Changing the Goalposts

What’s 2.44 metres tall, 7.32 metres wide and aligned to face north’ish?  Yep – it’s a football goal!

Euro 2016. Love it or hate it, football is currently dominating many of the televisions, smart phones, laptops, tablets and even the occasional wireless set around the country. Whilst piles of jumpers can be used to make improvised “goal posts” I wondered what determined the size of the goals? Turns out this is a case where one size doesn’t fit all. The Football Association (FA) has a dedicated document “The FA: Guide to Pitch and Goals Post Dimensions”, designed to regulate goal size to enable a fair game [1].

For those starting out in mini-soccer, the Under-7 teams, the goal height is reduced to 1.82 metres (6 ft) and the width scaled back to 4.88 metres (16 ft). For adult games the goal is standardised at 2.44 metres high and 7.32 metres wide, so 8 feet by 24. This width was fixed by the FA in 1863, however the height wasn’t originally stipulated. The top bar was only introduced later, presumably after many arguments about whether a goal counted! First as a string in 1865, then a tape and finally a solid crossbar in 1882.

The standard adult goal, 2.44 by 7.32 m, is used around the world for both male and female games. There has been no change in dimensions since 1863, despite the human population on average being taller; in the UK we’ve gone from an average height of 168 cm in 1880 to 177 cm in 1970 [2]. Apparently increasing the goal was considered by FIFA in 1996, where they debated adding an extra 50 cm to the width and 25 cm to the height, but it was never implemented [3].

It strikes me that there is a balance for spectators wishing to watch amazing goals but also great saves, plus human response times come into play. According to Business Insider, a ball kicked from the penalty spot at 70 mph arrives in the net 400 milliseconds later. The keeper needs 100 milliseconds to register the kick, another 100 milliseconds to trigger his own muscles and then 700 milliseconds to actually jump and reach one side of the goal. No wonder the goal keeper tries to read the shooter to predict which way the shot will go, after it’s kicked the timings are just too late [4].

The terrain can also impact the goal size. When played on sand, the goal is reduced in width to 5.49 metres (18 ft) and the height lowered to 2.13 metres (7 ft), giving the goalie a chance to move across the slower surface. There is even a recommended pitch orientation on which the goalposts should sit; the ideal is somewhere between 285o and 20o, in order to minimise the effect of a setting Sun on the players.

I’m not sure how many friends playing for fun in the local park bring along their compasses and rulers, but at least I now know a couple of football facts that might impress my friends… though I suspect they will be more impressed if their team wins!

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[1] The FA: Guide to Pitch and Goals Post Dimensions (2012) – available, free, online

[2] Max Roser (2016) – ‘Human Height’. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/human-height/

[3] http://articles.latimes.com/1996-03-10/sports/sp-45390_1_goal-size

[4] http://www.businessinsider.com/penalty-kick-world-cup-2014-6?IR=T