English, Regelgeschichte

Possible IFAB law amendments 2019 from a historical perspective

On 2nd March 2019, the IFAB will discuss on the law amendments for the season 2019/20. The agenda only briefly reflects the laws for which changes in the law have been proposed. Chaled Nahar described the exact rules for the ARD Sportschau website (in German). And I would like to offer a historical view of the possible changes.


The IFAB met for the first time on 2nd June 1886 and consisted of the national football associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (since 1921 Northern Ireland). In 1914, the FIFA, which had been founded ten years earlier, was added and initially had two votes (which meant that it could be overruled by the four British associations). In the meantime, the four UK members have four votes and also the FIFA has four votes, with FIFA having to vote unanimously.


Law 8 – The Start and Restart of Play: Dropped ball

According to this year’s proposal, nothing should change in its execution or in the reason for its use. The change is that the team should be the first to touch the ball that last touched the ball before the stoppage of the game.

The dropped ball was introduced in 1888 by the IFAB: The referee lets the ball fall out of his hands, he neither toss it nor down. (I mention this because various German football regulations published before the founding of the DFB in 1900 note that the ball has to toss for a dropped ball. Maybe because the dropped ball isn’t the literally translation of the English term. It is called referee ball.)

In 1901 it was added that there is a free kick if the ball is in game (after touching the ground) or a repetition if it is not in game (i.e. when it was still falling). Also, the repetition of the dropped ball was ordered in 1902, if the ball went out of the field without being touched by a player.

The next and so far, last change to the dropped ball was in 1985: If the ball was last in one of the goal areas, then the ball is dropped on the goal area line running parallel to the goal line – at the point closest to where the ball was when play was stopped.


Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct

This is about the handball which has been so much discussed in the last weeks in Germany. The law says clearly: Only a deliberate handball is punishable. But how do you recognize intention? In order to judge and punish it more clearly and equally, terms such as unnatural hand position was used (but not in the Laws of the Game). The two proposals to change the handball law recommend a) supplementing the notion of unnatural hand position (= just as hand and arm above the shoulders) and b) punishing any handball that arrange a chance or a goal.

The handball was not always forbidden in football. This applies in particular to the laws and regulations from the 1st half of the 19th century, which are reminiscent of the rugby game. But also, the early football codes, which did not allow handball, as well as the FA Rules themselves, there were two types of handball, which were or are allowed:

One of them is still allowed today: the goalkeeper’s handball. Although it was first mentioned in the FA Rules in 1871, it was probably already allowed before. In the following decades the law was defined more and more precisely: The goalkeeper is not allowed to carry the ball (1873), The goalkeeper is not allowed to carry in for two steps (1920) [four steps were only allowed in the post-war period]. The goalkeeper may touch it with his hands in only his own half (1882), the goalkeeper may touch the ball with his hands in his own goal area (1903), the goalkeeper may touch it with his hands in his own penalty area (1912).

The other permitted handball was the fair catch, which still exists in rugby and American Football today. It was banned in 1871 in London and Sheffield. A fair catch is catching a ball before it touches the ground. In rugby and American Football, you have the choice between a fair catch (signaled by lifting the arm (previously scratching a mark on the ground with the heel), then free kick from this point) or running with the ball, Only the fair catch was used in association football. It was also the only possibility in association football to earn a free kick. It was not until 1874, three years after the prohibition of the fair catch, that the free kick was introduced as a punishment for infringement of particular laws.

The handball of field players: After 1871, all handball was forbidden for fielder. Since 1902, however, a decision was made between deliberate and unintentional handball and only deliberate handball is punishable. Since this year, the handball law has not been changed any more. Only in 2015 the Football Association of Wales proposed to disallow handball in principle and no longer distinguish between deliberate and unintentional handball. A decision was postponed at that time.


Other changes

Law 13 – Free kick & law 16 – Goal kick

In the case of a goal kick or a free kick in one’s own penalty are, the ball must no longer be kicked directly outside the penalty area. The reason for the law amendment is to minimize the time wasting if the ball – deliberate or unintentionally – is touched before.

The precept “The ball must be kicked directly outside the penalty area” was introduced in 1936 (goal kick) and 1937 (free kick) and caused a lot of hubbub in Germany on the part of the Deutsche Schiedsrichter-Zeitung (German referee’s newspaper, DSZ for short). Because it was common in Germany (the DSZ says: whole mainland, but I can’t verify this) to take the goal kick as a volley kick or drop kick, or by a fielder lobbing the ball into the goalkeeper’s arms at a distance of 10 yards. (Btw: Lobbing was called literally forking in Germany in 1930s) Now the long goal kick out of the penalty area had to be trained! In England, this was already usual, but not in Germany and they complained the amendment. The reason for the change of the law in 1936 was the protection of the goalkeeper “from wild attacks and injuries “[1]Cf. Koppehel, Carl: Wieder Regelaenderungsantraege. Ballgewicht, Freistoss im Strafraum und Schiedsrichterball. [= Proposals for amendments to the rules again. Ball weight, free kick in one’ own … Continue reading, when he/she got the ball in the arms. Until the post-war period, it was customary to charge fairly the goalkeeper into the goal with the ball in the arms. That was also the reason why goalkeepers were recommended to punch the ball away and to catch and hold it only when it was absolutely necessary.

And what applied to the goal kick was introduced a year later for the free kick in one’s own penalty area. The DSZ, namely Heinz Wesp[2]Cf. Wesp, Heinz: Verfehlte Regelaenderungen. Betrachtungen zur neuen Regel 7 [= Missed rule changes. Reflections on the new Rule 7]. In: Deutsche Schiedsrichter-Zeitung 19 (1937), No. 17. p. 186-187., was annoyed that the change of the goal kick law was not revoked instead or simply the lobbing of the ball was forbidden. The criticisms of the law, however, do not relate to the possible time wasting, which could now lead to the law being changed, but to difficulties if the free kick or goal kick is taken near the penalty line. Sometimes it’s difficult to spot whether the ball was outside the penalty area (ball must move 26 in) or inside the penalty area (the ball must be kicked directly outside of the penalty area) during a foul. And if it is close to the penalty area markings, the usual 26 in can only become a few inches. Wesp names two possibilities, which make the rule look grotesque (the 4 in [10 centimeters in the report] were chosen by Wesp only as an example):

  • Case 1: If the free kick takes place 4 in outside the penalty area, you are allowed to lob the ball to the goalkeeper standing in the penalty area, but not if you stand 4 inside the penalty area.
  • Case 2: If the free kick takes place 4 in inside the penalty area, the ball only has to move 4.1 in until it is in play, but not 26 in (= one turn of the ball).

Nevertheless, the law remained for 82 and 83 years and since the lobbing of the ball became rarer, Wesp’s objections became practically irrelevant.


Law 3 – Players: Substitutions

In order to minimize time wasting by substitutions, substitutes should take the shortest way out of the field.

Substitutions were only allowed for international competition games in the post-war period and substitutions were also forbidden in most national competitions before the Second World War. The Scandinavian countries seem to have been an exception. Only in friendly matches it was possible to agree before the match starts, that the substitution of injured players was allowed. The reason for the refusal of substitutions in international games was apprehension, also apparently injured player can be substituted in order to substitute a unfatigued player or to change the tactics during the game. The fact that not injured players may be replaced was first allowed in 1966 in England, then in 1968 IFAB-wide.

The Scottish football association tried several times in the post-war period to allow the substitution of injured goalkeepers (1948, 1949, 1955, 1956, 1957), but the proposal was either rejected or withdrawn. Then, in 1957, for each country was possible to allow the substitution of injured players in international competition games, after it had already been allowed in the qualifying matches for the 1954 World Cup.

In 1972, it was added that substitutes had to leave or enter the field at the centre line.

This was followed by further additions to the law, e. g. when a player is actively involved in the game, information on how substitutes are to be reported to the referee and how many players may be changed during competition games:

  • 1968-1987: maximum two substitutions (Added in 1971: the two substitutions are selected from five previously nominated substitutes),
  • 1987-1994: each competition can set the maximum number of substitutions allowed,
  • 1994-1995: 2+1 rule i.e. two fielders and a goalkeeper can be substituted,
  • 1995-today: maximum of three substitutions (and his three are selected from five previously nominated substitutes). In Germany, it is possible to substitute a fourth player in the German Cup in extra time (pilot project of the IFAB).


Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct: Penalties for officials

Team officials should also be shown yellow and red cards to make it clearer to them whether they are being cautioned or sent off.

The yellow and red cards were used for the first time at the 1970 World Championships in Mexico and it seems that they were tested before in Mexico at the 1968 Olympics. In 1974 they were introduced in the Bundesliga. It seems to have been frightening for many how many yellow cards were given, German media reports show. In 1991, the yellow-red card was introduced as a signal for repeated foul play and resulting field referral. A game ban existed from 1978 to 1993 after four yellow cards, since then after five yellow cards within a season.


Law 14 – Penalty kick

The goalkeeper must only stand with one foot at the goal line, no longer with both feet.

The goalkeeper’s radius of movement has changed several times since the introduction of the penalty kick in 1891:

  • 1891-1902: the goalkeeper and all other players may approach the ball up to 6 yards,
  • 1902-1929: the goalkeeper must stand on or behind the goal line,
  • 1929: the goalkeeper “must stand on his [her] goal line” -> this sentence caused different interpretations: In England the goalkeeper had to stand motionless on the line, in Germany he/she had to stand on the goal line, but could move left and right,
  • 1930-(1997/2002): the goalkeeper must stand still on the goal line (= motionless),
  • (1997/2002)-today: the goalkeeper must stand on the goal line but may move to the right and left.



The header picture of this blogpost is a screenshot from the published agenda of the IFAB for the meeting on 2nd March 2019.


1 Cf. Koppehel, Carl: Wieder Regelaenderungsantraege. Ballgewicht, Freistoss im Strafraum und Schiedsrichterball. [= Proposals for amendments to the rules again. Ball weight, free kick in one’ own penalty area and dropped ball]. In: Deutsche Schiedsrichter-Zeitung [= German referee’s newspaper] 19 (1937), No. 9. p. 97-99, here p. 98. Further reports about this change in 1936: 1) Koppehel, Carl: Klarheit um die Abstossregel [= Clarity about the goal kick law]. In: Deutsche Schiedsrichter-Zeitung 19 (1937), No. 1. p. 1-2, here p. 1. 2) Huelsmeier, H.: Des “Wippertjes” Ende [= The end of the „Wippertje“]. In: Deutsche Schiedsrichter-Zeitung 19 (1937), No. 1, p. 11.
2 Cf. Wesp, Heinz: Verfehlte Regelaenderungen. Betrachtungen zur neuen Regel 7 [= Missed rule changes. Reflections on the new Rule 7]. In: Deutsche Schiedsrichter-Zeitung 19 (1937), No. 17. p. 186-187.