Soccer Vs Football: 12 Significant Differences

Soccer vs football post title over image of soccer ball and football

Comparing different sports is a fascinating thing to do. Many sports have a lot of differences but also many similarities. In this post, I will show you the differences and similarities between soccer and football. I’ll also give you an in-depth exploration of how this affects both sports.

The 12 differences between soccer and football:

  1. When each sport was invented
  2. The shape of the ball
  3. The aim of the game
  4. How players score points
  5. The length of the game
  6. Time periods
  7. The field of play
  8. Number of game officials
  9. Permitted number of substitutions
  10. Respective governing bodies
  11. And the personal protection required
  12. The popularity of the two sports

Now, just quickly before we start and for the sake of clarity, when I mention “football” in this article, I’m talking about the sport known as “football” in North America, or as “American Football” outside of North America. Not the sport called football in the rest of the world. We’ll call that sport – soccer!

If you want to know why soccer is called soccer in America but not the rest of the world, check out this article I recently wrote.

Otherwise, let’s see why these differences are so significant.

Soccer Vs Football – An Overview

To start, I’ve put together a table outlining the main differences between soccer and football.

When the sport began1863 – First set of official rules drawn up1920 – American Professional Football Association was formed
BallA sphere. Circumference between 28 ins (70cm) and 27 ins (68cm). A “prolate spheroid” or oval-shaped ball about 11 inches (28 cm) long and about 22 inches (56 cm) in circumference around the middle.
Aim of the gameTo score more goals than the opposing team.To score more points than the other team.
How to score pointsTo get the ball over the opponent’s goal line and into their goal.Carry the ball beyond the opponent’s touchline (A touchdown). Also, score by kicking the ball between the goal post (a Field Goal).
Length of the game90 minutes. In certain situations, an extra 30 minutes is added to thisTotal of 60 minutes. Extra 15 minutes added on in the event of a tie
Time periodsTwo 45-minute halves. Plus, extra 30 minutes if the game is tied.Four 15-minute quarters, with a half-time intermission after the second quarter. 
Field of playLength: Between 100 – 130 yards (90 – 120 m)
Width: 50 – 100 yards (45 -90 m)
Length: 120 yards (110m) incl. two 10-yard (9m) end zones
Width: 160 feet (48m)
Game officialsTotal of 4 officials 3 to 8 officials
SubstitutionsTotal of 3 per gameUnlimited
Governing bodyFédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) National Football League (NFL)
ProtectionShin guardsHelmet, Shoulder/Chest pad protector, upper leg padding, and mouthguard
Popularity3.5 billion fans 410 million fans
Table comparing soccer and football

This table should give you a clear overview of how these two sports compare. But, now let’s look at each of those areas in more detail.

In each category, we’ll look at soccer first and then football.

1. Soccer Was Invented Before Football

football players celebrating

When Soccer was Invented

Soccer has a long history of development over many centuries, but what is generally acknowledged as the first official rules for soccer in the modern era were drawn up in England in 1863. This is the moment that soccer, as we know it, was invented.

Before this, soccer was played with different rules depending on where it was being played. The introduction of these rules helped to codify the game and provide a basis on which the modern game is now based.

Check out my article – How Soccer was Invented, for a more in-depth look at this topic.

When Football was Invented

Football shares a common history with soccer and developed from the early versions of this game that was played and evolved throughout the 19th century.

However, the most significant divergence happened in 1920 when the American Professional Football Association was formed, and football was officially invented.

Two years later, it changed its name to the National Football League (NFL), which it is still known as to this day.

The formation of the NFL began the modern era of American Football as we know it today. It laid out the difference between football and soccer and grew rapidly, spreading in popularity across the United States.

2. A Soccer Ball Is a Different From a Football

soccer ball

Shape and Weight of a Soccer Ball

In soccer, the game is played with a spherical ball.

The requirements for a soccer ball are that it must:

  • have of a circumference of between 28 ins (70 cm) and 27 ins (68 cm)
  • be between 16 oz (450 g) and 14 oz ( 410 g) in weight at the start of the match 
  • and have a pressure equal to 0.6–1.1 atmosphere (600 –1,100 g/cm2) at sea level (8.5lbs/sq in–15.6 lbs/sq in)

Although when soccer was first being played, it was common for players to use animal bladders for a ball, in the modern era, balls are made from synthetic materials specifically designed to give the best performance possible when the ball is kicked.

(If you’re interested in what pieces of equipment other than the ball are used in soccer, check out this other post I wrote here – The 15 Pieces of Equipment Used in Every Soccer Game)

Shape and Weight of a Football

Interestingly the first balls used in football were also spherical. However, the oval-shaped ball that is used now wasn’t introduced until 1935.

Often referred to as a “prolate spheroid” or oval-shaped ball, the change in shape was due to the development of the gameplay and the rules. Spherical balls were much harder to handle and throw than oval balls.

At lower levels of the game, the ball will often be made of plastic or rubber, but at the top levels, the ball is always made of leather and designed to provide maximum grip when catching or throwing the ball.

The required measurements of a football are:

  • The short axis to between 21-1/4 and 21-1/2 in.
  • The long axis of 28 to 28-1/2 in
  • The length to be between 11 and 11-1/4 in
  • and the amount of air that it could hold is set at 12.5 to 13.5 psi.

3. The Aim of Soccer Is Goals, the Aim of Football Is Points

soccer player scoring a goal

The Aim of Soccer

The aim of the game in soccer is to score more goals than the opposition.

The final score is decided when the allotted time for the game is up, and neither team is permitted to score any more goals. The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins.

It is possible that at full time the game is tied. What happens in this scenario depends on the competition the game is being played in.

In some instances, the game will be declared a tie, and that will be it. In other competitions, an extra 30 minutes of extra time and possibly a penalty shootout will be played to determine a winner.

The Aim of Football

The aim of the game in football is to score more points than the other team.

When the game ends, whichever team has the most points is the winner.

If a game is a tie at the end of normal time, then a 15 minute sudden death period will be played to determine a winner.

4. There Is Only One Way to Score a Point in Soccer

football player scoring a touchdown

Scoring Points in Soccer

To get points in soccer, you need to score a goal.

This is done by getting the ball over the opposition’s goal line. The ball must cross the goal line between the goalposts and under the crossbar. This is what is meant by scoring a goal.

The players can use any part of their body except the hands and arms to get the ball into the opposition’s goal as long as they are not breaking any other rules at the time of the attempt.

Each time the ball enters the other team’s goal and a goal is awarded by the referee, this is counted as 1 point, or goal, for the team.

Scoring Points in Football

In football, there is a range of ways to score points.

  • Touchdown = six points A touchdown is when the ball is caught, carried or picked up within the opposition’s end zone. The offensive team is then awarded 6 points.
  • Field goal = three points A field goal is awarded when the ball is kicked between the posts at either end of the football field.
  • Safety = two points If a member of the attacking team is tackled with the ball in their own end zone then two points will be given to the defensive team.
  • Extra point = one or two points One point is awarded when the ball is kicked between the posts directly after a touchdown. Two points will be awarded if the ball is taken back into the end zone.

5. There Is More Playing Time in Soccer Than Football

hand holding a stopwatch

Length of a Soccer Game

In soccer, the standard length of a game is 90 minutes. This is the total amount of playing time.

When there is a stoppage in play, the clock stops and is not started again until the referee has signaled for the game to continue.

This is also why you will sometimes see more than 90 minutes on the game timer.

The timer you and I see just keeps on running without stopping. It is the referee who decides how long the game has been stopped for, and they will add this time on at the end of the game at their discretion.

In certain competitions, if the score is a tie at the end of the 90 minutes, then an extra 30 minutes is added on to be played with the intention of there being a clear winner at the end of this time.

If at the end of the extra 30 minutes the score is still a tie, then a penalty shootout will take place to determine the winner.

To find out more about how a soccer game ends, check out my post – How does a Soccer Game End?

Length of a Football Game

In football, the gameplay lasts for 60 minutes.

But due to all the stoppages, the total time from when the game starts to when it finishes can be upwards of 3 hours.

The game’s length can be so long because the game stops for the players to reset their positions after every play.

Each team is also allowed 3 time-outs per half to regroup and discuss tactics. This adds to the length of the game.

6. Football Has Shorter Time Periods Than Soccer

referee holding a whistle

Time Periods in Soccer

Soccer is split into two halves of 45 minutes per half.

There is a 15-minute break between the halves for the players to rest, rehydrate, and discuss team tactics. This is known as half-time.

If extra time is played, then this will consist of two 15 minute halves with a 1-minute break between the halves.

Time Periods in Football

In football, there are four 15 minute periods of play, and the players take a 12-minute break between the 2nd and 3rd quarters.

As mentioned above, if the scores are tied at the end of normal time, then an extra 15 minute period will also be played to decide on a winner.

7. A Soccer Field Is Bigger Than a Football Field

soccer field markings

Soccer Field Size

There are specific criteria that a soccer field has to comply with. This includes the width and length of the field.

The official dimensions for the field are –

  • Length: Between 100 – 130 yards (90 – 120 m)
  • Width: 50 – 100 yards (45 -90 m)

This is only different in an international game where the requirements are for the field to be –

  • Length: Between 110 – 120 yards (100 – 110 m)
  • Width: 70 – 80 yards (64 -75 m)

The soccer field also consists of a series of other markings, including –

  • 2 penalty areas
  • 2 goal areas
  • a halfway line
  • a center circle
  • 4 corner arcs
  • a penalty spot
  • and a center spot

For more info on the dimensions, markings, and measurements of a soccer field, check out this post I wrote recently – A Complete Guide to a Soccer Field: Size and Dimensions

Football Field Size

A football field is a rectangle measuring –

  • 100 yards (91.44 m) in length
  • and 160 feet (48.8 m) (53 13 yards) wide

At both ends of the field, there are “end zones.” These are 10 yards (9 m) long and cover the width of the field.

When both the field length and the end zones are added together, they bring the field length to a total of 120 yards (110 m).

The field is also clearly marked at each 10-yard interval to show the distance from the center of the field to the end. There are also “hash marks” that mark off 1-yard increments along the field.

Check out my article – Soccer Field Vs Football Field – For a more in-depth comparison between a soccer and football field.

8. There Are More Game Officials in Football

football umpire

Game Officials in Soccer

There are at least 3 officials present at every soccer game.

At the top level of soccer, there will always be 4 officials.

The referee is the official in overall charge of the game.

They will be on the field of play with the players following the game closely, always present to make decisions when needed. They always have the final say on any decision that is made.

There are two assistant referees who stay on the touchlines.

One assistant referee operates on either side of the field and they follow the play as the ball travels up and down the field.

As is clear from their title, their job is to assist the referee in making decisions especially when it comes to the ball going out of play or recognizing if a player is offside or not.

The fourth official stays a short distance from the touchlines between the two teams’ technical areas. Their job is also to assist the referee.

A fourth official’s main roles are managing the team’s substitutions, indicating how much extra time will be played at the end of a half, and maintaining the peace between the two team’s players, and coaching staff within the technical areas.

If you’ve ever wondered why soccer players argue with referees, then follow the link to find out why.

Game Officials in Football

In football, there are 7, sometimes 8, officials.

They are all responsible to ensure the rules of the game are followed and will indicate any time the rules are broken.

The list of officials in football are –

  • The Referee 
  • The umpire 
  • The back judge 
  • The head linesman/down judge
  • The side judge 
  • The line judge 
  • The field judge 
  • The center judge (used only at the top level of college football)

Each of these officials has a different but equally important role to play during the game.

9. Football Permits More Substitutions Than Soccer

children sitting on substitutes bench

Substitutions in Soccer

Soccer allows 3 substitutions per team per game.

The substitutions are permitted to be made at any point during a stoppage in play during the game. However, the timing is dependent on the referee’s discretion, as they will indicate for the substitute to come on when they are ready.

There has recently been a development where a 4th substitution can be made in the extra time period of a game. This rule only applies to certain competitions and is not in universal effect at this stage.

Check out the post I wrote – Why does Soccer Limit Subs? to find out more about substitutions in soccer.

Substitutions in Football

Substitutions can occur at any time between plays during a football game.

As long as the ball is not in play, and only the maximum permitted number of players are on the field at the start of the play, then there is no limit on how many substitutions can be made throughout the game.

In fact, it can sometimes seem as if the players are constantly coming on and off the field.

This ability to be able to able to make substitutions so often can allow a team to be very specific about which players they have on the field for each play. This allows for a lot of players to be specialists in their area and come on and off at specific times.

A team can have up to 45 players in a team to choose from as well. This encourages a lot of substitutions to be made.

10. Soccer and Football Have Different Governing Bodies

FIFA logo

Governing Body for Soccer

The governing body of soccer worldwide is the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

Founded in 1904, FIFA not only governs soccer but futsal, beach soccer, and e-football. The national associations of over 200 nations are members of FIFA.

Members of FIFA also have to be signed up to one of the 6 regional confederations as well.

These confederations are –

  • Confederation of African Football (CAF)
  • Asian Football Confederation (AFC)
  • Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF)
  • Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)
  • Oceania Football Confederation (OFC)
  • South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL)

Governing Body for Football

The NFL provides governance for itself. There is no other governing body over it, and it makes its own decisions and rules.

The owners of the 32 teams vote for a commissioner who oversees the management of discipline, conduct, and disputes.

Internationally the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) is the international governing body for American football. It is a non-profit organization and is responsible for “all regulatory, competition, performance and development aspects of the game on a global level.”

11. Football Players Wear More Protective Equipment Than Soccer Players

football player making a tackle

Protective Equipment in Soccer

The protection worn in soccer is fairly minimal.

Soccer is a contact sport but not at the same level that football is. Because of this, soccer players only really wear one piece of protective equipment – shin guards.

Shin guards protect the player’s shins from being kicked by another player. A person’s shins are very sensitive when they come in contact with another object, and this can cause a lot of pain.

The shin guards are worn underneath a pair of long socks and are used to protect the shins from any damage.

Occasionally you will see a player, most likely a goalkeeper wearing headgear. This is done to protect the head from any potential injury.

Most famously, this was the case with goalkeeper Petr Cech who wore one after sustaining a serious head injury in 2006 after a serious collision with another player’s knee.

Protective Equipment in Football

There are four main pieces of protective equipment used in football.

They are:

  • Helmet
  • Shoulder/Chest pad protector
  • upper leg padding
  • and mouthguard

The helmet, made of hard plastic with thick padding inside, is designed to protect the whole head from any serious injury. It also consists of a metal face mask to protect the player’s mouth, nose, and eyes.

The shoulder/chest pad protector is worn to limit the impact of tackles on the player’s body. They are designed to absorb the shock of a tackle and protect the player from excessive injury.

The upper leg padding performs a similar job to the shoulder protectors. They absorb the impact of the tackle and therefore protect the player.

The mouthguard is worn to protect the player’s teeth from damage. Football is a high-impact sport, and mouthguards are worn to reduce the chances of a player damaging their teeth.

12. Soccer Is More Popular Than Football Globally

Soccer is by far the most popular sport worldwide.

An estimated 3.5 billion people follow or play the game around the world. This popularity has traditionally been driven by Europe and South America but is growing in other places too.

Although not the most popular sport in the US its popularity is growing rapidly. Game attendance, TV viewership, and popularity in polls are all on an upward trajectory, with no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

But football is far more popular in the United States and is often considered the most popular sport in the country.

With a fan base estimated to be 410 million strong this is unlikely to change anytime soon as it’s such a cornerstone of American culture.

Whether soccer or football is harder is ultimately a matter of personal opinion (although you can find out my opinion here!). Although there are similarities, they are still very different games requiring different skills and abilities.

For another comparison of sports, check out my article – Is Soccer harder than Basketball?

Or check out the next post – 30 Inspirational Soccer Quotes for Girls – with Images

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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