In games of association football teams compete to score the most goals during the match. A goal is scored when the ball passes completely over a goal line at either end of the field of play between two centrally positioned upright goal posts 24 feet (7.32 m) apart and underneath a horizontal crossbar at a height of 8 feet (2.44 m) -- this frame is itself referred to as a goal. Each team aims to score at one end of the pitch, while preventing their opponents from scoring at the other. Nets are usually attached to the goal frame to catch goalscoring balls, but the ball is not required to touch the net.
A goal is scored when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar, provided that no offence has been committed by the team scoring the goal.-- Law 10: Determining the Outcome of a Match
As with other cases of the ball travelling out of the field of play, all of the ball must cross all of the line, otherwise play continues. A goal is credited to the team attacking the goal scored upon, regardless of which team actually caused the ball to enter the goal. A ball entering a goal from the action of a player defending that goal is called an own goal.
Even if serious foul play unambiguously prevents a goal from being scored (a professional foul), the referee cannot award a goal unless the ball enters the goal as described above; i.e., there is no provision for awarding a goal akin to the penalty try in rugby football or the goaltending offence in basketball (although such a provision did once exist, as described below).
A goal cannot be scored directly from a dropped ball, indirect free kick or a throw-in. Should the ball go into the goal from these without first being touched by another player, play is restarted with a goal kick. A player cannot score an own goal directly from any restart of play (other than a penalty kick); in that case a corner kick would be awarded. Both of these situations, especially the latter, are exceedingly rare.
As a result of rule-changes introduced in 2019, it is not possible to score an attacking goal with the hands or arm. If a goalkeeper throws the ball directly into the opponent's goal from his/her own penalty area, no goal is awarded: instead a goal-kick is awarded to the defending side. If the ball goes directly into the opponent's goal from the hands or arm of a player in any other circumstances, the handling is penalized as a handball offence (even if it was unintentional). It remains possible to score an own goal with the hands or arm.
If a player or team official is illegally on the field of play when that person's team scores a goal, the goal is disallowed, with a direct free kick being awarded to the opposing side.
If there is time remaining in the session of play, after a goal has been scored play is restarted with a kick-off by the side which conceded the goal.
Most goals are relatively unambiguous, as the ball will usually strike the net attached to the goal structure indicating that it has passed over the goal line as described above. Occasionally, however, situations occur where it is difficult for officials to tell if the ball completely crossed the goal line before a rebound, save, or clearance from the goal area. Additionally, even if the ball crosses the goal line as required, a goal may be disallowed if the attacking team commits an infringement of the Laws of the Game, such as the offside offence or a foul.
As with all other decisions on the Laws of the Game, the referee is the final authority as to whether a goal is scored. The match referee is advised by assistant referees, whose view across the pitch from the sidelines may in some cases be more useful in determining whether the ball crossed the goal line or whether the attacking team committed an infringement.
Goals incorrectly awarded or disallowed due to mistakes in determining if the ball crossed the line are referred to as ghost goals. The goal net was one of the earliest tools employed to aid match officials in determining whether a goal was scored. Introduced in the 1890s, the goal net provides a simple way to help determine whether the ball passed on the correct side of the goal posts and crossbar. Although not mandated by the Laws of the Game, goal nets are now ubiquitous across most levels of organised football. Since 2012, goal-line technology has been used at the highest levels of professional football; it employs a system of cameras and/or sensors to provide the referee with a discreet signal when the ball has crossed the goal line. The video assistant referee was added in 2018 after years of trials; this is an additional assistant referee who constantly monitors video footage of the match and is empowered to advise the referee if he/she may have made a clear and obvious error in awarding a goal.
The Laws make no mention of attributing goals to individual players. Nevertheless, goals are almost always attributed to individual players, that player being the one who provided the final action causing the goal to be scored. Generally, this is the last player to touch the ball, notwithstanding inconsequential deflections such as failed attempts at a save. Should a player cause a goal to be scored against their own team, the goal is recorded as an own goal.
For an individual player, scoring multiple goals in a game is considered a notable achievement. In association football, a hat-trick refers to the uncommon feat of scoring three goals in a single game. Awards exist for individual players who score the most goals in some competitions, such awards are often called the "Golden Boot".
Players will typically celebrate scoring a goal with team mates, occasionally putting on elaborate displays for the crowd. The Laws allow this, but mandate that celebration must not be "excessive".
On average, only a few scores occur per game in association football.
|Competition||Average number of goals per game|
|2015-16 Premier League||2.70|
|2015-16 La Liga||2.74|
|2014 FIFA World Cup||2.67|
|2015 FIFA Women's World Cup||2.81|
An analysis of several years' results from several English leagues found that 1-0 was the most common result, occurring in approximately 20% of games.
In English traditional football, the object of the game was typically to convey a ball into a specified area, or to touch a specific object (the area or object often being called the "goal") defended by the opposing team. This feat might itself be called a "goal"; alternative names such as "inn" were also in use. The game might be decided by a fixed number of goals (e.g. first goal scored wins or best of three) or be played for a fixed period of time.
In the more formalized football games of English public schools and universities, the object was typically to kick the ball between goal-posts guarded by the opposition. This might be required to be above a crossbar (as in the game of football played at Rugby School), below a bar or other object (as in the Sheffield Rules of 1862) or at any height (as at Shrewsbury School).
|Ball must go between posts above specified height|
|Rugby School||1862||10 feet||Must go above crossbar. Goal is void if ball is touched by opposition. Posts are 18 feet high. The width of the goal is not specified in the laws, but the novel Tom Brown's School Days (1857) reports it as approximately 14 feet.|
|Marlborough College||1863||24 feet||9 feet|||
|Ball must go between posts below specified height|
|Uppingham School||1857||"six paces"||Ball must go below cross-bar. Later version (1871) of rules specifies a goal 40 feet wide and 7 feet high.|
|Eton Field Game||1862||11 feet||7 feet||No crossbar; ball must not go above height of the posts.|
|Sheffield FC||1862||12 feet||9 feet||Must go below crossbar.|
|The Simplest Game||1862||Ball must go below crossbar. Goal disallowed "if thrown by hand".|
|Charterhouse School||1863||Ball must go below "cord". Goal void if ball "hit or otherwise impelled through by the hands of any one of the side who are not defending the goal".|
|Ball must go between posts at any height|
|Harrow School||1858||12 feet||N/A||Goals (both the physical target and the method of scoring) are called "bases".|
|Melbourne FC||1860||N/A||Width of the goal is agreed between captains. Goal is void if ball touches a post or a defending player.|
|Blackheath FC||1862||N/A||Goal is void if ball touches a defending player.|
|Shrewsbury School||1863||40 feet||N/A|||
|Cambridge Rules||1863||15 feet||N/A||Earlier version of Cambridge Rules (1856) required ball to go under a "string".|
|Football Association||1863||24 feet||N/A||Goal void if the ball is handled.|
|Ball must cross line (at any height)|
|Surrey FC||1849||N/A||N/A||Ball must cross "goal rope".|
|Winchester College||1863||N/A||N/A||Ball must cross goal-line. Earlier version of the game used "goal-sticks" (posts). Goal is void if "an opposing player can touch it as it passes, and then, leaping up, alight with one foot beyond the goal-line.".|
The next meeting, on 17 November, added the further condition that a goal could not be scored when the ball was "thrown, knocked or carried" between the posts.
These points were reflected in the first draft of the Laws of the Game created by FA secretary E. C. Morley. Morley's proposal met with objections expressed in correspondence from J. C. Thring of Uppingham School, and also from William Chesterman of Sheffield F. C., principally on the grounds that it would be difficult to judge whether a ball that went above the height of the posts should count as a goal; Thring correctly predicted that a crossbar "w[ould] be adopted in the end". Nevertheless, this feature of the game was preserved in the Association's first published set of laws, which read:
A goal shall be won when the ball passes between the goal posts or over the space between the goal posts (at whatever height), not being thrown, knocked on, or carried
At the first revision of the FA rules, in 1866, a tape was introduced between the posts at a height of 8 feet, with a goal counting only if the ball went below this tape. According to a contemporary newspaper report of the meeting:
The chairman urged some strong reasons why a goal should not be won so long as the ball was between the posts at no matter what height, and quoted an instance which occurred at Reigate, where one of the opposite side raised the ball quite 90 feet in the air between the goal posts. A dispute arose as to whether the goal was won or not, and the bystanders decided that the ball was kicked between the posts, but he thought it was a most unsatisfactory goal, and was therefore decidedly in favour of goals being kicked under the tape
In 1875, after a proposal by Queen's Park FC, the laws allowed the option of using either a crossbar or tape. At the International Football Conference of December 1882, it was decided to require a crossbar; this change was introduced into the Football Association's laws in 1883.
The dimensions of the goal (8 yards wide and 8 feet high) have remained unchanged since 1866.
The original FA laws of 1863 disallowed a goal when the ball was "thrown, knocked on, or carried", even if the handling was otherwise legal. In 1882, a change in the laws, introduced by Nicholas Lane Jackson of Finchley FC and Morton Betts of Old Harrovians FC, made it possible to score an own goal by use of the hands.
In 1962, a change introduced by the Scottish Football Association permitted a goal-keeper to score a goal by throwing the ball into the opposing goal from his own penalty area. This innovation was heavily criticized in some quarters. In 1974, a further change to the laws allowed a goal to be scored when the ball was handled unintentionally by an attacker. In 2019 both of these changes were reversed:
The original laws of the game, in 1863, had no punishments for infringements of the rules. In 1872, the indirect free kick was introduced as a punishment for handball. This indirect free-kick was thought to be an inadequate remedy for a handball which prevented an otherwise-certain goal. From a meeting of the Sheffield Football Association in February 1879, we have the following report:
It was proposed by Mr. T. Banks, on behalf of the Norfolk Club, to add to law 8 -- "If any player of the defending side, except the goalkeeper, stop the ball with his hands within three yards of the goal, when it is going in goal, it shall count a goal to the opponents."
After a "long and noisy discussion", the change was rejected. At the 1881 meeting of the Football Association, a similar proposal was introduced by J. Arnall and J. B. Clayton of the Birmingham Football Association, but it was likewise rejected. Such a law was finally approved the next year, to become part of the FA's laws for the 1882-83 season:
When any player, other than the goal-keeper, wilfully stops a ball in the vicinity of his own goal by using his hands when, in the opinion of the umpires or referee, the ball would have passed through the goal, a goal shall be scored to his opponents.
This goal, which was similar to today's penalty try in rugby, survived as part of the game for only one season. At the International Football Conference of December 1882, it was decided to remove this law from the 1883-84 season. One commentator wrote that the rule "was the means of causing the referee a very awkward point to decide at times, and we all know the duties of the referee are heavy enough without this; and, further, the penalty, in my opinion, is too great [...] A free kick [...] is quite sufficient".
The laws have at various times restricted the ability to score from a set-piece situation (such as a free kick or corner-kick). If the ball goes into the goal directly from such a restart but the laws do not permit the awarding of a goal, depending on which team performed the set piece a goal kick or corner kick is awarded.
|Free kick awarded for||Penalty
The Gole being fixed, and Two Inns out of Three being to determine who were Conquerors.
Having touched with the Ball the appointed Gate Post, the champion who held the ball was immediately hoisted on the necks of his exulting companions [...]
After they had played two full hours [...] the gentlemen of Sharlston got the first goal
Well, the match is for the best of three goals; whichever side kicks two goals wins
it must go over the bar and between the posts without having touched the dress or person of any player– via
A goal could be kicked at any height.– via
It shall be a goal if the ball goes over the bar (whether it touches or not) without having touched the dress or person of any player; but no player may stand on the goal bar to interrupt it going over.– via
[T]hey came to a sort of gigantic gallows of two poles eighteen feet high, fixed upright in the ground some fourteen feet apart, with a cross-bar running from one to the other at the height of ten feet or thereabouts
A goal must be a kick through or over and between the poles, and if touched by the hands of one of the opposite side before or whilst going through is no goal.– via
A goal shall be won when the ball passes between the goal posts under the tape, not being thrown, knocked on, or carried.– via
A goal shall be won when the ball has passed between the goal-posts under the tape or bar, not being thrown, knocked on nor carried by anyone of the attacking side[emphasis added] – via
provided [the ball] has not been thrown, carried, or propelled by hand or arm, by a player of the attacking side, except in the case of a goal-keeper, who is within his own penalty area[emphasis added]
provided [the ball] has not been thrown, carried, or intentionally propelled by hand or arm, by a player of the attacking side[emphasis added]