Die Spielregeln, Regelgeschichte

Law 3: The number of players

This article has been updated to comply with the Laws of the Game 2023/24. It lists all the rule changes in the Laws of the Game and other association football codices before 1886 I know of. More on trials or withdrawn and defeated football rule proposals discussed at the Annual General Meeting of The IFAB on request (Contact).

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


Number of Players

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.2000 (IFAB)In friendly matches, no greater number of substitutions is allowed than in competition games (SFA).

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 Twenty-two players (each team)
1857 (Sheffield FC) No information.
1897 (IFAB) Eleven players. The fact that no more than one goalkeeper per team are allowed to play at the same time is now self-explanatory. It is added that the change of goalkeeper may only be carried out after informing the referee.
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) There may also be less than 11 players on one side, but no more than 11 players. In non-competition matches, a replacement of an injured player may be made with the prior agreement of both sides
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.
If, without notifying the Referee, a player changes to goalkeeper during the game, and then handles the ball within the penalty area, a penalty-kick shall be awarded. Any player leaving the field during the progress of the game (except through accident) without the consent of the Referee shall be deemed guilty of ungentlemanly conduct.
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.
1939 (IFAB)
The law is added so that leaving the field without registration with and permission from the referee is also considered ungentlemanly conduct.
1949 (IFAB)
Addition concerning players who intentionally enter the field during the game without permission: If the game must be restarted by the Referee dropping the ball at the place where the infringement occurred, but if the player has committed a more important offence, he shall be penalized according to that section of the Law infringed.
1953 (IFAB)
Addition: The law applies not only to newly joining players, but also to rejoining players.
1967 (IFAB)
Amendment that a named substitute may also take the position of goalkeeper.
1969 (IFAB)
Addition that the clause also applies to re-entering.
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).

Supplement that when a goalkeeper is replaced, the general procedure of replacement must be observed, because in this case the referee’s permission is required, not just information to him.
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). It is added that if the goalkeeper is changed, the referee must first give a signal.
1975 (IFAB)
The remark „except through accident“ is specified and generalized to „unintentionally or because of injury“ as it were.
1976 (IFAB) Specification of the term „competition matches“. These are games under the auspices of FIFA, Confederation or national associations (IFAB).

The IDFK is not performed at the scene of the offence, but where the ball was when the game was interrupted.
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.
1980 (IFAB)
In addition, as with any substitution, a substituted goalkeeper may not participate in the game again. In addition, as with any substitution, a substituted goalkeeper may not participate in the game again. Removal of the passage about any (unspecific) infringement of this law. Addition of penalisation for substitute player who were not permitted by the referee, yet. The substitute player is cautioned or sent off the field according the circumstances and the game is restarted by a dropped ball.
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. The substitutes must be chosen from a maximum of 5 announced possible substitutes.

In addition, as with any substitution, the substitution shall be deemed completed when the substitute enters the field.
1988 (IFAB) Supplements: 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. The number of the nominated substitute player is set to five and their names must be announced to the referee
1993 (IFAB)
The law is supplemented so that the yellow card is shown in addition to the caution.
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.
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.
1996 (IFAB) Increasing the number of nominated substitute player from three to seven (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.
Increasing the number of nominated substitute player from three to seven. Supplement that not nominated substitutes may not take part in the match.

In the event of an offence against the regulations, the players involved will be cautioned in the next stoppage and shown the yellow card.
2004 (IFAB) In friendly matches, up to six substitutions are allowed (IFAB).
2005 (IFAB) For infringements of substitute players the game will be restarted by an IDFK, no longer by a dropped ball.
Supplement: In other matches a larger number is allowed, but needs mutual agreement before the match. Otherwise only up to six substitutions are allowed
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.

The addition that the yellow card is shown as a warning is deleted.
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).
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.
The passage of what happens if a player changes the goalkeeper’s position without the referee’s permission before the change is made is deleted. The team captain has no special status or privileges but has a degree of responsibility for the behaviour of the team. 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 information concerning players and substitutes sent off.
Reintroduction of the passage (-1997): If a player enters the field of play with permission, the referee stops the play, but (not immediately if the player does not interfere with play or a match official or if the advantage can be applied and subsequently caution the player. If the referee stops the play, it is restarted with a direct free kick from the position of the interference or with an indirect free kick from the position of the ball when play was stopped if there was no interference. It is added that a player who crosses a boundary line as part of a playing movement, does not commit an offence.
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.
2022 (IFAB) After the end of the experimental period, it will become part of the official rules: A maximum of five players can be substituted during regular playing time, but only three times during the match. Substitutions during half-time (or extra time between full time and start of extra time or during half-time of extra time) do not count. In extra time, unused substitution opportunities may be used. Whether there is an additional substitution in the extra time is determined by the competition rules.
Up to fifteen substitutes may be named (in senior A international team matches).
2023 (IFAB) A goal is disallowed if an extra person was on the field of play, but only if they interfered with play.