I've heard many times that, in the past (I don't know exactly when, but It may be around 1930 and 1950 decades) football teams used to align using 2-3-5 formation.

I know that tactics used to be less defensive at those times, and it used to be more goals, but I guess if this were completely true, an we interpreter 2-3-5 as 2 defenders, 3 midfields and 5 forwards in the same sense we refer to those positions today, it should have been dozens of goals per match.

I also rembember reading a quote from some old player saying that I was an exaggeration, and that just the idea of 5 forwards against 2 defenders is ridiculous.

Can anybody explain how football tactics worked at those times?

  • 5
    Keep in mind that before the 1930s, the offside rule was a lot different - you needed to be farther than the goal line than (or level with) the third last opponent, not the second last opponent. This made holding a line with less defenders much easier. Sep 3, 2015 at 23:01

1 Answer 1


YES but it was not a rule

This site confirm that, in the early 1900s, tactics were more offensive than now.

Also this source and wikipedia confirm that the old off side rules permits to play with those tactics.

I think you can find a lot of exhaustive info on the posted links, so I prefer to do not add more.

  • 1
    Yes. That explains why those tactics were used before 1925, which is the year when the off-side rule changed. But there are famous later teams which used 5 forwards. I known some argentinian teams examples, like River Plate's La Máquina in the 40's en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_M%C3%A1quina Sep 4, 2015 at 14:58
  • Now that I read yout Football Bible source, I think that those 40's teams probably used the 3-2-2-3 MW tactic, which also has 5 forwards, but it's more balanced. Sep 5, 2015 at 17:04
  • Some of those tactics numberings are confusing. For example, Victorio Pozzo's Il metodo is refered as 2-3-2-3, but two of the midfielders were responsible of mark the opponent's wingers! Makes much more sense to call them defenders instead of midfielders. That way it would be 4-1-2-3 Sep 5, 2015 at 17:09

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