Soccer vs Football – 12 Significant Differences

soccer vs football: how they compare - header image

Comparing and contrasting different sports is a fascinating thing to do. So many sports have a lot of differences but also many similarities. In this post, I will compare and contrast the sports of soccer and football and provide you with an in-depth exploration of what makes them different and look at where they are similar.

Compared to soccer, football is a shorter game played on a smaller field. The aim of both games is similar, but soccer and football are different in the way each team achieves their goals.

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 also known as American Football. Not the common term used around the world as an alternative for 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.

Table Comparing and Contrasting Soccer and Football

To start, I’ve put together a table outlining how soccer and football compare and contrast.

Beneath the table, I’ve taken each area of comparison and gone into more detail about what that means.

When the sport began1848 – 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.
Players on a team11 players per team on the field at any point of time 11 players per team on the field at any point of time
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 on 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 is 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. 1 referee, 2 referee assistants, and 1 off-field assistant 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
Table comparing and contrasting soccer and football

This table should give you a clear overview of the two sports compare. Now let’s look at each of those areas in more detail. In each category, we’ll look at soccer first and then football.

When Soccer Began Vs When Football Began

whistle hanging over chalk board


Soccer has a long history of development over centuries, but what is generally acknowledged as the first official rules for soccer in the modern era were drawn up in England in 1848. These were called the Cambridge Rules.

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

For a more in-depth look at how soccer was invented, click here to go to an article I wrote all about it.


Although football shares a common history with soccer (and rugby) developing from the early versions of both these games that we’re played and evolved throughout the 19th century, the most significant divergence happened in 1920. This is when the American Professional Football Association was formed.

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 it and soccer and grew rapidly spreading in popularity across the United States.

The Ball in Soccer Vs the ball in Football

soccer ball


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

The requirements for a game are that the ball:

  • has of a circumference of between 28 ins (70 cm) and 27 ins (68 cm)
  • between 16 oz (450 g) and 14 oz ( 410 g) in weight at the start of the match 
  • and has 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 developed it was common for animal bladders to be used, in the modern era balls are made from synthetic materials that are 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 )


Interestingly the first balls used in football were also spherical. 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 reason for the change in shape was due to the development of the gameplay and the rules. A spherical ball was much harder to handle and throw than an oval ball.

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

The required measurements of the ball 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.

Players on a Soccer Team Vs Players on a Football Team

football players celebrating


In a soccer game 11 players are allowed on the field of play at one time. This number includes the goalkeeper.

Depending on the competition, between 5 and 11 substitutes can be available to come on to the field if and when required. As one player goes on another must go off.

It is possible to play with less than 11 players. For example, if one or more players are sent off the team must continue with only the number of players who are left. The player who was sent off cannot be replaced.

The minimum amount of players that a team can play with is 7. If a team has fewer than 7 players then the game cannot continue and will be stopped.


In football, it is the same. Only 11 players are allowed on the field of play at one time.

However, a football team is made up of 45 players in total. These players can come on and off the field as often as the coach and umpires allow.

Different players will come on or off the field depending on the plays and the stage of the game. If the team is attacking then the offensive plays will be brought onto the field. If the team is defending then the defensive players will come onto the field.

Aim of Soccer Vs Aim of Football

player scoring a goal


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 this point 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 shoot out, will be played to determine a winner.


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.

How to Score Points in Soccer Vs Scoring Points in Football

football player scoring a touchdown


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.


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.

Length of a Soccer Game Vs length of a Football Game

hand holding a stopwatch


In soccer, the standard length of a game is 90 minutes. This is the total amount of playing time. This means that 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 shoot out will take place to determine the winner.

To find out more about how a soccer game ends check out this link to another post I wrote about it – How does a Soccer Game End?


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 length of the game 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.

Time Periods in Soccer Vs Time Periods in Football

referee holding a whistle


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.


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.

Field of Play in Soccer Vs Field of Play in Football

soccer field markings


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


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.

For a more in-depth comparison between a soccer and football field click here to check out an article a wrote all about it.

Game Officials in Soccer Vs Game Officials in Football

football umpire


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. He or she 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 on either side of the field following 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 is often based a short distance from the touchlines between the two teams’ technical areas. Their job is also to assist the referee. The main roles a fourth official will perform 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 this article here which I wrote will explain it all.


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 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.

Substitutions in Soccer Vs Substitutions in Football

children sitting on substitutes bench


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

As long as the ball is dead and 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 chose from as well. This encourages a lot of substitutions to be made.

Governing Body in Soccer Vs Governing Body in Football

FIFA logo


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)


The NFL provides governance for itself. There is no other governing body over it and it makes it’s 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.”

Protection in Soccer Vs Protection in Football

football player making a tackle


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.


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.

The Popularity of Soccer vs Popularity of Football

So we’ve compared the two sports but which one is the most popular?

Well, soccer is by far the most popular sport worldwide. An estimated 4 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 it’s popularity is growing rapidly. Game attendance, TV viewership, and popularity in polls are all on an upward trajectory with no sign of things slowing down anytime soon.

But American Football is far more popular in the United States and is often considered to be the most popular sport in the country. This is unlikely to change anytime soon as it’s such a cornerstone of American culture.

Soccer vs football – which is better?

Whether soccer or American football is better is ultimately a matter of personal opinion. Although there are similarities, they are still very different games requiring different skills and abilities.

If you asked me I’d tell you that I prefer soccer, but there are millions of people across the US that would disagree with me. And that’s ok!

Go out and enjoy watching or playing both games!

*Check out the next post – 30 Inspirational Soccer Quotes for Girls – with Images *


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. Sign up to the newsletter here or check out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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