1863 the FA Rules were published as the first association football rules. But even before 1863, there were already various sets of rules that prohibited the handball from schools, universites and football clubs. For example the Cambridge University Rules or the Sheffield FC Rules.
This article compares these sets of rules thematically structured.
The field of the play
The measures of the field of the play were only mentioned in the 1860s.
Since they are quite similar here, it can be assumed that they have already been aligned and that unwritten agreements were therefore also in place.
Only in Eton there was a height limit which was already 7 ft in 1847 and did not change afterwards. All other football rules did not mention any height limitation within this period. The width of the goal varied, if it was specified at all. In Eton it remained constant at 11 ft, in Harrow (1858) goals were 4 yd wide, in Cambridge (1863) 5 yd, at the FA (1863) even 8 yd.
It seems that goals used to be much narrower than today.
Number of players
The number of players is only fixed in the 1849 rules in Surrey. There are already eleven players here.
In most of the games, it was important that teams were at least equal in number. There were no competitions against other clubs, but one played within the educational institute or within the club against each other. There was no need to specify the number of players in writing.
Most football rules don’t mention substitutions. Only in Eton was it stipulated in all versions of the rules that injured players or tardy players were excluded from the game and could not be replaced.
I don’t know whether this was common, or it was allowed to substitute tardy players. To substitute injured players was allowed not before the late 20th’ century.
The player’s equipment
Only the boots were mentioned, viz. in the FA Rules and in rules of Blackheath: nothing was allowed to project off the shoes, especially no nails, iron parts or gutta-percha.
Special attention was paid to the shoes, also in football rules that allow hacking. The harder way of playing at some private schools served as a test of courage and discipline. But shoes with iron, metal or gutta-percha did not encourage bravery. They were simply wanton and dangerous.
In Eton (rukes of 1847, 1857, 1862) and in Harrow it was required that each team must appoint an umpire, who – in case of doubt – must make decisions on call and therefore must have precise knowledge of the rules of the game. This decisions were final.
Umpires were frowned upon in many clubs, schools and universities. The gentlemen felt snubbed by this match official. Honesty and fairness were the virtues of gentlemen. So, they regarded the fact that a third party was deciding upon misdemeanors as suspicious of them.
However, match reports show that there were frequent discussions on the pitch.
Duration of the game
The playing time was stipulated only in the several rules in Eton (60 minutes), but no other rule.
The playing time was probably negotiated between the teams before the match.
It wasn’t mentioned in most of the rules at the end of the 1850s, but five years later: the game begins with the kick-off from the middle of the field by a kick or a kind of a scrummages (“bully”, only in Eton). There are only a few other additions: In Uppingham and in the FA, minimum distances between players and the ball are prescribed, namely 4 yd (Uppingham) and 10 yd (FA).
The fact that a game starts from the middle of the field seems to have been a written or unwritten law, since (written) no deviations can be found.
Choose of ends
Whenever football rules contain information about the start of the game, the choice of ends was always decided by coin toss: Harrow 1858, Cambridge 1863 and FA 1863.
The coin toss seems to have been the most common, perhaps the only alternative.
Change of ends
There were two variants: At halftime (Eton 1847, 1857, 1862 and Cambridge 1863) or after each goal (Harrow 1858, FA 1863).
Both variants seem to have been common as their appearance is balanced.
Determining the outcome of a match
A goal is scored when the ball passes the goal line between the goalposts. Harrow (1858) and Sheffield (1858) also stipulated that a goal can only be scored only by kick, and at Shrewsbury School it was common to play three matches until the winner was determined.
In Harrow it was also allowed to jump into the goal. After a fair catch you could jump 3 yd, if you shout “Three yards”. If you caught the ball close (maximal 3 yd to the goal, you could jump into the goal with the ball instead of a free kick.
The round must be between the posts, that was always obvious.
At first there was only an offside rule in Eton, called sneaking. As early as 1847, it was a more open offside rule that allowed combination football. Someone was sneaking when he was between the ball and the opponent’s goal and three or fewer opponents were in front of her.
In Harrow (1858) the offside was called behind. Here, as at the beginning of the 1860s in Blackheath, Cambridge, Shrewsbury, Uppingham and the FA, the restrictive offside rule applied, according to which everyone between the ball and the opposing goal was offside.
The restrictive offside rule seems to enjoy general recognition, which explains why it was first introduced in the FA. More about the introduction of the offside rule.
Fouls and misconduct
In most cases, charging was only allowed under certain circumstances. Hacking was generally allowed in Surrey (1849). All charging was allowed in Cambridge (1863), also in Blackheath (1862) when the opponent was carrying the ball after a fair catch (“running”). In Eton (1862) and Shrewsbury (1863) only charging with feet and legs was allowed, so a handball was also forbidden when attacking an opponent).
In Eton the allowed and forbidden play changed within the rules: 1847 was not mentioned unallowed play at all, 1857 no attacking or other fouls were allowed (also in Harrow, 1858) and 1862 finally all fouls were allowed, as long as it happened with legs and feet.
The greatest difference between the rules were the illegal play that differed from each other and also, in the case of Eton, changed over the years.
In most of the rules, handball was forbidden, namely Eton (1847), Harrow (1858), FA (1863), Cambridge (1863) and Blackheath (1862). Except for Fair Catch, if allowed by the rules. Catching the ball was also allowed in the rules of Eton 1862, Shrewsbury (1863) and Uppingham (1862). They did not mention the Fair Catch. Otherwise, there was the possibility of stopping the ball (Eton, 1857) and hitting the ball (Sheffield, 1858).
Surprisingly, handball cannot be used as such a clear indicator of the diversity of football variations. In fact, most football rules did not allow the handling game, or only under very special circumstances such as running in Blackheath or Fair Catches.
In the second half of the 19th century, most of the rules knew the free kick, although in almost all of them the free kick was a reward for a Fair Catch, not a penalty for a team. Except in Eton, the free kick was an unhindered kick in a free direction and manner. In Eton it was a kind of a scrummage (“bully”) in 1857, and in 1862 it was an unhindered kick. And only in Eton (1850s, 1862) the free kick was stipulated as a punishment for a rule infringement.
The free kick apparently underwent a change in meaning in the 19th century, parallel to the changed socialization of football. In the first half of the 19th century, football was a way of educating gentlemen’s sons about certain behaviors. It was a way of behaving was to be honest and show humility in victories. By the middle of the century, when sport was established outside public schools, this spirit fade from the spotlight. This is also shown by the English word record: First it was synonymous for an account, then a second one occur. You know, the record which are documented in the Guiness Book of Records.
If the ball went into the touch, there was either a throw-in or a kick-in. The division is very even here. This throw or kick is taken in almost every rule by the first toucher of the ball. According to some rules at the point of touch and in other football rules at the point where the ball went out. An exception is the rule of Uppingham, where the ball was kick back into the field by the person who had also kicked it into the touch. In Eton, there was a bully after the ball went into touch from the opposite of the point from where the ball went out.
It is remarkeeable that before the 1870s throw-ins were common performed by the one who first touched the ball. This is probably the reason why the touch is called touch in English. You were allowed to touch the ball with your hand, but not in the field. For some it may be surprising that the mention of a kick-in is quite balanced to the throw-in which is common today.
In contrast to restart after the ball got into the touch, the restart of the game after the ball passed the goal line sideways the goal posts was not so obvious. The only one they had in common was that it was always an unhindered kick, a free kick. It was different who brought the ball back onto the pitch and from which point. Either from the goal line (2x) or 25 yd behind the goal (2x) or 20 yd behind the goal. In Shrewsbury (1863) there was the option of playing a drop kick.
If in Eton the ball went out between the rouge posts and goal posts, the ball was rougeable.
In the FA it was also important who touched the ball first behind the goal line. But in this case the restart of the game was differentiated depending on which team the touching player belonged to. If the goal belonged to his team, there was a free-kick from the goalpost. If he was part of the attacking team, there was a free kick 15 yd behind the opposite goal and the requirement that the other team will only run onto the pitch when the ball had been kicked.
In the FA style of play, the precursors of today’s goal kick and corner kick are even clearer than in the other variants.