Why Soccer Fields Are Called ‘Pitches’: A Surprising Origin

post title above image of soccer field

Soccer is a fantastic game to watch and play, but it does use a lot of terminologies that can be confusing at first.

One word used in soccer that many people struggle to understand is the word “pitch.”

In this article, I want to explain to you what people mean when they use the word “pitch” in soccer.

In soccer, a pitch is another name for the playing surface on which the game of soccer is played. A soccer pitch is also known as a soccer field. Using the word “pitch” to describe the area of ground where a soccer game is played originated in England during the 1800s.

To many people, the word “pitch” can seem like a strange word to use in this context. But once you understand the reasons why this word came to be used, you may find that it actually makes some sense. And maybe you’ll even start using it yourself!

If you are looking for the dimensions of a soccer field, check out my article “How Big is a Soccer Field?” You will find all the details of how big, wide, and long a soccer pitch is there.

Why Is It Called a Soccer Pitch?

The word “pitch” has been in use for centuries. Even as far back as 1200, it was being used in old English. [source]

And you are probably aware of its use in other areas of life, such as when someone is”pitching a tent” or at night when it’s “pitch-black” outside.

But how and why the word “pitch” came to be used in the context of soccer is surprising to most people. Especially when they discover its use comes from a completely separate sport.

The sport of cricket.

A soccer field is called a pitch because when soccer first became popular in England in the 19th century, teams often played games on a cricket pitch. When soccer began to use designated soccer fields, the term used to describe the playing surface stuck and a soccer field was called a soccer pitch.

man playing cricket on a cricket pitch
Man playing cricket on a cricket pitch.

Now, you may not know much about cricket, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not very easy to understand, but it does have a history of influencing soccer.

In fact, I recently wrote a post explaining how the use of the phrase “hat-trick” in soccer also has its origins in the game of cricket. You can find that article by clicking here if you’re interested in knowing more.

But before explaining how the use of the word pitch to describe a playing surface transferred from cricket to soccer, we need to understand what the original meaning of the word “pitch” was.

Meaning of the word “pitch”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that the origin of the word pitch is from:

Middle English – pichen – to thrust, drive, fix firmly.”


You can see this in the modern-day use of the phrase “pitching a tent.” The idea is that you are driving stakes into the ground to ensure that the tent is fixed firmly to the ground.

In a game of cricket, 3 stakes, known as stumps, are thrust or driven into the ground. These are used as a target for the players to throw the ball at. You can see how this looks in the image below.

Cricket stumps
Cricket stumps

This act of setting up the stumps before a game was often referred to as “pitching the stumps,” as the word “pitching” can also mean:

“To erect or set up.”


Over the years of using this word, the word “pitch” developed from being used solely as a verb (pitching) to being used as a noun (the pitch). And in cricket, the ground where the stumps were pitched became known as the “cricket pitch.”

Soccer Was Often Played at Cricket Grounds

When soccer first began to become popular in England during the 1800s, there were very few designated soccer fields in existence. But the game of cricket was already popular throughout the country, and most towns had a local cricket pitch.

Because of the lack of access to soccer fields, it was common for many soccer games to be played on the ground where the local cricket games were played. [source] And, as I’ve just mentioned, in popular terminology at the time, the area of ground where the soccer game was being played was often referred to as the “pitch.”

As the sport of soccer grew in popularity, designated fields were set apart for soccer games to be played on, and cricket pitches were left for cricket games to be played on. But the term used to describe the playing surface stuck, and from then on up until the present day, a soccer field was regularly referred to as a soccer pitch.

How Big is a Soccer Pitch?

Now we understand what a soccer pitch is, let’s quickly look at the size of a pitch.

Illustration of a soccer pitch with lines and dimensions
Soccer pitch lines and dimensions

The dimensions of a soccer pitch are defined by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) who are responsible for the laws of soccer.

A soccer pitch is between 100-130 yards (90-120 meters) long by 50-100 yards (45–90 meters) wide. In an international game, the size of the pitch must be between 110-120 yards (100-110 m) long by 70-80 yards (64-75 m) wide.

As you can see, a soccer pitch is fairly big and definitely wider than an NFL pitch. (You can find out more about that here.)

There are also clear markings or lines on a soccer pitch that are always present.

The lines on a soccer pitch define the boundaries of the playing area and identify areas of the pitch where specific rules apply. The lines are always white and are required to be clearly visible at all times.

These lines have different names depending on where they are located.

For example:

  • The line at each end of the pitch is known as the goal line
  • The lines on the sides of the pitch are known as the touchlines
  • and the line across the center of the pitch is known as the half-way line.

Is It a Soccer Field or a Pitch?

Now we know what a pitch is, it raises the question of whether the playing surface where a soccer game is played should be called a soccer field or a soccer pitch.

There is no right answer.

The area of ground where a soccer game is played is known as a soccer field in most of North America, but it is more commonly known as a soccer pitch in England, where the word “pitch” originates from. A soccer pitch is another name for a soccer field.

Whether you choose to call the ground, a field, or a pitch mostly depends on where you are from or where you are based.

In North America, for example, it is uncommon for someone to refer to a sports ground as a “pitch,” and the term “field” is much more prevalent.

Whereas in England, the use of the word “pitch” is far more common as the word “field” is most commonly used to describe an open area used for farming. [source]

The Cambridge Dictionary even gives the definition of “pitch” as:

an area painted with lines for playing particular sports

Cambridge Dictionary

Whether you choose to call it a field or a pitch is ultimately up to you. Just be aware that if you are in the United States and decide to use the term “pitch,” you should be prepared to explain to those around you what you are talking about!

Meaning of “On or off the pitch”

This explanation also helps to clarify what people mean when they say a soccer player, or the ball, is “off the pitch” or “on the pitch.”

In soccer, the phrase “off the pitch” means that either a player or the ball is no longer on the soccer field. They have crossed the outside boundaries of the field.

The phrase “on the pitch” means that the player or the ball is on the soccer field. They are within the boundaries of the playing area.

As I mentioned before, understanding all the different soccer terminologies can be hard. If you are looking for some help, I have put together a complete glossary of all the terms used in soccer. You can find it by clicking here.


Hopefully, you now feel as though you have a better understanding of why the word “pitch” is used in soccer. It is simply another term used to refer to a soccer field.

For more information on what different soccer terms mean, have a look at one of these other articles I’ve written:

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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