Wikimedia has two mid-19th century football rulebooks online, namely the Laws of Eton Field Game from 1847 and the Rules of Surrey Football Club from 1849. I confine myself to sets of rules for football with little or no handball allowed.
A first look – similarities and differences
The length of the two sets of rules alone differs considerably, the six Surrey rules being contrasted with over twenty from Eton College. And as significantly as the length differs, so does the content, for only one rule is found in both rulebooks: How to score a goal. And, somehow unsurprisingly, this too differs between the two sets of rules. At Eton College, it was scored in the classical way: Between the goalposts and below a certain height, which was imaginary visible by the height of the posts. In Surrey, on the other hand, the ball must be kicked over the goal rope. Goal measurements are missing from the Surrey rules.
Rules of Surrey Football Club of 1849
So the Surrey rulebook was very scarce in 1849. Even more scarce when you add that details of membership fee (4 shillings) and training (Wednesday afternoons, Saturday afternoons, always October to the end of April. 3 o’clock) can be found in a constitution and not in today’s rulebooks. Only the number of players (11, but less is also okay) and illegal play (deliberate kicking) are still noted. Nothing more.
Laws of Eton Field Game from 1847
The longer Eton College rulebook, on the other hand, lacks information on the number of players and also on illegal play. Instead, it mentions many other elements of today’s football game, which I will now list as bullet points for the sake of readability:
- Offside („sneaking“): When there are only three or fewer opponents in front of an attacking player, he is not allowed to play the ball
- Ball out of bounds: The ball is „dead“ when it goes out of bounds. Unless it bounces off a spectator back into the field, it is still in play. However, if the ball goes out of bounds, there is alternately a throw-in from the spot where it went out of bounds or a scrimmage, called a bully. Throw-in and scramble alternated
- Handball: not allowed, except in the goalmouth (stop, touch as soon as he is lying)
- Referees („umpires“): two, appointed by both teams at the start, make final decisions, are obliged to enforce the rule
- Side changes: only at half-time
- Goal dimensions: 7 ft high and 11 ft wide, i.e. 2.13 m high and 3.35 m wide
- Injured or late players: may not be replaced
At Eton, a distinction was made by whom the ball went out of bounds
- Defending team: A rouge is directly scored if a player of the defending team touches it first
- Attacking team: The ball is then placed 1 yd from the goal post and the attacking team tries to push the ball over the goal line. As a bully forms similar to a scrimmage, this is not so easy.
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