The game of headers only became established in England in the 1870s. Whether this was due to the prohibition of the fair catch in association football/soccer is not proven. But it would fit in chronologically.
Correlation? Causality? So far there is no evidence.
The Fair Catch
What is the fair catch? Some of you know it from other football games like American football. That’s why it was part of football rules until 1871, because the game has a common origin: football.
At the public school in Rugby, the running game was popular (with carrying the ball). Eton College deliberately played (almost) without handball, i.e. an unconscious, unintentional handball was not forbidden and neither was catching a ball directly out of the air – the fair catch.
You guessed it, the schools of Rugby and Eton were at loggerheads 200 years ago. In the course of the separation of the football games, the Fair Catch was banned – in all major English regional associations at the same time.
Header play is establishing itself
Match reports show that headers increased in the 1870s. Only now did the free kick become not a reward for a fair catch but an advantage for a previously disadvantaged team.
There have not been too many discussions about the consequences of painful headers in the past decades, but there have been about the consequences of headers in general. In the past, the ball had to be made of leather. The air bubble was covered with pieces of leather sewn together with a thread.
Football, a traditional game for the cooler months, was therefore also played in wet(er) weather, causing the leather and the threads to become soaked with water. Although the prescribed weight of the ball has not changed since 1937 (410-450 grams/14-16 ounces), it applies at the start of the game. Thus, already 100 and more years ago, people discussed the consequences of the heavier headers and even wanted to ban them. But it never came to that.
Back to permitted and prohibited handball
In Germany, there are always discussions due to the concept of intention, which has not been changed, although the text in the English original (and ultimately decisive wording) has been changed:
From wilfully (1863) to intentionally (1898) to deliberately (1995). Thus, since 1995, handball no longer needs to be wilfully or intentionally to be punishable.
But there is another handball that is allowed but rarely thought of: goalkeepers‘ handball.
It was only introduced into the rules in the 1870s (including London FA 1871, Sheffield FA 1875), then changed a little.
The following dates apply to the London FA, the later national FA.
- 1871-1873: not written down in rules
- 1873-1883: TH „shall not carry the ball“
- 1883-1931: TH „shall not carry the ball“, but „carry“ = „more than two steps“Means at this point: at least 1883-1931 two steps were allowed, but it is quite possible that it was already common practice since 1873, just didn’t need to be fixed in the rules because it was … Continue reading
- 1931-2000: TH may carry ball max. 4 steps * since 2000: TH may carry ball max. 6 secondsThe 6 seconds are not to be taken literally, as is well known.
Similarly, the area in which TH handball is allowed has also been changed:
- Before 1882: not written into rules
- 1882-1903: in own half
- 1903-1912: in own goal area
- since 1912: in own penalty area
The area has been constant for over 100 years. No wonder many no longer even think about it when it comes to handball.