be forgiven almost any attire at all.
22. Pick sides quickly
When you’re picking sides, get it done efficiently and early. Nobody wants to be 10 minutes into the session still waiting for teams to be picked. Especially not if it’s because people are debating it as if it’s some kind of global political summit. Get it done.
23. Don’t just stick the big guy in goal
Stop assuming that just because he naturally fills the most space that he automatically wants to spend the whole match in goal!
24. Think twice before shouting “Megs”
For all who are not familiar – in the UK the cry of “megs” is short for “nutmeg”, and for some unknown reason this is the term that describes the action of putting the ball in between somebody’s legs.
For decades, leading philosophers have debated whether a ‘megs’ is a ‘proper megs’ if you don’t come out with the ball – or even if there should be a concept of a ‘proper megs’. One thing is clear though, you can wind opponents up very easily with this, and a certain breed of old-school player will feel this to be tantamount to you stealing his honour and will have no choice but to avenge this deed by reducing you to a weeping pile of limbs very shortly afterwards. You’re especially likely to encounter this reaction if you don’t even know the person you’ve just ‘megged’ as goodwill will be in short supply and they’ll want to lay down the rules of engagement early on.
Also, if you’re shouting “megs” twenty times a game and going crazy when it comes off once, you look like a total fool.
What constitutes a ‘proper megs’. Must you a) shout ‘megs’ before and b) come out with the ball other side? Is ‘proper megs’ even a thing?
— 5-a-side.com (@5asidecom) November 16, 2016