Football’s Forgotten Rules: Seven, you never knew existed.

Football, the world’s most popular sport, has seen significant evolution since its early days. The game, as we enjoy it today, has been shaped over the years, leaving behind several rules that once were integral. Here, we explore seven early football rules that were once foundational but are now mere footnotes in the game’s history.

1. No Crossbars on Goals

Initially, goalposts did not feature a crossbar. A goal was simply two upright posts, and a goal could be scored at any height. It wasn’t until 1875 that the crossbar was formally added at a height of 8 feet (2.44 meters), ending the era of ambiguous high goals.

2. The Changing Offside Rule

The offside rule, a constant topic of debate, was much more restrictive in the 1860s. A player was offside unless three opponents were between him and the goal. This rule gradually evolved to encourage more attacking play, leading to the modern offside rule.

3. The Fair Catch and Handling

In early football, players could legally catch the ball, known as a ‘fair catch,’ and then take a free kick. This rule, a remnant from rugby, faded as football and rugby distinctly separated into different sports.

Arsenal’s Welsh international Bryn Jones (right) wins his duel with Bert Sproston of Spurs during the game at Highbury – 21st Aug 1938. Jones was sold from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Arsenal in March 1938 for £14,500, making him only the second footballer to be sold for over £10,000. (Photo by Western Mail Archive/Western Mail Archive/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

4. No Goalkeepers

Originally, all players were outfield, with no specific goalkeeper role. Anyone could handle the ball to protect their goal. The concept of a designated goalkeeper emerged only in the 1870s, changing the game’s dynamics significantly.

5. The Sin Bin

Before the introduction of the yellow and red card system in the 1970s, football dealt with misconduct by using a ‘sin bin’. Players committing fouls were temporarily suspended from the game, an early method to maintain discipline on the field.


6. Teams Deciding Match Length

In football’s infancy, there was no standard match length. The duration of a game was often mutually decided by the two teams before kickoff. This practice led to varied match lengths until standardized times were established.

7. Boundaries Not Defined

Early football lacked defined pitch boundaries. Games were played in open fields without marked lines, leading to disputes over out-of-bounds situations. The introduction of marked pitches and clear boundaries was a significant step in formalizing the game.

In conclusion, football’s early days highlight the game’s adaptability and evolution. As football continues to evolve, it’s intriguing to reflect on these historical rules and how they shaped the modern game. Football’s history is a story of change and innovation, each old rule contributing to the sport as we know it and love it today.