A goal kick is awarded to the defending team when the ball goes out of the field of play by crossing, either on the ground or in the air, the goal line, without a goal being scored, when the last person to touch the ball was from the attacking team. If the last person to touch the ball was a member of the defending side, a corner kick is instead awarded to the attackers.
A goal kick is awarded to the defending team when the ball goes directly into the goal, having last been touched by the attacking team, from a situation in which the laws do not permit an attacking goal to be scored directly. These are:
- The ball is initially placed anywhere within the defending goal area (also known as the six-yard box). All opposing players must be outside the penalty area until the ball is in play. The ball must be kicked (a goalkeeper may not pick up the ball).
- The ball becomes in play as soon as it is kicked and clearly moves. The player taking the goal kick cannot touch the ball again once the kick is taken until another player touches the ball. 
- A goal can be scored directly from a goal kick against the opposing team. An own goal cannot be scored from a goal kick; in the highly unlikely circumstance that the ball enters the kicker's own goal before being touched by another player, a corner kick is awarded.
- A player may not be penalised for offside directly from a goal kick.
Goal kicks are most often taken by goalkeepers. However, this is not compulsory under the laws of the game.
Opposing players must retain the required distance as stated above. Failure to do so promptly so may constitute misconduct and be punished by a caution (yellow card). If an opposing player enters the penalty area before the ball is in play, the goal kick may be retaken.
It is an infringement for the kicker to touch the ball a second time before it has been touched by another player – this is punishable by an indirect free kick to the opposing team from where the offence occurred, unless the second touch was also a more serious handling offence, which is punished by a direct free kick for the opposing team.
Analogues of the goal kick are found in early codes of football. The first published set of rules for any code of football, that of Rugby School (1845), featured a "kick out" from ten yards or twenty-five yards after a team touched the ball down in its own goal area. This was the ancestor of the 22-metre drop out in modern rugby union. A similar 25-yard "kick out" is found in the first version of the Sheffield rules (1858).  The Cambridge rules of 1856 provided for a kick-out from "not more than ten paces", while the Melbourne Football Club rules of 1859 stipulated a 20-yard "kick off". Published laws of the Eton field game (1857) and Harrow football (1858), meanwhile, provided for a defensive kick-off from the goal-line itself whenever the ball went behind the goal without the attacking team scoring.
The 1863 FA rules
The original FA rules of 1863 defined the "free kick from the goal line", the ancestor of the goal-kick, thus:
In case the ball goes behind the goal line, if a player on the side to whom the goal belongs first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick from the goal line at the point opposite the place where the ball shall be touched. If a player of the opposite side first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick (but at the goal only) from a point 15 yards from the goal line opposite the place where the ball is touched. The opposing side shall stand behind their goal line until he has had his kick.
There are several differences between this "free kick from the goal line" and the modern goal-kick:
- It was awarded when the defensive team was the first to touch the ball down after it had crossed the goal-line. This contrasts with modern association football, which awards the goal-kick against the last team to touch the ball before it went out of play.
- It was taken from the goal line itself.
- It was taken in line with the spot where the ball was touched down.
It was not possible for a player to be offside from such a kick, a feature of the laws that has remained constant to the present day.
Early developments (1863-1873)
In 1866, the law was changed to award a goal-kick to the defending team regardless of which team touched the ball. (If the attacking team touched the ball down, it was awarded a "touch down", which served as a tie-breaker if the match ended level on goals; however the defending team was still awarded a goal-kick.) In 1867, following an amendment proposed by Wanderers FC, the law was simplified; both the requirement for a touch-down, and the short-lived "touch-down" tiebreaker, were completely removed from the laws. The goal-kick could now be taken from any point "within six yards from the limit of [the] goal", and the opponents were forbidden from approaching within six yards of the ball.
In 1872, the law was changed again by the introduction of the corner-kick from Sheffield rules football. Under this 1872 law, a goal-kick could be awarded only when the ball was kicked directly over the goal by either side. (When the ball was kicked to the side of the goal, a corner-kick was awarded, to either the attacking or defensive side).
This law was rewritten the next year (1873) on the basis of a proposal by Great Marlow FC: a goal kick was awarded when the ball was kicked out of play over the goal-line by the attacking side. The kick had to be taken from within six yards of the nearest goal post. The 1873 law ran:
When the ball is kicked behind the goal-line by one of the opposite side, it shall be kicked off by any one of the players behind whose goal line it went, within six yards of the nearest goal post; but if kicked behind by any one of the side whose goal line it is, a player of the opposite side shall kick it from the nearest corner flag-post. In either case no other player shall be allowed within six yards of the ball until kicked off.
In 1890, the phrase "goal-kick" appeared in the text of the laws for the first time. The player taking the goal-kick was forbidden from kicking the ball again until it had been played by another player. It was also forbidden to score a goal directly from a goal-kick. This latter prohibition would be partly reversed in 1997, when it was permitted to score a goal directly from a goal-kick, but only against the opposing team.
In 1891, pitch markings were added to define the six-yard radius from each goal-post.  In 1902, the term "goal area" was introduced for the place from which the goal kick was taken; it assumed its modern dimensions as a rectangle extending six yards from each goal post. The goal-kick had to be taken from the half of the goal area nearest to the spot where the ball went out of play. This requirement was removed in 1992, when it was permitted to take the goal-kick from any point within the goal-area. This change was made in order to "eliminate one of the common timewasting tactics".
In 1913 and 1914, the distance opponents were required to retreat was increased from six yards to ten yards. In 1948, opponents were required to be completely outside the penalty area when the goal-kick was taken.
In 1936, after a proposal by the Scottish Football Association, a new restriction was added: it was specified that the goal-kick has to put the ball into play beyond the penalty area; if the ball does not leave the penalty area, the kick has to be retaken. The goalkeeper was also explicitly forbidden from "receiv[ing] the ball into his hands from a goal-kick in order that he may thereafter kick it into play".. In 2019, the requirement that the ball had to leave the penalty area was removed: the ball became in-play as soon as it was kicked and clearly moved.
This table describes all free kicks awarded to the defending team after the ball goes out of play over the goal line, including the defensive corner kick from the 1872 laws.
|Date||Awarded when||Location||Minimum distance required (opponents)||Ball must leave penalty area||Kicker may play ball again before it is touched by another player||Attacking goal may be scored||Own goal may be scored||Player may be offside|
|1863||Ball first touched by a defender after going out of play||From the goal-line, in line with the place where the ball was touched down||None||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|1866||In all cases|
|1867||Within 6 yards of "the limit of the goal"||6 yards|
|1872||Ball goes directly above the goal
Ball last touched by an attacker before going out of play
|Within 6 yards of "the limit of the goal" (if ball went directly above the goal)
From the corner-flag nearest the point where the ball went out of play (otherwise)
|1873||Ball last touched by an attacker before going out of play||Within 6 yards of the goal post nearest the point where the ball went out of play|
|1902||The half of the goal area nearest the point where the ball went out of play||No|
|1948||Must be outside the penalty area|
|1992||Anywhere within the goal area|
- A goal kick is awarded in this situation if the ball is not touched by at least two players following a properly taken dropped ball. An improperly taken dropped ball is retaken.
- "FIFA.com – The Laws of the Game – Law 16: The Goal-Kick". FIFA. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- LAWS OF THE GAME 2015/2016 (PDF). FIFA. p. 36. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
- "Law 16 – The Goal Kick". FIFA. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
KICK OUT must not be from more than ten yards out of goal if a place-kick, not more then twenty-five yards, if a punt, drop, or knock on.– via
Kick out must not be from more than 25 yards out of goal.– via
When the ball is behind it shall be brought forward at the place where it left the ground, not more than ten paces, and kicked off.– via
In case the Ball is kicked behind Goal, any one of the side behind whose Goal it is kicked may bring it 20 yards in front of any portion of the space between the 'Kick Off' posts, and shall kick it as nearly as possible in line with the opposite Goal.– via
If a player kicks the ball behind, or on the line of the goalsticks of the opposite party, without being bullied, or should the ball be first touched by one of the defending party, no rouge is obtained, and the ball must be placed on a line with the goalsticks, and "kicked off" by one of that party.– via
When the Ball goes behind the Line of either of the Bases, it must be kicked straight in (as by Rule 9), and then must not be touched by any one belonging to the Side, behind whose Base it was kicked, until it has been touched by one of the opposite Side.– via
- Wikisource. – via
In case the ball goes behind the goal line, a player on the side to whom the goal belongs shall kick it off from the goal line, at the point opposite the place where the ball is touched by a player with any part of his body; but if a player of the opposite side first touches the ball, after it has gone behind the goal line of his adversary, one "touch down" shall be scored by his side, and in the event of no goals being got on either side, the side obtaining the greater number of "touches down" shall be the winners of the match.– via
When the ball is kicked behind the goal line, it must be kicked off by the side behind whose goal it went, within six yards from the limit of their goal. The side who thus kick the ball are entitled to a fair kick off in whatever way they please without any obstruction, the opposite side not being able to approach within six yards of the ball.– via
When the ball is kicked over the bar of the goal, it must be kicked off by the side behind whose goal it went, within six yards from the limit of their goal. The side who thus kick the ball are entitled to a fair kick off in whatever way they please; the opposite side not being allowed to approach within six yards of the ball. When the ball is kicked behind the goal line, a player of the opposite side to that which kicked it out shall kick it from the nearest corner flag. No player to be allowed within six yards of the ball until kicked.– via
- Wikisource. – via
In no case, save the penalty-kick, shall a goal be scored from any free kick, nor shall the ball be again played by the kicker until it has been played by another player. The kick-off, the corner-flag and goal-kicks shall be free kicks within the meaning of this rule.– via
- "History of the Laws of the Game - 1990-2000". Retrieved 2 September 2018.
- "Starts and restarts of play". Retrieved 2 September 2018.
- "International Football Association Board: 1997 Minutes of the Annual General Meeting" (PDF). p. 139. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
a line defining six yards from the goal posts and twelve yards from the goal lines shall also be marked out.– via
Lines shall be marked six yards from each goal-post at right angles to the goal-lines for a distance of six yards, and these shall be connected with each other by a line parallel to the goal-lines; the space within these lines shall be the goal area.– via
- "International Football Association Board: 1992 Minutes of the Annual General Meeting" (PDF). p. 14. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
- "International Football Association Board: 1914 Minutes of the Annual General Meeting" (PDF).
- "International Football Association Board: 1914 Minutes of the Annual General Meeting" (PDF).
- The Laws of 1913 are ambiguous: Law 7, which governs goal-kicks and corner-kicks, states "an opponent shall not be allowed within six yards of the ball until it is kicked off"; but Law 10, which governs several types of set-piece kicks, was changed to state that "the kicker's opponents shall not approach within 10 yards of the ball until the kick is taken". The Football Association used the new 10-yard rule for goal-kicks and corner-kicks during the 1913-14 season, while the Scottish Football Association used the older 6-yard rule -- see "The New Free Kick Law". The Athletic News and Cyclists' Journal (1984): 1. 6 October 1913. This ambiguity was resolved in 1914 by requiring a 10-yard radius in both laws.
- "International Football Association Board: 1948 Minutes of the Annual General Meeting" (PDF). p. 6. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- "International Football Association Board: 1936 Minutes of the Annual General Meeting" (PDF). p. 3. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
- "Lantern" (29 August 1936). "Linesmen Must Be More Attentive". Sports Argus. Birmingham (2006): 6.
- "Laws of the Game 2019/20" (PDF). p. 131.