If you pay close attention to the soccer games that are broadcast on television each weekend, you’ll often notice players receiving a new soccer ball from a dedicated ball tender on the touchline, right after a break in play.
Or in other instances, you’ll notice that after one player has sent a shot blazing high and wide of the goal, the defending goalkeeper simply goes beyond the post and collects another soccer ball right away.
For those new to the game, it’s easy to think that the players have access to an endless supply of soccer balls in and around the stadium.
But this is definitely not the case.
So, just how many soccer balls are used in a game, then?
In the past, soccer matches would employ the use of a single soccer ball. When this ball left the field, the game would pause momentarily until that ball was ready to be used again in live play. But the introduction of an optional multi-ball system increased the number of soccer balls used in matches across professional leagues from one to a much higher number – usually seven.
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I’ll have more on this in a minute.
For now, I want to briefly cover how many soccer balls are used in particular competitions.
Soccer ball usage numbers for professional competitions
Different figures prevail for the various leagues and competitions that make up the sport.
I’m going to outline the rule sets for some of the major ones so you can see for yourself exactly how the numbers contrast.
Let’s get started…
1. Major League Soccer
America’s top soccer league is very clear when it comes to how many soccer balls can be used in their professional league matches (including the subsequent playoff format).
Their website reveals that match officials must be supplied with a minimum of 12 soccer balls by the home team prior to kick off.
Here’s the precise quote:
“The home club will supply the visiting club with fourteen (14) official match balls (which can be previously used match balls) for pre-match warm-ups, and will supply the officials with a minimum of twelve (12) official match balls.”
You can also find out exactly which soccer balls are used in the MLS by clicking on that hyperlink.
2. The 2014 FIFA World Cup
In the world’s biggest sporting competition, the facts on soccer ball numbers during games are also quite clear.
In a Guardian article, co-authors Glenn Price and James Barnes state that a total of 20 soccer balls were made available for each match in the 2014 edition – be it in the group stages or the knockout rounds – with a grand sum of 3,240 balls used throughout the entirety of the tournament.
Pretty straightforward, right?
Well, in the Premier League, things start to get a little murkier.
3. The English Premier League
As far as I am aware, there is no official documentation that explicitly states how many soccer balls are supposed to be in use at Premier League matches.
The only bits of information I was able to find on this sub-topic were:
- A Quora forum that had a commenter stating that the Premier League allows 16 match day soccer balls spread on either side of the pitch, with no reference or citation to back the point up
- A niche blog – which shall not be named – that regurgitates the exact same piece of information available on the Quora forum and passes it on as fact
Ultimately, you can see that the previously stated figure of 16 soccer balls is by no means reliable.
Needless to say, I’m not going to link to either of the aforementioned sources, as if you conduct a simple Google search you should be able to find them easily enough anyway.
That leaves us with the Premier League and it’s wrongly asserted multi-ball system – which I’ll explain further down.
At the start of each campaign, clubs in the EFL Championship are given the choice to decide whether they wish to employ a multi-ball system or simply run with a single ball for every home game.
So, by extrapolating such information, it’s very easy to think that that teams in the Premier League either have a choice of one or multiple soccer balls.
You instantly assume that because the Premier League is a better division, they’ll have the same rules and regulations as the Championship at the bare minimum, right?
Well, strangely enough this isn’t the case, as the Premier League uses a single-ball system.
Here, a number of clubs have ball boys strategically stationed on each side of the pitch who aid with keeping the flow of the game as continuous as possible.
So, during a game you might spot a camera panning towards a ball boy who quickly distributes a soccer ball to a player, making you think that the multi-ball system is in play.
When in fact, the situation is quite the opposite.
They’re simply so good at what they do.
And sometimes, these ball boys get themselves in the headlines too!
For instance, take a look at the beginning of this clip showing a ball boy purposely time-wasting in favour of Tottenham Hotspur:
And right after that there’s another scenario, where former Tottenham Hotspur defender Jan Vertonghen has a ball hit against his shins by a Bournemouth ball boy!
What is the multi-ball system in soccer?
Essentially, the multi-ball system allows matches to resume quickly after the original soccer ball has left the field of play.
It works by having a number of additional soccer balls held by ball boys on each side of the pitch.
When a soccer ball rolls off of the field, a ball boy will quickly run over to the player that’s nearest to the touchline and immediately hand them a replacement ball, so that play can restart quickly.
Now, according to the way Law 02 of the FIFA Laws of the Game is worded, you’d think that the referee is the only party with the authority to swap or replace a soccer ball during a match, but that is far from the truth.
Without context, the following statement leads to a lot of chaos:
“The ball may not be changed during the match without the referee’s permission.”
What people fail to take into account here, is the fact that this rule only references the contingency that’s supposed to take effect in the case of a defective soccer ball; not a normal functioning one.
So, if the league association has sanctioned the use of this system, ball boys can help to keep the flow of the game going by distributing soccer balls as and when they are needed by players.
If you pay a close eye to this, you may notice that some home teams have more soccer balls available for use in a game than others.
This is because the number used is relatively team dependent, with some coaches preferring quick transitions and high tempo as tactical styles; therefore, needing more soccer balls available to shorten the duration of each stoppage in play.
Although the multi-ball system keeps games ticking over nicely, it can sometimes result in two soccer balls being present on the pitch at the same time.
This isn’t ideal for players and the overall match spectacle as it can create quite a bit of confusion over which ball is the one actually in use.
Which professional competitions utilise the multi-ball system?
I’ve provided a quick summary of all the competitions that employ the multi-ball system in the table below.
This includes UEFA competitions, with the EFL Championship and the two tiers below it also employing the framework.
|Nation||Competition||Multi-ball system||Single ball system||Optional|
|England||EFL League One||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|England||EFL League Two||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|UEFA||UEFA European Championship||Yes||No||No|
|UEFA||UEFA Champions League||Yes||No||No|
|UEFA||UEFA Europa League||Yes||No||No|
In this piece I’ve provided you with a wealth of useful information on how many soccer balls are used in a game.
For the sake of clarity, I’d like to give a quick recap of the main point…
A single soccer ball was previously employed in soccer matches before the introduction of a multi-ball system, which increased the number of soccer balls – available to home teams that employ this framework – from one to a usual amount of seven.
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