Die Spielregeln, Regelgeschichte

Law 3: The number of players

In this article the development of the number of players and of the substitution are described.


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Number of Players

Year (Source) new or changed laws (proposing club/association, if known)
Diverse reports about football matches before 1870 There wasn’t a written regulation how many players of a team had to participate in a game at the same time and how many were allowed to do so. There were the variants with eight players and with eleven players or only the requirement that there must be an equal number of players on both sides. At least in the FA, however, the variant with eleven players seems to have been usual.
1849, Surrey FC Eleven players.
1857 (Sheffield FC) No information.
1897 (IFAB) Eleven players.
1923 (IFAB) There may also be less than 11 players on one side, but no more than 11 players (FA).
1924 (IFAB) The clause on removing injured players refers only to seriously injured players. Only then should the referee interrupt the game. If, according to the opinion of the referee, there is a slight injury, he should not interrupt the game (SFA).
1938 (IFAB) One of the 11 players on one side must be the goalkeeper. A player who crosses the touch line is no longer on the playing field.
1973 (IFAB) In case of infringement the player will be cautioned. If the game has to be stopped, it will be continued by an IDFK (SFA).
1978 (IFAB) The IDFK is performed by a player of the opposing team, from the place where the ball was, when play was stopped. If the free-kick is awarded to a side within its own goal area it may be taken from any point within the half of the goal area in which the ball was when play was stopped (FA).
1981 (IFAB) For other infringements of the law than infringements of substituted player another clause is added: In case of other infringements the game is stopped, the player is cautioned and the game restarted by an IDFK (as in 1973-1980) (FIFA).
1985 (IFAB) It is added that – when play was stopped and the ball was in the goal area – it is dropped on that part of the goal area line which runs parallel to the goal-line, at the point nearest to where the ball was when play (IFA).
1986 (IFAB) Supplement that when taking a free kick after an infringement, the general conditions for free kicks from Law 13 apply (FA).
1988 (IFAB) Supplement: If competition rules require substitute players to be reported to the referee before the start of play, but this does not happen, these players may not be used (FA).
1995 (IFAB) Deletion of Supplement: If competition rules require substitute players to be reported to the referee before the start of play, but this does not happen, these players may not be fielded (IFAB).
1997 (IFAB) The minimum number of players is set at 7 per team at the beginning of the game. If a player is sent off before the start of play, he may be replaced by a player registered with the referee. If the player is sent off during the match, he may not be replaced by a substitute player. Supplement that a yellow card must be shown for a caution.
2005 (IFAB) For infringements of substitute players the game will be restarted by an IDFK, no longer by a dropped ball.
2011 (IFAB) If a change is made after the players and substitute players have been reported to the referee, the change must be reported to the referee before the match begins (FIFA).


Number of substitutions

Year (Source) new or changed laws (proposing club/association, if known)
1914 (IFAB) In non-competition matches, an injured player is to be removed from the field and treated beyond the touch line (SFA).
1923 (IFAB) In non-competition matches, a replacement of an injured player may be made with the prior agreement of both sides (FA).
1938 (IFAB) Not only the two teams must agree to allow substitutions of an injured player, but also the National Associations and International Associations. Definition of „international match“: A match in which one of the four British Associations is playing.
1967 (IFAB) Up to two players per team are allowed to be substituted independent of an injury in matches which are not played under the rules of a competition or if the international or national association(s) have allowed substitution. The referee must be informed of the names of the substitutes before the start of the game (IFAB).
1972 (IFAB) In matches which are not played under the rules of a competition, the teams agree on the maximum number of substitutions, which may not exceed 5. The referee must be informed about the agreement otherwise not more than two substitutions are allowed (IFAB).
1976 (IFAB) Specification of the term „competition matches“. These are games under the auspices of FIFA, Confederation or national associations (IFAB).
1986 (IFAB) The substitutes must be chosen from a maximum of 5 announced possible substitutes (SFA).
1988 (IFAB) Supplement that the number of the nominated substitute player is set to five and their names must be announced to the referee (FA).
1994 (IFAB) Increasing the number of substitutions from two to three, with the additional third substitution relating only to the goalkeeper (IFAB).
1995 (IFAB) In official competitions under the jurisdiction of FIFA, Confederations or National Associations, the rules of the competition state the number of nominated substitutes and allowed substitutes. In other games the number of allowed substitutions is increased from two to three (IFAB).
1996 (IFAB) Increasing the number of nominated substitute player from three to seven (IFAB).
1997 (IFAB) Increasing the number of nominated substitute player from three to seven. Supplement that not nominated substitutes may not take part in the match.
2000 (IFAB) In friendly matches, no greater number of substitutions is allowed than in competition games (SFA).
2004 (IFAB) In friendly matches, up to six substitutions are allowed (IFAB).
2005 (IFAB) Supplement: In other matches a larger number is allowed, but needs mutual agreement before the match. Otherwise only up to six substitutions are allowed (SFA).
2008 (IFAB) Supplement of the substitution procedure: The referee is informed that a substitution is impending. If the match is stopped, the referee gives the signal. The substitute enters the field after the player has left it, both on the centre line. At this moment the substitute player become a player, the player becomes a substituted player and the substitution is completed.
2015 (IFAB) Addition: Return substitutions are allowed, but only in the lowest levels of football, subject to the agreement of the member association concerned (FA, SFA).
2016 (IFAB) The text adds that three to twelve substitutes can be nominated. In addition, the requirements for sending-off of players and substitutes are specified. Introduction of the definition of outside agents and how to act when they intervene in the game.
2018 (IFAB) It is changed in the text that a fourth substitution is possible if the match goes into extra time. In addition, in national „A“ team matches up to twelve substitutes may be nominated.
2019 (IFAB) Substituted players must leave the field at the nearest point.