Last time I compared rulebooks from the last years of the 1840s, now it’s three rulebooks for football with little or no handball allowed, published about ten years later. Namely, the Laws of Eton Field Game from 1857, the Rules of Harrow Football from 1858 and the Sheffield FC Rules from 1858.
A first look – similarities and differences
In all the rulebooks there are details of the following rules: Handball, Illegal Play Throw-In/Foot-In, Kick-Off and Corner Kick, and Goal Scoring. So a greater amount of overlap as between the Eton Field Game Rules of 1847 and the Surrey Rules of 1849.
Since the rulebooks compared here do not differ that significantly, which is why I am comparing the content of each rule here.
By coin toss in Harrow. No details for Eton and Sheffield. At Harrow it was added that there was no coin toss in school games, otherwise the headmaster’s team chose the sides.
No specification in Sheffield and the specification in the other three towns varied. The gate width was 3.66m at Harrow and 3.35m wide at Eton. There was no height limit at Harrow, at Eton it was 2.13 m.
Playing field dimensions
Only in the Harrow rulebook were the full dimensions fixed, namely a maximum of 137.16m x 91.44m. For Sheffield and Eton it is not noted at all.
For Harrow and Sheffield, the kick-off is noted to be taken from the centre of the field, with no further specifications. For Eton there is no such description.
Offside existed in the game of football at Harrow and Eton. Eton’s rulebook referred to it as „sneaking“ and Harrow’s rulebook referred to it as „behind“. At Harrow you were offside if you were between the ball and the opposing goal, at Eton only if there were an additional three or fewer opposing players in front of you.
Handball was regulated in all the rulebooks compared here. Harrow forbade hand play (except for the fair catch), Sheffield allowed the ball to be struck in addition to hand play for the fair catch, and Eton did not know the fair catch but allowed (only) the ball to be stopped with the hand.
In addition, Sheffield’s rule book all the others knew the free kick. Harrow as a reward, Eton as a punishment for an offence. At Harrow it was a place kick, at Eton there was a scrum as a free kick.
At Harrow there was the free kick for the fair catch; but only if in addition „three yards“ (Harrow) was shouted. At Harrow, if the ball was caught near the opposition goal, one could jump three yards (= 2.74 m) if it reached the goal with it or go back and then take a free kick as a place kick.
Like handball, all rulebooks regulate illegal play. Harrow and Eton only allow fair play for today’s game of football. At Sheffield you were allowed to press and interfere with an opponent’s place kick until he had his foot on the ball.
Only for Sheffield is it regulated who has to take the throw-in or kick-in (here: who touches the ball first). At Harrow there was a throw-in, for Sheffield it is not defined and at Eton there was a scrum instead of a throw or kick. At Sheffield the ball also had to enter the field of play at least 5.5 metres.
Recoil / corner kick
Similarly different to the specifications for the throw-in are those for the precursors of the kick-off and corner kick. Again, only at Sheffield is it clarified who takes the kick (who touches the ball first). Except at Eton it is always a kick, at Eton, surprise surprise, a scrum. And where? At Eton „opposite the spot“ where the ball went out, at Sheffield a maximum of 22.86m behind the goal and at Harrow there was no indication of this.
This is now the same in all sets of rules, namely between the posts. At Harrow and Sheffield it was also stated that a goal can only be scored by a shot.
At Sheffield no change of sides was regulated by the rule book, at Harrow they changed sides after every goal, at Eton only at half-time.
The Harrow and Eton rulebooks prescribed two Umpires, one appointed by each team.
Eton’s rulebook also stipulated that if a player was not present in time for the start of the match or was injured in the match, he could not be substituted.