AFL and Soccer: Differences Explained

With the start of the AFL season in Australia and the ending of the soccer seasons in Europe, a mate asked me about what the real differences are between each sport. So I figured I’d make a comprehensive list here of all the differences between AFL and soccer.

The key differences between AFL and soccer are:

Team size18 on field, 4 on bench11 on field, 4-10 in reserve
ScoringAverage 10 goals per gameAverage 2-3 goals per game
FieldOval shaped 135m longRectangle shaped 120m long
TacklingGenerally allowedGenerally not allowed
BallOval shapedRound
Key differences between AFL and soccer

AFL differs from soccer in its pace, the speed at which the game moves. This is due to the influence of the rules, team size, and field on the way players move the ball up and down the field to score goals.

Goal scoring in soccer vs AFL

In this guide I’ve looked at these various influences, and what their differences are between AFL and soccer. I’ve also taken a look at some of the history of each sport to hopefully give you a bit of understanding of how these differences are reflective of the cultures each sport grew up in.

Is AFL harder than Soccer? From a community poll conducted of Australians who play soccer and AFL, it was identified that AFL is considered a more difficult sport to play than soccer. The intensity of play and number of rules to remember were cited as the reasons it is more difficult.

Team Size

A soccer team consists of 11 players on the field and 4-10 players in reserve. An AFL team consists of 18 players on the field and 4 on the bench.

During a soccer game, there are 11 players on the field including 1 goal keeper. Off the field there are usually 4-10 players as reserves, though the number of players in reserve depends on which league or competition is being played. Three players can be switched onto the field to replace a tired or injured teammate, these 3 changes are called substitutions and once a player is off, they can’t come back on.

During an AFL game, there are 18 players on the field and 4 on the bench. The players on the bench can come on and off without any restrictions as many times as they like during a game.


How to score in soccer and AFL is demonstrated by the picture below:

In soccer, goals are counted when the ball makes it into the set of goals.

In AFL, goals are worth 6 points and counted when the ball makes it between the set of goal posts. Missing the goal posts can still get you a ‘behind’ which is worth a single point.

Value of a Goal16
Value of missing the goal0Potentially 1
Average score of a game2-380
Scoring comparison between AFL and Soccer

I feel soccer builds up the excitement over time and it’s a real celebration when a goal is scored. With footy, the feeling of having the game constantly moving is great fun.


Soccer is played on a rectangular field that can be 90-120 meters long and 45-90 meters wide. International matches have stricter dimensions at the higher end of those numbers.

AFL is played on a larger field that is oval shaped and 135-185 meters long by 110-155 meters wide. These dimensions come from the size of a cricket pitch, AFL is designed to be played on a cricket pitch. I feel AFL can spread further overseas if it took more advantage of countries that have cricket pitches already established. Check out our guide to footy overseas here:

Field size soccer (left) vs AFL (right)


Tackling in AFL is allowed. Players may tackle hard between the shoulders and the knees. A player may also charge another player using the shoulder. Tackling below the knees is deemed a trip and now allowed. Any contact with the head is also not allowed and can result in a penalty against the offending player, which can include suspension.

Despite being a short bloke, I’ve never had an opposition player do any serious damage to my head. I’ve seen plenty of tackles that are above the shoulders though, and it is something dangerous to look out for.

Tackling is generally not allowed in soccer. You can’t pull or drag someone to the ground in soccer, as you can in AFL. Doing so will result in a free kick to the other team. You can try to get the ball from someone else by using your body to obstruct the motion of the player with the ball. I’ve seen a lot of injuries in soccer from “tackling” – lots of opportunities to hurt yourself with misplaced kicks to the shins and accidental trips. Broken ankles and legs – watchout!


BallRound ballOval shaped ball
BootsStuds along the bottom made of rubber or metalStuds along the bottom made of rubber or metal
Shin guardsEssential to avoid ankle hacks and shin kicksNot used
Mouth guardRecommendedRecommended
Essential equipment comparison, AFL and soccer

Soccer boots can be used for AFL and AFL boots can be used for soccer. I wrote a complete guide to football boots (including the difference between studs and moulded), check it out here.


The basics of the offside rule are:

  • The attacking player must have at least one defender and the goalkeeper (or another player) between him and the goal;
  • The offside position is determined when the ball is actually kicked, not on the position of the player when he receives the ball;
  • The attacking player must be in front of the ball to be considered offside;
  • The attacking player must be over the half-line mark.

Another important thing to remember is that even though a player may be in an offside position, if he is not impacting the play (such as receiving the ball or getting in the way of defenders), then he will not be penalised for the offence.

I found this great video that explains the offside rule: How Offside Works in Soccer

As someone who loves his sport I’m always debating with people in regard to what is the best sport and the good and bad points of a sport. It always surprises me when someone suggests that a sport, in particular soccer, with an offside rule is too confusing for them to wrap their heads around. On the surface it can seem a bit confusing so hopefully this clears it up.

AFL does not have an offside rule. Players can roam anywhere on the field at any time they want. I feel this is what makes footy a free-flowing, fast, and high scoring game.

Countries Played

AFL is predominantly played in Australia, but can also be found in countries that have close ties to Australians. It could almost be described as a niche sport and is only played professionally in Australia, despite a growing number on countries with national leagues and teams.

What is soccer called in Australia? In Australia, association football is typically referred to as soccer. To differentiate the leagues, Australians may also discuss the game as “A-League”, “Premier League”, and other similar league names when discussing particular competitions.

Soccer is played in every continent and is truly a global sport. I often set an alarm for the early hours of a Sunday morning to watch the English Premier League, but Europe has many major professional leagues, with some of the best and most expensive athletes. It is not the only continent that is crazy about the sport. In South America the sport is a way of life, so much so that games often resemble a carnival then a sporting contest. Association Football is also now Asia’s and the middle East’s biggest sport, a boom in the game over the last 20 years surpassing more traditional sports in those areas. The best example of how global the game is, comes every four years with the running of the FIFA World Cup, the biggest sporting festival on the planet with 32 countries from all over the world coming to compete for the sport’s most famous prize.

History of AFL vs. History of Soccer

Is AFL older than soccer? Soccer is older than AFL as its roots date back to medieval times. However, AFL can be considered as starting in the 1850’s and was formalised earlier than soccer, which was only formalised in 1963.

Creation of Soccer

Association Football, more commonly known as football or soccer can be dated as far back as medieval times. By the mid nineteenth Century there were quite a number of clubs both at schools and within the community, but disputes still occurred as to what the best rules where. A conscious effort to bring together these clubs and schools culminated in the 1963 creation of the Football Association in London. The Association drew up a set of rules that all schools and clubs would play under. I personally love association football; the skills and foot skills often leave me at awe and these set of rules where the foundation to what many dub “the beautiful game.” Almost all the clubs and schools agreed to the new rules and for a period of time there were no arguments or disputes. The rules specifically banned handling of the ball (except by goalkeepers) hacking players by forcibly kicking their legs, tripping with hands and forceful tackling. Sounds familiar right? Yep, these were the first rules of the modern game that we know today. However, there was one school, a very big and popular one that disagreed with the Association Rules and after many meetings a schism formed, this school was called the Rugby school and they were embarking on their own journey that would create another popular past time which would also sweep across the globe.

Creation of AFL

One man can be attributed to the creation of AFL. Tom Wills. There are a number of factors that led to Wills’ idea and creation of Australian Football. Wills grew up as the only white child in the Western Districts Region of Victoria and as a child played a game called Man Grook, a form of football played by Indigenous Australian’s for generations before. Man Grook like the early days of English School Football was a disorganised, somewhat violent game with little to no rules, but the bases if the game played with a possum skin ball remained the same, get the ball into the scoring area of your team, via kicking throwing catching and punching.

Wills would later as a teenager be sent to England where he attended the famous Rugby School. He was a wonderful athlete and was one of the best English school footballers, but also a fine cricketer and would captain the schools cricket team.  When his studies were over and he returned to Australia he immediately started playing cricket for Victoria and was regarded as one of the best in country if not the world. It was during his time as a cricketer that Wills formed the opinion that a Football Club should be formed to keep cricketers fit in the winter months.

Wills used a mix of the rugby school rules and other English school football games, along with the game of Man Grook he played as a young boy to form a whole new game. In 1858 only months after his proposal of a football club, the first games were played in the paddocks next to the MCG, the Melbourne Football Club was formed shortly after and in 1859 along with his cousin H.C.A Harrison, wrote up the first official rules of Australian Rules Football, the rest they say is history.


Cass was born with a football in his arms. From the moment he could walk he's loved playing sport, watching sport, and being a fan of any game he can play. Cass helped start Anybody's Fan to help fans enjoy their sport. He works to provide easy to read information and guides that help fans understand different strategies and terms of the game, and why coaches and players do what they do.

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