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Five-a-side football rules - Small-sided game explained

19:00 GMT+3 15/01/2020
Five-a-side football
So you've decided to get together with your friends for a kick-about - Goal has your essential guide to five-a-side

Small-sided football such as five-a-side or six-a-side is a popular and fun way to get fit at any time of the year.

Whether you play on astroturf, an indoor arena or an outdoor setting, the rules are more or less the same, though there is no real formalised rulebook which is universally followed.

If you're new to five-a-side and not that familiar with the game's customs or simply need a refresher, Goal takes a look at some of the rules and regulations that are observed.


What should you wear to 5-a-side?

The appropriate attire for five-a-side football is more or less the same as that used for a normal game of football. Players should wear a jersey, shorts, football socks, shin guards and suitable footwear.

Of course, if the game you are playing in is casual then you may wish to wear tracksuit bottoms or footwear that is most comfortable, such as running shoes.


Depending on the surface the game is being played on, some footwear is advisable and, in some cases, certain boots are prohibited.

For example, if you are playing on an artificial surface such as astroturf then metal studs and blades are not permitted. Astroturf shoes are available from most sports retail outlets.

Shin guards

It is generally advised that shin guards are worn by anyone who plays in a five-a-side football match. Indeed, some competition organisers will insist that players wear them, so you should check competition rules.

However, given that many small-sided games are often played on a casual basis between friends or colleagues, it will come down to personal choice whether or not to wear them.

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Goalkeeper's area

According to the FA's Small Sided Football Laws of the Game handbook, the penalty area is described thus: "A semi-circle of 6m radius shall be drawn from the centre of each goal line. The extremities of these semi-circles should reach the goal line, barrier or wall regardless of whether or not the goal posts encroach onto the playing area."

Depending on the rules observed by the tournament you are playing in, or the group that you play with, the goalkeeper may or may not be allowed to touch the ball outside of the penalty area. Conversely, some rules dictate that an outfield player is not allowed to touch the ball inside the goalkeeper's penalty area.

Goalkeepers and outfield players can be deemed to have committed a foul if they touch the ball in a prohibited area of the pitch, with a free-kick or penalty being awarded.

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How long does a five-a-side game last?

Five-a-side football games are shorter than a normal-sized football match, usually involving two halves of up to 25 minutes each with a five-minute interval at half-time.

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What is the 'Head-height' rule?

'Head height' is short-hand for a rule in small-sided football which demands that the ball be kept below a particular level - usually the height of the tallest player on the pitch.

A common marker, such as a bar on the barrier cage, can also be used as a general guide. A free-kick is awarded when the ball is played higher than the agreed height threshold.

The idea behind the 'head-height' rule is to discourage players from playing long passes through the air and to encourage the playing of the ball along the ground.

Many competitive small-sided tournaments do not use the 'head-height' rule as it is difficult to enforce.

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Are you allowed to slide tackle in 5-a-side?

You are generally not allowed to slide tackle in five-a-side football and it is considered dangerous to do so, particularly if the surface is artificial.

Slide tackles, even if the ball has been fairly and safely won, are usually deemed fouls in small-sided football.

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Discipline & fair play

Discipline and the concept of fair play in five-a-side football is more or less the same as it is in full-sized football.

Yellow cards result in a temporary suspension from the field of play - usually five minutes - and can be issued for things such as: unsporting behaviour, dissent and persistent fouling.

Red cards result in an expulsion from the field of play for the remainder of the game. A red card is usually issued for things such as: violent conduct, deliberate denial of a goal through hand ball, abusive language or a second yellow card.

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What size should the 5-a-side pitch be?

The dimensions of the pitch for five-a-side and six-a-side football, per the FA's Small Sided Football Laws of the Game handbook, should be: 

  • Length: Min. 25 metres, max. 50 metres.
  • Width: Min. 16 metres, max. 35 metres.

For seven-a-side football, the pitch dimensions are bigger. They are:

  • Length: Min. 50 metres, max. 60 metres.
  • Width: Min. 30 metres, max 40 metres.

Pitches should always be rectangular in shape, with the touchline being longer than the goalline.

It is acceptable for small-sided football to be played on a pitch with or without barriers, such as a fence, wooden wall or nets.

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