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THE EARLY RULES OF SOCCER

Tony Brown, of the Association of Football Statisticians 6/5/2000

THE EARLY RULES OF SOCCER
by Tony Brown, of the Association of Football Statisticians





As you are reading this on the World Wide Web, far be it from me to deny claims that soccer was invented by the Chinese, Greeks or Romans. However, the fact is that the rules of the game of soccer we use today are due to the young men at England's schools and universities in the mid nineteenth century. They produced the codes of law that were necessary before two teams could compete on equal terms.

If you were transported back to the 1860s, you could be forgiven for assuming that the group of young men playing with a large muddy object in open fields were engaged in a game of rugby (or American football) rather than soccer, or maybe just a general brawl! If a player caught the ball, he could run with it until tripped or hacked to the ground; "hacking" was a sharp kick to the shins. If the ball was on the ground, both sets of players would form a scrum round the ball and attempt to move it forwards. A participant admitted that "frequently, rough play was engaged in" and you can imagine that tempers were short in the general melee. Another account described the players "as a set of harmless lunatics, who amused themselves by kicking one another's shins, but did no great harm to the public at large".

The public schools took the lead in writing down the rules of the game for others to follow. However, each school had different ideas on the size of the pitch, the size and shape of the ball, how much handling was allowed, and whether or not hacking was permitted. The early soccer clubs would have adopted whatever practices suited them best. The first "club" (as distinct from a school or university ) was the Sheffield club, formed in 1857. Sheffield adopted a set of eleven rules. These were based, we believe, on the laws in use in the public schools and at Cambridge. Pushing with the hands was allowed, but not hacking or tripping. Running with the ball in the hands (as practised at Rugby school) was not allowed. However, the ball could be caught, provided it had not touched the ground; a free kick then followed (similar to the "mark" in today's rugby football). The ball could also be pushed on with the hand. There were no off-side rules, so players known as "kick-throughs" were positioned permanently in the opponents' half. There was no limit on team size, and whatever size or shape of ball that happened to be handy was used. Referees were unnecessary, as the two captains would settle any dispute.

In tracing the history of the game, there are three sets of laws in particular that a made a significant contribution to today's game. They are Cambridge (1848), Sheffield (1857), Uppingham (1862) and the fledgling Football Association in 1863. Remember that one set of rules do not supersede another; it was up to the clubs (or the "association" to which they belonged) to decide which set to adopt. It was the eventual merger of the rules of Sheffield and the Football Association in 1878 that provided the platform for the growth of the game world-wide. This was formalised in 1882, when the "International Board" was created to look after the rules. To begin with, the International Board consisted of two representatives from each of the the four United Kingdom associations, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Today, the Board consists of four representatives nominated by FIFA, and one from each of the four UK associations.


Cambridge 1848
1. This Club shall be called the University Foot Ball Club.

2. At the commencement of play, the ball shall be kicked off from the middle of the ground; after every goal there shall be a kick-off in the same way or manner.

3. After a goal, the losing side shall kick off; the sides changing goals unless a previous arrangement be made to the contrary.

4. The ball is out when it has passed the line of the flag-post on either side of the ground, in which case it shall be thrown in straight.

5. The ball is "behind" when it has passed the goal on either side of it.

6. 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.

7.? Goal is when the ball is kicked through the flag-posts and under the string.

8. When a player catches the ball directly from the foot, he may kick it as he can without running with it. In no other case may the ball be touched with the hands, except to stop it.

9. If the ball has passed a player and has come from the direction of his own goal, he may not touch it till the other side have kicked it, unless there are more than three of the other side before him. No player is allowed to loiter between the ball and the adversaries' goal.

10. In no case is holding a player, pushing with the hands or tripping up allowed. Any player may prevent another from getting to the ball by any means consistent with this rule.

11. Every match shall be decided by a majority of goals.



Sheffield 1857
1. The kick from the middle must be a place kick.

2. Kick Out must not be more than 25 yards out of goal.

3. Fair Catch is a catch from any player provided the ball has not touched the ground or has not been thrown from touch and is entitled to a free-kick.

4. Charging is fair in case of a place kick (with the exception of a kick off as soon as a player offers to kick) but he may always draw back unless he has actually touched the ball with his foot.

5. Pushing with the hands is allowed but no hacking or tripping up is fair under any circumstances whatever.

6. No player may be held or pulled over.

7. It is not lawful to take the ball off the ground (except in touch) for any purpose whatever.

8. The ball may be pushed or hit with the hand, but holding the ball except in the case of a free kick is altogether disallowed.

9. A goal must be kicked but not from touch nor by a free kick from a catch.

10. A ball in touch is dead, consequently the side that touches it down must bring it to the edge of the touch and throw it straight out from touch.

11. Each player must provide himself with a red and dark blue flannel cap, one colour to be worn by each side.


Uppingham School 1862
1. A goal is scored whenever the ball is forced through the goal and under the bar, except it be thrown by the hand.

2. Hands may he used only to stop a ball and place it on round before the feet.

3? Kicks must be aimed only at the ball.

4?? A player may not kick the ball whilst in the air.

5? No tripping up or heel kicking allowed.

6. Whenever a ball is kicked beyond the side flags, it must be returned by the player who kicked it, from the spot it passed the flag-line in a straight line towards the middle of the ground.

7? When a ball is kicked behind the line of goal, it shall be kicked off from that line by one of the side whose goal it is.

8. No player may stand within six places of the kicker when he is kicking off.

9? A player is out of play immediately he is in front of the ball and must return behind the ball as soon as possible. If the ball is kicked by his own side past a player, he may not touch it, or advance, until one of the other side has first kicked it, or one of his own side, having followed it up, has been able, when in front of him, to kick it.

10. No charging is allowed When a player is out of play - i.e. immediately the ball is behind him.


The Football Association, 1863
1. The maximum length of the ground shall be 200 yards, the maximum breadth shall be 100 yards, the length and breadth shall be marked off with flags; and the goal shall be defined by two upright posts, eight yards apart, without any tape or bar across them.

2. A toss for goals shall take place, and the game shall be commenced by a place kick from the centre of the ground by the side losing the toss for goals; the other side shall not approach within 10 yards of the ball until it is kicked off.

3.? After a goal is won, the losing side shall be entitled to kick off, and the two sides shall change goals after each goal is won.

4. A goal shall be won when the ball passes between the goal-posts or over the space between the goal-posts (at whatever height), not being thrown, knocked on, or carried.

5.? When the ball is in touch, the first player who touches it shall throw it from the point on the boundary line where it left the ground in a direction at right angles with the boundary line, and the ball shall not be in play until it has touched the ground.

6. When a player has kicked the ball, any one of the same side who is nearer to the opponent's goal line is out of play and may not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so, until he is in play; but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked off from behind the goal line.

7.? 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 he 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 at the goal only from a point 15 yards outside the goal line, opposite the place where the ball is touched, the opposing side standing within their goal line until he has had his kick.

8. If a player makes a fair catch, he shall be entitled to a free kick, providing he claims it by making a mark with his heel at once; and in order to take such a kick he may go back as far as he pleases, and no player on the opposite side shall advance beyond his mark until he has kicked.

9? No player shall run with the ball.

10. Neither tripping nor hacking shall be allowed, and no player shall use his hands to hold or push his adversary.

11. A player shall not be allowed to throw the ball or pass it to another with his hands.

12. No player shall be allowed to take the ball from the ground with his hands under any pretext whatever while it is in play.

13. No player shall be allowed to wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on the soles or heels of his boots.



A Short History Of Soccer was written by Tony Brown and reprinted with his permission. Please See SoccerData.com for more articles by Mr. Brown.

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