Football is the most popular sport in the world with global hordes of fanatical followers. And it’s also a niche regional game with only small groups of devotees.
It all depends which type of football you’re referring to, because there are six:
1. Association Football
It’s ironic that most of the world calls this game “soccer”, as it is the only one of the footballs that focuses on feet. Only the feet, body or head can be used: no hands, unless you’re the goalkeeper. Or Maradona.
Officially dating back to the founding of England’s Football Association is 1863, football is played on a rectangular pitch with netted goals and 11 players to a side. A match comprises two 45-minute halves.
2. Gridiron Football
“Gridiron” refers to the pattern of the lines painted every ten yards across the 100-yard rectangular field. They are vital guidelines in American or Canadian football, a sport that relies on a 10-yard advance in each phase of play to keep possession.
Teams have 11 players, or 12 in Canada, and play is divided into four 15-minute quarters with a half-time break. The clock stops when play does, though, so games take much longer than an hour.
3. Rugby Union
Rugby football split in 1895 over the issue of professionalism. Rugby Union, clinging to official amateur status for 90 more years, became the “gentlemen’s” version. For decades, only the independently wealthy could afford to play at top level.
It’s now a highly paid profession. Like gridiron footballers, players can carry the ball and pass it, but only gridiron allows forward passes. Teams of 15 play two 40-minute halves. Points are scored by getting over the opponent’s goal line or kicks through the posts.
4. Rugby League
Popular among England’s working class since its inception as a professional, paid game in 1895, Rugby League also has a significant presence in Australia and New Zealand.
It’s played on the same rectangular field as Union, with the same H-shaped goal posts and basic objectives, in two 40-minute halves. Just like the real money slots Australia offers, some rules differ, however, and Rugby League uses only 13 players per team.
5. Gaelic Football
The field and goalposts look like rugby’s, and there are 15 players to a team. But the complicated bouncing, dribbling and toe-kicking to move the ball, and punching or kicking it for goals, makes Ireland’s contribution to football unique.
It plays over two halves of 30 or 35 minutes, and apart from soccer is the only variant that uses a spherical rather than an oval ball.
6. Australian Rules Football
Or just “footy”. Perhaps the most obviously different version: a huge oval field, four goalposts instead of two, and teams of 18 players. Goals can only be scored by kicking the ball through the posts, with goals through the centre pair worth more than those within the outer posts or “behinds”.
Play consists of four 20-minute quarters, with clock stoppages. Kicking, dribbling, punching or slapping the ball are all legal ways to move it, but it cannot be passed. Containing elements of rugby, gridiron and Gaelic football, it’s fast, furious action.