When Wales took on the mighty Brazil in a friendly match in May 2000, supporters were concerned about how the Welsh fullbacks would cope with the brilliant wing play of players like Cafu, Ze Roberto and the precocious Denilson.
Fortunately, Mark Hughes had an answer, as he allowed the grass to grow at the Millennium Stadium while trimming a few yards off the touchlines. The goal was to disrupt Brazil’s sharp passing game, while minimising the amount of space afforded in wide areas.
Of course, it meant little in the end as Wales lost 3-0, but it highlights just how a football pitch can be used and sized to the advantage of the home team. But how exactly does this work, and what are the rules regarding pitch sizes in the UK?
What are the Rules in the UK?
Believe it or not, there are strict guidelines pertaining to pitch sizes in the UK, across all levels of the game and various formats.
These set the minimum and maximum dimensions for the width and length of different types of pitch, from those used for 5-a-side matches to others that host full-scale, 11v11 games.
Interestingly, there’s often a considerable difference between the minimum and maximum thresholds, even for playing areas that host 5-a-side games. In this instance, pitches can be as small as 20 metres (21.87 yards) in length and 30 metres (32.80 yards) in width, while also reaching a maximum size of 25 metres (27.34 yards) x 35 metres (38.27 yards).
However, the potential difference is really pronounced when dealing with 11-a-side playing areas, with the key focus on providing flexibility and creating the optimal pitch size for 11v11 match-ups across all age ranges.
In broad terms, an 11-a-side pitch can be as small as 90 metres (100 yards) long and 45 metres (50 yards) wide. However, these dimensions can also stretch to 120 metres (130 yards) and 90 metres (100 yards), with precise pitch sizes increasing in line with the age range of players.
So, for U-13 and U-14 matches, the FA recommends that 11-a-side matches take place on a pitch that’s 82.2 metres (90 yards) long and 50.2 metres (55 yards) wide.
However, for 18+ tournaments and professional football, the average pitch size is 100.5 metres (110 yards) long and 64 metres (70 yards) wide.
How to Use Your Pitch Size to Your Advantage
Clearly, there’s a need to utilise smaller pitches when hosting youth games and tournaments, as players should be focused on mastering technical elements of the game as opposed to building stamina across larger playing areas.
When hosting competitive 11-a-side matches for over 18s, however, you’ll have far greater scope to tailor your pitch size in order to steal a march on your rivals.
If we consider the example at the beginning of the piece, for example, we see that condensing your pitch and making it considerably narrow can make it harder for attack-oriented sides with talented wingers.
Such teams usually use the full width of the pitch when in possession, so minimising the space can disrupt their game and make the life of your defenders easier.
Conversely, you’ll want to increase the size of the playing area as an attack-minded team that plays with genuine width. The same principle applies if you have a particularly fit and high energy side, and increasing the length and width of a pitch even incrementally causes players to cover more ground over 90 minutes.
This may suit your team, and afford you a critical edge especially as matches reach the latter stages.
Ultimately, the key is to understand the guidelines and ensure that you operate within these, while tailoring your pitch size to suit the characteristics of your side (or at least negate the strengths of the opposition).