Football is a game rooted in tradition, and the Laws of the Game have undergone fairly minor changes since they were first drafted by England’s newly-formed Football Association in 1863. Nonetheless, while the aim has always been to preserve football’s original spirit, and to ensure that rules can be applied from elite to amateur level, several crucial changes have helped to enhance the sport over the years. Here, FIFA.com looks at a few of these key modifications.
1866: Forward passes permitted – The most fundamental alteration was also the earliest, with forward passes permitted for the first time – provided there remained three defending players between the receiver and the goal. Previously, once the ball had been kicked, any player on the same team closer to the opponent’s goal was considered out of play and unable to receive the ball. This 1866 change represented the crucial first step away from sharing the original offside rule that remains in place in rugby, and allowed passing football to thrive.
1891: The penalty kick introduced – It took almost three decades from the first rules being drafted for the penalty, which has become such an integral part of modern football, to be instituted. Having previously operated on the quaint assumption that a gentleman would never deliberately commit a foul, football responded to increasing intensity and competitiveness by bringing in a measure known then as ‘the kick of death’. Until 1902, the penalty was not taken from a spot, however, but from anywhere along a 12-yard line.
1891: Referees enter the fray – More recognition that the game had evolved from its gentlemanly roots came with the introduction of referees. In football’s early days, disputes had been settled by the two team captains, and later by two umpires – one per team – to whom appeals could be made. However, as the number of disputes and complaints grew, the need for an impartial arbiter became clear, and from 1891 the power to give penalties and free-kicks became the job of one man: the referee.
1912: Goalkeepers restricted – It was a century ago this year that goalkeepers were forbidden from handling the ball outside the penalty area. This change came just three years after it was decided that the players filling this position should be visually distinctive from their team-mates by wearing a different colour, with green the general default.
1925: Offside changed again – The revised offside rule was further relaxed in 1925 to allow a player to remain onside provided two, rather than three, opposition players stood between him and the goal. The result was an immediate increase in goalscoring, and this particular law was amended in attackers’ favour once again in 1990 to enable a player to remain onside by keeping level with his/her second-last opponent.
1958: Substitutes permitted – The early history of the game includes several mentions of ‘substitutes’, but the purpose of these back-up players was merely to stand in if any of the 11 selected failed to turn up. However, the detrimental impact of injuries on matches eventually resulted in substitutes being permitted during the 90 minutes, although initially only for an injured goalkeeper and one other injured player. From the late 1960s, these rules were relaxed to allow substitutions for tactical reasons.
1970: Red and yellow cards introduced – Championed by English referee Ken Aston, then an influential figure on the FIFA Referees’ Committee, this ‘traffic light’ system was aimed at ending confusion among players and spectators over a referee’s intentions. Red and yellow cards were first used at the FIFA World Cup™ of the same year and have been a fixture ever since, even spreading to several other sporting codes.
1992: Handling of pass-backs forbidden – Another change aimed at tilting the balance of power in favour of attacking players was the International Football Association Board’s 1992 decision to forbid goalkeepers from handling deliberate pass-backs from a team-mate’s feet. Though initially greeted with widespread scepticism, this measure is now universally seen to have made a positive impact on the beautiful game.
As football continues to evolve, the Laws of the Game are sure to follow suit. Indeed, the FIFA Task Force Football 2014, chaired by Franz Beckenbauer, is currently examining various proposals aimed at improving the game’s overall attractiveness and match control in elite competitions. And as the aforementioned examples go to show, a small change can often go a long way.