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Football positions, to the naive bluffer, may look confusing, nay chaotic, almost as though in the beautiful game, players can run around willy nilly. This, obviously, isn’t the case.

Whether you are contemplating taking to the field yourself, or simply want to impress friends and family with your sporting knowledge in the run-up to the FIFA 2014 World Cup, it’s essential for bluffers to know the ins and outs of football positions.

From goalkeepers and midfielders, to centre forwards and centre backs, football positions are intrinsic to the rules of the game. So here, in an excerpt from The Bluffer’s Guide to Football, by Mark Mason, we unravel the minefield of football positions, so you can hold your own in any conversation about the beautiful game.

Football positions


This is the player who stands between the goalposts, attempting to stop the opposition from scoring. Often referred to as the ‘goalie’ or the ‘keeper’, he differs from outfield players in two respects. He is: the only player allowed to handle the ball (as long as he is inside his own penalty area); and normally the only player near enough to the crowd behind the goal to be pelted with small household objects. Two principal characteristics are needed to be a successful goalie. You must be tall (so that your outstretched hand can reach the ball) and clinically insane (so that your concentration on putting outstretched hand to ball isn’t disturbed by opposition players’ knees rearranging your facial features).

‘Skills’ to watch out for…

  1. Play-acting Players routinely pretend that they have been fouled in order to win free kicks and get their opponents booked. The standards of acting used to achieve this are at times so excellent that theatrical agents have been known to attend some Premier League matches looking for talent.
  2. Acrobatics A favourite is the ‘stepladder’, where a player stands behind an opponent, lifting himself up on his shoulders to head the ball.
  3. Observation The skill of estimating when a ball is at the top of its flight after a long clearance from the goalkeeper. This enables the player to elbow his marker out of the way while attention is diverted.
  4. Beating your opponent The skill that sometimes means getting away from him while retaining control of the ball. Often, however, it has a more literal meaning.


Also known as centre halves, these are the two players who stand immediately in front of the goalkeeper, in the centre of defence. In long-standing pairings, centre backs can develop an almost telepathic ability to operate as a unit. The taller one jumps up to head the ball, while the shorter one stands on the toes of the opposition player to prevent him doing likewise. Centre backs often make good team captains – the Chelsea and England player John Terry, for example. (Any problems he had with hanging on to the England captaincy were due to off-the-field ‘incidents’.)


These are the two defenders who operate outside the centre backs. They are also referred to as ‘left back’ and ‘right back’. Their tactics for countering the opposition usually fall into one of two categories. There is the ‘No One Ever Scored from Row Z’ approach, where the ball is kicked into the crowd at the earliest opportunity. And there is the ‘Player or Ball’ approach, which dictates that full backs are happy for an opposition player to go past them, or for the ball to go past them – but never both at the same time.


An alternative defensive arrangement is to have three centre backs and two defenders outside them who are referred to as ‘wing backs’. Their role is twofold. They push forward and attack down the wings (the edges of the pitch), and are the players whom the rest of the team blame when the opposition get past them and cross the ball in for a goal.


These are the four or five players operating between the defenders and the attackers. They assist both in equal measure in that they give the defence someone to criticise for never running back to help them, and the attackers someone to blame for never getting the ball forward so that they can score.


These are the players who hang around in the opposition penalty area ensuring that their hair remains neat enough for tomorrow’s promotional photo shoot. Occasionally, and if they happen to be in the right place, they might deign to knock the ball into the goal, as long as doing so doesn’t get mud over the sponsor’s name on their boot. They are also proficient divers. Especially if someone hits them with a feather.

Happy Bluffing!

The Bluffer's Guide To Football




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