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It’s about to kick off. Football (or ‘soccer’ if you’re reading this Stateside), is a team sport usually played in teams of five or eleven. The aim of the game is to move the ball to the end of the field (within the boundary lines) using only your chest and feet and then kick or head the ball in the opposing team’s net (between the posts, below the crossbar and across the goal line) to score a goal. Simple… or at least it sounds it.

How does it work?

On the football field, you are assigned a position depending on the role you wish to play in the team. The goalkeeper is entrusted with preventing the ball from entering their goal at all costs, and is the only player on the field who is allowed to touch the ball with their hands or pick it up. Usually found on the goal line, the keeper often has to dive to reach and catch approaching balls and rarely leaves the painted box area of the field to take part in other areas of play.

The rest of the team is composed of players whose job it is to prevent the ball ever reaching the goalkeeper, or to score a goal at the other end of the field. Defenders mainly steer play up field and away from the opposition’s attacking players, providing an extra barrier between the ball and the keeper. Midfielders can either have a defensive or offensive playing style, primarily moving back to help out the defense or running up-field with attacking players on their team to try and create scoring opportunities. They have to try and prevent the opposition making runs into their half of the field as well as picking out areas of space in which to play the ball to their attacking team mates.

Finally, at the front of the team are the attacking players (strikers or forwards). Sometimes attacking players play at the front of the team in a pair, on their own, or with the support of players who play slightly behind them in the formation (including midfield players who play either side of the pitch, ‘or on the wing’). Strikers aim to score goals by kicking, heading or chesting the ball in to the opposition’s net whilst the ball is in play (on the field and allowed to be moved according to the referee).

In terms of kit, shorts and a lightweight sports shirt are usually preferred and a team kit is usually distributed. Special boots are often needed for playing on Astroturf or grass and knee length sports socks and shin pads (worn under the socks) are recommended. Grab a bottle of sports drink or water to refuel at half time.

Professional football matches typically last 90 minutes, but a five-a-side game and most amateur matches will be played for slightly less time. Football provides a lengthy aerobic (and therefore fat burning) workout, with lower and abdominal muscles benefitting the most. Arms and the upper body are also tested, through running and jumping to head the ball.

In addition, a study by Danish researchers found that people who played football three times a week as part of their fitness routine shed more fat, built more muscle and were less tired than a second comparison group (with similar weight and health profiles) who spent the same amount of time jogging. And we bet they had more fun than those on the treadmill too!

Is it for me?

Fat burning, strength building and social circle-expanding- football scores a fitness hat trick. However, if you’re not keen on the prospect of possible contact on the field and perhaps picking up a few bumps and knocks along the way, then maybe a more relaxed or solitary sport may be more your thing. Football is also not kind to longstanding injuries or weak joints, so it might be worth reconsidering if the thought of picking up a strain makes you wince.

Overall, male or female, whatever your age or skill level, there is likely to be a team out there with a gap in their squad that you can fill. Lace up those boots, brush up on the offside rule and get out onto the pitch before the whistle blows on your chances.

Good to know

The first live televised football match in England was Blackpool versus Bolton at Bloomfield Park on 9 September 1960. Bolton ended up winning the match 1-0.

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Get into the scrum. Rugby is a full contact team sport played outside on grass. The game makes use of an oval shaped ball, which players must kick or run with to get towards the opponents’ goal. However, the going isn’t easy as the other team is out to tackle them and gain possession of the ball. Rugby is fast-paced and highly competitive -it’s easy to see why so many people are fans of this exciting game.