5 A Side Football: Everything You Need to Know!

Our guide to 5 a side football – Covering the basics for those who maybe new to small sided football or have never even touched a ball

Introduction to 5 A Side Football

Today, more than 1.5 million people play small-sided football every week. With more than 30,000 teams playing in competitive small-sided football leagues, it’s no wonder that 5 a side has become the most popular type of adult football. If you’re in London, there are plenty of opportunities to join a 5 a side league. But, before you join one of our ultimate 5 aside London football leagues, you need to get to grips with the rules.

5 A Side Football Rules Explained

Whether you play indoors, outdoors, on grass, on astroturf, or on a 3G pitch, London 5 a side football rules are more or less the same as those of an 11 a side game in terms of what’s allowed and what isn’t. As the name suggests, the key difference between the two games is the number of players on each team.

This means that all team members are subject to the same rules as in a normal-sized game. Some of the more obvious rules that are shared are that foul play is penalised and no use of the hand (for outfield players) is allowed. Despite the similarities, some rules do differ in 5 a side – for example, no slide tackling, the head height rule, and the goalkeeper’s area – but we’ll go into these in more detail shortly.

5aside football basics - Players shake hands after a game in a 5aside.com league
Players shake hands after a game in a 5aside.com league

The Five A Side Pitch Size

If you’re going to join a five a side football league in London, you need the right sized 3G pitch. These pitches are the same as those played on in 6 a side. According to the FA’s rules handbook, a 5 a side league pitch should have the following dimensions:

  • Length: Between 25 and 50 meters
  • Width: Between 16 and 35 meters
Whatever the size of pitch you use, it should always be rectangular with the goal line shorter than the touchline. Check out our full guide to football pitches sizes

Five-A-Side Kits – What Should You Wear?

During a match, team members should wear a t-shirt or jersey that are similar colour to that of their team mates. Ideally team the team kit would be identical. Uniform shorts and socks are also preferable to easily identify who is a team mate and who is an opposition player. In most leagues shin pads/guards are mandatory to protect players from injury. Of course if you’re playing casually, then you can wear whatever you feel most comfortable in although we recommend you always stick to the appropriate footwear depending on the surface you’re playing on to avoid injuries. See below for more on footwear options.

Football Footwear: Boots, Shoes, Trainers and Astros

There are various different types of footwear for football to choose from depending on the surface you’re playing on and, of course, your personal preference. Here’s a breakdown of the different types available and the best turf to wear them on:

  • Firm ground – Designed to give you maximum grip on dry or slightly wet grass.
  • Soft ground – Best for wet and muddy grounds and rainy-day matches.
  • Artificial ground – Safest and most comfortable option for 3G and 4G artificial pitches.
  • Astroturf – Helps reduce slips and falls on older style artificial pitches.
  • Indoor – Great for small-sided games on indoor and hardwood floors.

Studded boots are great for outdoor grass football pitches but if you’re planning on playing indoors, forget about! Studs on indoor 3G pitches in London are a no-go and you’ll quickly be told that you can’t wear them.

Shin Pads/Guards

If you’re playing with friends or colleagues, you’re under no obligation to wear shin pads. That said, if you’re planning on joining one of our ultimate 5 a side football leagues in London and playing in official fixtures, the organizers may insist that everyone wears them so you should double-check before your match. While you may not find them comfortable at first, these sturdy shock absorbers could help you avoid a serious injury.


Bibs or Matching Shirts

Whether you’re playing casually or not, you need to be able to differentiate your teammates from the opposition. This is one of the key reasons teams wear bibs. If you don’t have bibs for your team, you could ask that everyone wears the same coloured shirts. If you’re planning on going pro, why not get shirts made? There are thousands of London companies that now print football shirts at a reasonable price.

How Many Players Do You Need for 5 Side Football?

Of course, the maximum number of team members in London five a side is 5 but, we wanted to highlight the fact that you can actually make a team with 4 players too. If you have fewer than 3 of your teammates with you, then your opponents will have the final say as to whether they want the results to count or whether they just want it to be a friendly game. This decision needs to be clear to both teams before kick-off.

What About Substitutes?

Substitutions are rolling and can happen at any point. This means that the game will not stop for substitutions, even during a free-kick or after a goal is made. Substitutes have to come out of the game before their replacements come on. They also need to go onto the pitch at the same place as the previous player was. Teams can make as many substitutions as they want. This means they can have as many substitutes as they like on the sideline. But, it’s important to note that the match will not stop for ANY substitution, even if it’s a goalie substitute putting on gloves. If during a switch your team wastes time, the opposition may be entitled to a free-kick or goal kick. 

How Long Does a Five A Side Football Match Last?

Although great for boosting your fitness levels, London 5 aside football matches are shorter than ones with normal-sized teams. Instead of the usual 45-minute halves with a 10-minute interval, these small-sided games are broken up into two 25-minute halves with a 5-minute break in the middle. 

Five Aside Football Rules

As mentioned earlier, the rules of London 5 aside are more or less the same as those of other types of football, with a few exceptions. Let’s take a closer look at the goalkeeper’s area, the head height rule, and side tackling.

The Goalkeeper’s Area

In London 5 a side, only the designated goalkeeper is allowed in the goal area. This refers to the 6-meter radius semi-circle drawn from the centre of each goal. If two players are in the goalkeeper’s area when a shot is being taken, the team at fault will face a penalty. 

The same rules apply to goalkeepers. I.e. they’re not allowed to leave their designated area during a play. They can, however, throw, roll, or kick the ball out of their area as long as they do not throw it overhead height or with an overarm motion. In this case, the opposing team will be given an indirect free-kick from the kick-off spot. 

Simply put, if someone enters the goalkeeper’s area during play, a penalty will be given and if the goalkeeper leaves their designated area during this time, the opposing team will be awarded a penalty. These rules do not apply to a player who rolls into the goalkeeper’s area because of momentum. That said, if the ball is touched during this momentum, the referee may choose to give a penalty. 

In the case of attacking players, a goal kick will be awarded if they enter the goalkeeper’s area. If the attacker’s foot is inside the goal area when they kick the ball, the goal will not be recognized. If they kick the ball outside of goalkeeper’s area but momentum pushes them into it after they shoot, the goal will be given. 

What Is the Head Height Rule?

In 5aside football, the head height rule usually prevails and the ball should always be kept below a certain height. This height will depend on the game rules, however, it’s typically the height of the tallest player or based on a common marker. If the ball is played higher than the agreed-upon height, a free-kick will be awarded to the opposing team. This rule was created to encourage team members to pass on the ground rather than in the air.

*Some small-sided leagues like 5aside.com choose not to implement this rule as it can be difficult to reinforce consistently and often causes disruption in play.

Slide Tackling in Football – 5 A Side Specifically

Slide tackling is deemed as a foul in five a side football. This rule is enforced stringently if the pitch has a hard surface. If a slide tackle occurs, a free-kick will be given to the opposing team. 

Free-Kicks Explained

Free-kicks can be taken by any player but must be taken at the point of the foul. All opposing team members must be one meter away from the ball during a free-kick. These free-kicks can be awarded for the following reasons:

  • The ball is passed over head height
  • If the opposition are playing rough or charging
  • When there is a handball
  • After dangerous play of any kind
  • If a slide tackle is made
  • If the opposition is time-wasting

Backpasses are allowed in five a side football, however, the referee reserves the right to award a penalty if they feel it’s getting out of hand. 

The Difference Between Yellow and Red Cards

Fair play is just as important in London 5 a side as it is in other forms of football. To reinforce the rules, the referee can give players a yellow or red card depending on the issue at hand. Typically, they’ll give a yellow card if someone fouls persistently or behaves badly. A yellow card means they will be suspended for 5 minutes. 

In the case of a red card, the player will be banned from playing for the remainder of the match. This happens if a player is violent, uses abusive language, or has already received 2 yellow cards. 

League Points

When it comes to points, the 5 aside league system is the same as with any other style of football. In London 5 a side leagues, points are awarded as followed: If a team wins, they receive 3 points. They receive 1 point for a draw and no points for a loss. If they forfeit the match, they receive no points. And, in cases of serious misconduct, a team could have a point deducted. 

More Helpful Reading (5 aside, 6 a side leagues London): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five-a-side_football