I’ve recently published a list of resources for 5-a-side rules. On that page you can get all the resources you need if you’re playing your own game, running a tournament, or just want to refer to the way that the game is popularly played.
In my many years of playing 5-a-side I’ve played a lot of different types of rules. I’ve played with barriers round the pitch and without; I’ve played kick-ins and roll-ins; I’ve played where the ball can go over head height and where it can’t; and I’ve played where you can go in the area and where it’s forbidden.
However it’s played, it’s still an incredible amount of fun to play any form of 5-a-side but there are some rules in popular usage that make very little sense to me. In this article, I’ve listed a few of the popular rules that I think deserve some debate. Here are my thoughts, but I’d love to hear what you think about them in the comments below.
Going in the area:
For those reading this in other parts of the world, let me explain. In UK 5-a-side it is common for outfield players not to be allowed inside the area. Only the goalkeeper can operate in the area (and isn’t usually allowed out) and neither attacking or defending players are allowed into their semi-circle shaped territory.
I’ve thought about this for a while and I’m not sure why exactly we have this rule. It doesn’t seem to add much to the game and, if anything, only appears to add confusion and controversy. In my experience, people totally obsess over potential infringement of this rule with players and referees all seemingly on edge to be the hawk-eyed spotter of the merest tip-toe into the area. It leads to some of the most annoying penalty kicks and disallowed goals you’ll ever see.
The most irritating part of this rule is the wrestling that goes on because of it. You’ve probably experienced this yourself, where two opponents engage in a strange pushing and shoving game to either maneuver each other out of the way without going in the area or, more sneakily, push the opponent inside the area. These sort of melees just don’t feel right.
It’s a strange concept that there’s an area of the pitch that outfield players can’t go in (and the goalkeeper can’t leave). Clearly, it’s not something that is mirrored at all in the 11-a-side
game. What’s so sacred about the 3m radius around the centre of the goal anyway? What were the people who made up this rule worried about when they decided that players weren’t allowed in it?!
What is the worst case scenario if you allowed other players in it?
- Might you have all of your 4 outfield players line up in some sort of formation across the goal to prevent any goals being scored? Maybe, but the same applies to full-sized football, and I haven’t yet seen a game where all 11 players form a human wall across the goal as a game-wrecking tactic.
- Or could it be that they’re worried about attackers putting in bad challenges on the goalkeeper and from a safety point of view it’s best to keep players and keeper separate? With the slide-tackle generally outlawed (more on that below), I don’t see this being much of a risk.
- Maybe it’s to prevent goal-hanging, but I’m not convinced anyone is going to spend much time hanging that close to the goal.
Verdict: I’m not sure why we play this rule – personally, I’d like to see more places trialing playing without it.
Over head height
This is another very frustrating rule that is impossible to enforce accurately and consistently.
Let me declare an interest. I’m 6’4 (193cm in new money) so I’m often the tallest player on the pitch. Now, if you care to read the rules properly (which, let’s be honest, if you have a social life you probably haven’t), ‘head height’ is sometimes deemed to be ‘the height of the tallest player on the pitch’. So, when I’m playing, most people have got a little extra leighway, in theory.
But the number of times that I’ve been on the pitch and the referee has blown for a free kick when the ball has not even passed near to the height of my head is unbelievable. Many times I’ve been left wondering who represents the mythical head-height that the referees have in mind. Michael J Fox, Odd-job, one of the munchkins?
It’s nonsense really, and absolutely impossible to judge. And why do we bother anyway, what will happen if the ball goes a little over head-height? Aren’t we depriving ourselves of glorious opportunities for headers, volleys and chips? Something like this 6-a-side goal scored by Paul Scholes (Manchester United legend):
Whilst most of us are thinking “what a goal!”, the obsession with the over head height rule means that a lot of people saw nothing other than an illegal effort:
‘Lujacku’ isn’t alone there – dozens of similar tweets can be found about that goal! Why, oh why, oh why do we need to always think we should be playing that rule for any form of small-sided football?!
For balance, I can see why we have some concept of wanting to keep the ball on the ground and not have players smashing the ball high into the air. It should make for a quicker, more technical, passing game. But sometimes I yearn for a deft little chip forwards, a dink here, a loft there. Something like the Scholes goal.
Verdict: This is another rule (like the enforcement of an ‘area’) that referees would probably love to see the back of, and it would free them up for concentrating on much more important issues. If the goal is anything over 4ft high, definitely scrap the over head height rule.
Time for a change of tack. This is one that I am absolutely in favour of: the outlawing of slide tackles.
There are few sights more beautiful than a well-timed slide tackle, where a player gracefully drifts across the floor to dink the ball away from danger whilst at full-stretch. But for every display of grace and poise when a player goes to ground, there seem to be 10 more examples of reckless buffoonery.
If we were all professional players with insured contracts and were protected by top-class referees, I’d be the first to welcome slide-tackles into the mix. Sadly though, we’re mainly all just playing 5-a-side as a hobby and need our legs in reasonable working order the next day for work. So, for this reason it’s quite right that the slide tackle is banned on the 5-a-side pitch – keep out the nutters. It’s for the greater good.
Verdict: yep, let’s keep this one. Fun as slides are, not everyone can be trusted.
No passing it back to the goalkeeper directly from a roll-out.
This is an interesting little rule that catches out many a 5-a-side newcomer. I’ll be honest, I’m on the fence with this one. On the one hand, it’s absolutely infuriating seeing somebody on your team who hasn’t listened to this rule end up violating it. On the other hand, because of the special impenetrable area that the goalkeeper occupies, if you didn’t have this rule you’d just pass back to him all day long if you wanted to waste time.
The most annoying thing is when a penalty is given as a result of a back pass. What is that about?! It’s absolutely sickening to concede! At worst this should be an indirect free-kick.
Verdict: on balance, it’s probably a rule worth having, but shouldn’t be punished with anything other than an indirect free kick.
Over to you
Do you agree with the verdicts above? Which rules drive you mad? Which do you think should be scrapped? Do you play 5-a-side outside of the UK with any significantly different rules? If you’ve got thoughts on any of these matters, let us know in the comments below.
Update: In the days following the publication of this article, we had some good debate on our twitter feed about it. Here’s some of the highlights:
When it comes to players going in the area, Marcus, an experienced manager of one of the country’s largest 5-a-side centres (The Bolton Arena), provided some thinking on why leagues might not allow players in the area (and notice his innovative use of square areas):
There were other concerns too, about getting rid of the area rule completely (although Centre Spot are going to try out getting rid of this rule):
And a couple of readers decided to re-think their use of both the head height and the area rules!
And that’s the point of this article. To make you think about the rules you have been using and whether they’re really making your game better, or if they’re just old relics of how you think the game needs to be played. Play the game the way you want – after all, it’s your game.