Football 101 – 01 : Begin at the beginning

I saw a lot of football games last season, and I had a blast following the FFL all over Flanders and Brussels, but for me, one of the most disappointing things was the lack of football knowledge from many of the people who go to watch. Now, I don’t blame the fans, I blame the football education system. “What football education system?”, I hear you ask, and this is precisely the problem. We don’t just need to teach the players what they’re supposed to do on the field, but we need to teach our parents, friends, girlfriends/wives so they can follow what happens, so they can actually enjoy what it is that you guys do on any given sunday. And that’s where I’m going to help.

This blog is not for the players, coaches, referees (of course you’re free to read it but I honestly wouldn’t expect any of you to learn anything about the game from this) – it’s for the fans. It’s for the people who go to watch the games just because they know someone who plays. We all know people like this, so let them know that this blog exists, and they might just learn something! There will probably be about 10 episodes, one every two weeks or so and they’ll stay online so they can be referred to any time.

OK, now that the introduction is out of the way, let’s get stuck into it.

Begin at the beginning

Football is not an easy sport to understand. If you look at it for the first time (and probably the second, third, fourth and fifth times too), you can’t figure out what’s going on. It just looks like a bunch of big guys wearing the same colored jersey hitting another bunch of big guys wearing different colored jerseys and the ball is probably somewhere in the middle of it all. This is surprisingly not far from the actual truth, however, what’s important to remember is that everything that happens on the field is planned. No, it doesn’t look like it, but it will!

We’re going to take it nice and slowly in this blog. I hope that you’re all willing to put in a little time in order to understand just what it is that your son/brother/boyfriend/husband gets up to on sundays, because that’s all that it will take. And who knows, you might just enjoy it!
There will be a few key words that you’ll have to learn, and these will be indicated in bold. Any words that are in bold are important that you understand, because I’m going to use them often. If I haven’t been clear, please send me a message or ask someone who can explain.


Like I said, football is complicated. Here, we’re going to keep it as simple as we possibly can, especially in the beginning. So, let’s begin.

The team who currently control the football are called the offense.

The team who don’t currently control the football are called the defense.

The basic idea is that the offense try to move the football down the field, and the defense try to stop them. Exactly how they do that isn’t important for now, we’ll come back to that another time. If the offense can move the ball all the way down the field so that the ball arrives in the scoring area (called the endzone), then they score a touchdown (worth 6 points). Scoring touchdowns is the goal of every offense, and this is easy to understand. However there are other goals that they can achieve along the way, which require a little more explanation. These are called first downs and they’re really what we’re going to talk about today. But first, here’s a picture of a football field with the endzones marked in darker green.

The offense has 4 tries (called downs) to move the ball 10 yards (1 yard is equal to 3 feet, which is equal to 91.4 cm, so a yard is a little shorter than a metre). We have to keep track of how many tries the offense have made because their attempts are limited to just 4, and also how far they still have to travel in order to make their 10 yards and get a new first down. When the offense gets the ball for the first time, it will be their first try and they will still have to move the ball 10 yards. This is commonly called “First and 10” (It is first down, and they have 10 yards to go for a brand new first down).

When you’re at a game, there is an easy way to see which down it is, and also how far a team has to go for a new first down. On one side of the field, there are three poles, and those poles tell you everything you need to know (please excuse my drawings. They aren’t pretty but they get the point across. By the way, there are two poles on the left in the underneath diagram).

Our team are going to the right, the way of the arrow. The pole with the square top with the number on it is called the down marker, and it shows you two things. 1 – The number displayed shows which down it is. 2 – The location of the marker shows where the ball begins. The pole with the circular top on the right is called the first down marker, and it’s here that the offense have to get the ball past to get a new first down. The distance between the down marker and the first down marker tells us how far the offense have to go for a new first down. The pole with the circular top on the left is less important for fans, it just shows you the spot which is 10 yards away from the first down marker.

So in the above case, the down marker is on 1, telling us it’s first down. The down marker is also 10 yards away from the first down marker (each small mark along the sideline is one yard). This all means that it’s First and 10! Let’s say that the offense are able to move the ball 6 yards on first down. The down marker will move and we’ll see this :

The down marker now reads 2, telling us it’s second down. The down marker is now about 4 yards away from the first down marker. Which means that it’s now Second and 4!

If the offense can move the ball past the first down marker in their four tries, then they will get a new first down, and have four more tries to get the next 10 yards, and will hopefully lead to a touchdown. But if they don’t make a new first down, then the other team will get a chance to play offense. This is how the game progresses.

Next time, we’re going to take a closer look at the offense and see just how it is that they move the football. Don’t forget to either leave a message here or hit me up on facebook if you have a question or comment. Until next time

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12 Responses to Football 101 – 01 : Begin at the beginning

  1. ballhawk says:

    know i finally understand what i’m doing on the field 🙂
    nice post dale great for the fans

  2. Stijn says:

    Hello Dale,
    A book I can suggest to fans and even players and maybe coaches would be “Take your eyes off the Ball” by Pat Kirwan. A verry easy to read book which highlights all the different positions and what to look for in a game.

  3. Law Fg says:

    Good work as usual mr. Dale! 🙂

  4. Benedict says:

    Your creativity impresses me, Dale. Always finding something to talk about :).

  5. Jbcarey says:

    Wonderful post…. now lets get this translated for our mothers and sisters and generally every fan.

  6. Rudy says:

    Hey Dale I had a simple question. Are you gonna folow the junior season like you did last year with the seniors or not anough time for that?

  7. Chubby says:

    Nice write up Dale, Now we have a spot to point people to when they ask about football.

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