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Football Decoder

There are many sporting games on the complete list of sports which are called 'football' or something similar. If you were invited to join a game of football, the game you would play would depend on which part of the world you are in. Many of the 'football' sports are related and have aspects in common (like kicking a ball), but usually there are enough differences to make them distinct sports (see a general summary of the football codes).

The origin of the term is not clear. While the term football makes sense for the common Association football game in which the ball is played mostly by kicking the ball, other codes such as rugby and American football mostly pass the ball using the hands, but is still referred to as football. The term may come from the game being played 'on foot', or less likely from the ball measuring a foot long.

Below I have grouped all the football codes and related sports in a way to make a little sense of the terminology, and to understand how each of the games differ.

Association Football

The most popular sport in the world is Association football, called football in most countries and soccer in some others. See a summary of Association Football. A feature of this game is that the ball cannot be handled except by the goalkeeper (the name football in this case makes sense).

There are many variations of association football played around the world. At the basic level, football is played in the streets and schoolyards, requiring only a ball and something to indicate the goal area.

Association football is usually played outdoors on grass (and sometimes on artificial grass). There are football versions on other types of surfaces too, such as on sand there is a version called Beach Soccer, or even a version played in bogs or swamps like Swamp Football. It can be played on ice, as in the new sport of Ice Soccer involving running around on the ice, and another Ice Soccer on skates played in Thailand using ice skates on an ice hockey rink. Instead of running around a field playing football, the players in Motoball use a much bigger ball and all players (except goalkeepers) are riding motorcycles, while the players ride on horses in Horse Soccer, elephants in Elephant Football, bicycles in Cycle Ball and wear roller skates in Roller Soccer.

a casual beach football game a casual beach football game

There are versions played on a smaller field with smaller teams. In Five-a-Side Football each team fields five players on a smaller pitch, with smaller goals and a reduced game duration - the most commonly played version is Futsal, which is usually played indoors. Another indoor version is Indoor Soccer, which has walls surrounding the play area to keep the ball in play. Other versions indoors with walls all around are Cageball and Jorkyball, a version with just two players per team.

If you don't have room even for a futsal game, you have the option of Sport Table Football, which tries to replicate the game of Association Football on a table-top using small figures of players. In another table-top version, Table Football (Foosball), the mini players are mounted on rows of bars, which are rotated to hit a ball. Another table version but of a larger scale is Footpool, where human players stand on a large pool table and kick the soccer type balls into the oversized pockets.

There are variations of Association Football adapted for players with a physical or mental disability, such as Amputee Football, Blind Football, CP Football for those with cerebral palsy and Powerchair Football (also called Power Soccer).

The possibilities are endless. The experimental game of Three-Sided Football was invented by Danish artist Asger Jorn. It is a game played between three teams at once on a hexagonal pitch. If you don't like running, you can try Walking Football, developed for seniors to keep fit.

A sport in which players show off their football skills is Freestyle Football, where you do tricks with the ball. The football heading skill is utilized in Headis, which is basically table tennis played with a football and only using the head to strike the ball. The new sport of Teqball is also played on a type of table-tennis table, in which the players can use their legs as well as the head to hit the ball back over the net.

There are many more sports using aspects of football, combining it with another sport, such as Footvolley (football and volleyball), Footgolf (football and golf) and Footpool (football and billiards).

And just for fun, you can always play Crab Soccer (also known as Crab Football), where the players support themselves on their hands and their feet, face up, which makes them look like crabs as they chase around a large inflated ball. Players of Zorb Football encase themselves in an inflated bubble called a Zorb. And not just for fun, you might want to play Fireball Soccer, known locally as Sepak Bola Api, a unique game played by Indonesian students to welcome the month of Ramadan. It's a game of football except the (coconut) ball is on fire!

There is also Robot Soccer — which has all the aspects of football except the players, so it is not really a sport. Also the unusual sport of Vertical Soccer, played on the side of a billboard painted to resemble a miniature football field.

Rugby Football

The two main types of rugby football are Rugby League and Rugby Union, coming from a split in the codes in the early 1900s. In both rugby codes the aim is to carry the ball over the end line, while the opposition players tackle the players in a bid to get the ball. The ball may only be passed sideways or backwards, but can be kicked forward.

Rugby is a precursor to the modern Gridiron football, however before rugby a similar but more basic and raw sport was Medieval Football, which often involved the whole town and large distances between goals, and even esarlier was a Russian traditional sport aptly called Kila.

As with the other football codes, there is a range of variations that involve fewer players and sometimes smaller fields. Rugby Sevens is basically Rugby Union except with fewer players and played over a shorter time period, and there is also the 5-a-side Rugby X. Rugby Sevens is now an Olympic Games sport. Arena Rugby is a variation of Rugby Union, played indoors on a smaller field resulting in a faster and higher-scoring game. Rugby League has a similar smaller versions, Rugby League Nines and Rugby League Sevens, which are like Rugby League but with fewer players.

Rugby can be played anywhere, on any surface - like Beach Rugby played on the sand and Snow Rugby played in shin-deep snow.

For juniors and beginners, or those who do not want to play the full-contact version, there is Touch Rugby, instead of a tackle the players can touch the player with the ball. In the similar Tag Rugby (also known as Flag Rugby), instead of a tackle, a tag attached by velcro is pulled off the ball carrier. This non-contact version is played in several forms, such as OzTag, Rippa Rugby, Mini Tag and American Flag Rugby. There is also Mini Rugby.

For the elderly and those with limited mobility, you can play Walking Rugby. For players with a disability, there are popular variations of rugby played indoors called Wheelchair Rugby and Wheelchair Rugby League.

There are games similar to rugby to be found in traditional sports around the world. Yubi Lakpi is a seven-a-side traditional football game with similarities to rugby played in Manipur, India, using a coconut. Also Lelo Burti is a Georgian folk sport, a full-contact ball game very similar to rugby.

football playerAmerican Football

In the USA, where they call Association Football 'soccer', their game of football is American Football also known as Gridiron outside of the US. It is a full-contact sport that evolved from the sport of rugby football, in which the aim is to get the ball into the opponent's end of the field through running or passing the ball. It differs from the other football codes in that the players wear protective gear and players are allowed to pass the ball forward.

There are many variations, which are played mostly in North America. Just north of the US, the Canadians play a slightly different version of the game called Canadian Football. In Canadian Football, there are 12 players per team not 11, the field dimensions are different, and a team has only three downs to gain 10 yards.

For schools with small student populations to chose from, there has evolved smaller team versions of the game, such as Six Man Football, Eight-Man Football and Nine-Man Football, with fewer players than the usual eleven.

For beginning players, and those who do not want to play the full-contact version, there is Flag Football where instead of tackling players to the ground, the defensive team have to remove the flag or a flag belt from the ball carrier. Similarly, in Touch Football, instead of tackling players to the ground, the person carrying the ball only needs to be touched.

Other variations include Arena Football, an indoor version played on a smaller field, and Sprint Football (formerly lightweight football), a USA varsity sport for lightweight players which emphasizes speed and agility.

Other football variations include Kayak Football in which participants in kayaks attempt to get a small soft football into the end zone, and Ultimate Football, in which a frisbee replaces the ball.

Also the unusual sports of Lingerie Football — American Football played by women wearing lingerie as uniforms and Unicycle Football — a variation of American football in which players move around the field using a unicycle.

Australian Football

Football (or Footy) to most Australians is Australian Rules Football, a game unique to that country. There are 18 players per team, played on an oval field. There are also variations to make the game more universal and accessible. The modified version Nine-a-side Footy, has three players each designated as forwards, centers and backs, and can be played on various sized fields such as the rectangular rugby and soccer fields. In the USA, their version of 9-a-side is Metro Footy, developed as an introductory game to feed into the full AFL leagues in the USA. Another reduced-size version is Rec Footy, developed as a social and inclusive sport, it is non-contact and open to players of any gender, shape and size. There is also the accessable AFL Wheelchair.

Playing mini-golf at Wembley Golf Course in WA WAFL players going up in the ruck at Leederville Oval

Irish Football

Football in Ireland is Gaelic Football, a type of football with a goal similar to that used in rugby, but having a net attached below the crossbar. The object is to kick or punch the round ball into the net or over the crossbar.

Mixed Codes

There are also mixed games that combine elements of two different football codes.

Football by Name Only

There are some sports that have football or a similar term in their name, but the sport is not closely related to the football codes described above.

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