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Rules Of Football: How Sheffield Rules Impacted The Game

Clubs in Sheffield played a significant role in the development of the rules of football, leading to how the modern game is played today. The Sheffield Rules were devised by the Sheffield Football Club and played in the city between 1857 and 1877. As a result, corner kicks, throw-ins, and heading the ball were introduced into Sheffield football before Association Football rules.

In 1863, the newly-formed London-based Football Association (FA) published its own laws of the game. In the period between 1863 and 1877, the FA and Sheffield laws coexisted, influencing each other at times. Teams from Sheffield and London played several games using both sets of rules. In 1877, following a compromise throw-in law adopted by the FA, the two codes were united after several disputes.

cambridge rules 1848

Introduction Of The Sheffield Rules

By the 1850s, public schools and clubs in England played several versions of football. Most of the rules were unavailable to the general public. It was generally mob football, which was unorganized and fairly lawless. It remained a minority sport until the 1860s.

On 28 October 1858, Sheffield Football Club’s first rules of football were ratified at a general meeting at the Adelphi Hotel. As well as creating Sheffield FC, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest was instrumental in setting up the rules that they adhered to. Sheffield FC’s first set of rules featured the following features:

  • A player cannot touch the ball with his hands, except when pushing or hitting it, and when a fair catch is made.
  • Kicking, tripping, and holding opponents (foul play) were forbidden, but charging and pushing were permitted.
  • A fair catch resulted in a free kick, but the free kick could not lead to a goal.
  • In 1858, a goal could only be scored by kicking it.
  • Throw-ins are awarded to teams that touch the ball after it has left play. In order to throw the ball in, it must be thrown at a right angle to the touchline.
  • There was a “kick-out” (goal kick) from 25 yards when the ball went out of play over the goal-line.
  • Offside laws did not exist.
  • The numbers on each side were not dictated by the Sheffield rules.

Over the 20 years, these Sheffield rules were updated after each season until the Sheffield Association and the London-based FA came to a head in 1877.

The world’s first competitive inter-club match between Hallam FC and Sheffield FC in 1860 and the world’s first football tournament, the Youdan Cup, were played according to the Sheffield Rules. Following the 1860 Boxing Day derby between Hallam and Sheffield, players and committee members retired to The Plough pub for much-needed refreshments.

Introducing Goalkeepers

In 1862 before the FA introduced their own version of the rules of football, a game between Hallam and Sheffield began the move towards having a fixed goalkeeper. After a brawl broke out between opposing outfield players, the game became known locally as the ‘Battle of Bramall Lane.’ Hallam’s Waterfall was sent to guard the goal as a punishment for his part in the melee. In addition, the offside rule was introduced into the Sheffield Rules in 1863. This required that one player must be between an opposition player and the goal for that player to be deemed onside.

early soccer team from sheffield

Youdan Cup

The Youdan Cup played in 1867 reinforced the historical importance of the Sheffield Rules. The tournament was played between February and March and involved 12 local sides. Hallam won the Youdan Cup final played at Bramall Lane, watched by a then world-record crowd of 3,000 spectators. Interestingly, Hallam won the game with two rouges scored in the last five minutes. Rouges had been introduced to the rules of football match in 1861 using flags placed 4 yards on either side of the goal. A rouge was awarded if the ball was kicked between the flags and touched down. In the event of a tie, rouges could be used to decide the result. Rouges were subsequently abandoned in 1868.

The victorious players of Hallam were presented with the Youdan Trophy at a dinner held at 7 p.m. At the Plough on March 16th, 1867. Soon after the Youdan Cup, the Sheffield Football Association was formed, and it adopted the Sheffield Rules. The Sheffield FA was the first of several regional associations formed in subsequent years. Nottingham, Birmingham, and Derbyshire adopted the Sheffield Rules, as did most other areas in the north. However, London Rules still prevailed in the southern half of the country.


Sheffield Football Association

The newly formed Sheffield Football Association issued its first set of laws in March 1867, replacing the rules of the Sheffield Football Club ten years earlier. As a starting point, the newly formed Sheffield FA used the amended laws of the Association Football, which had just been amended a month earlier. Their changes reflect the distinctive characteristics of their game.
The 1867 Sheffield rules of football introduced the following new features:
  • The handling of the ball was completely forbidden and was punished with an indirect free kick (from which neither a goal nor a rouge could be scored).
  • The rouge was no longer scored by a touch-down: it could be scored by kicking the ball between the rouge flags and under the bar. Instead of the previous “stand post” procedure, a “kick out” (goal kick) was used for the defending side to follow the rouge.
  • Pushing was prohibited by football players.
  • As opposed to the first team to touch the ball, the throw-in was awarded against the side kicking the ball out of play.
  • The minimum throw-in distance of 6 yards has been removed.
  • Offside law added (requiring one opponent to be level with the opposing team goal).
  • Rather than from a distance of 10 yards, the “kick out” (goal kick)after the ball went out of play behind the goal-line was only 6 yards from the goal.
  • After each goal, the ends were changed.

Golden Goal

The first ‘golden goal’ was scored in Sheffield. This was in the final of the Cromwell Cup in 1868, which ended goalless after 90 minutes. Extra time was played until a team scored a goal which ‘The Wednesday’ did.

The Football Association was formed in London in 1863. The early years of the modern game were dominated by the rivalry between London and Sheffield for leadership over the game’s development of the rules of football. That rivalry took the form of games between southern and northern football clubs, discussions between the two associations, and many pints of beer consumed over arguments about the rules of football.

sheffield football game in the 1800's

Thomas Vickers And John Shaw

The Plough pub hosted committee meetings throughout the period when the modern rules of the game were emerging. A key figure in discussions between Sheffield and London was Thomas Vickers, who, along with John Shaw, was a founding member of Hallam FC, who served as President of the Sheffield FA between 1869 to 1885. Vickers, a familiar figure in the Plough, was instrumental in merging the Sheffield Rules into the national game.

As early as 1863, a local newspaper in Sheffield was calling for all clubs to agree on ‘universal rules‘ This was finally achieved in 1882, followed by the creation of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in 1886, which was given full authority to determine the ‘laws of the game.’ IFAB was succeeded by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 1904. FIFA still retains absolute authority over the rules of football.

Original Rules Of Football Book

The Original Rules Of Football Book

A journal with the Sheffield Football Rules was recently sold at Sotheby’s for 881,250 British pounds. The manuscript minute book contained the club membership list, annual reports, audited accounts, the initial rules of football, and the modifications made to the laws of the game each year.

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