Die Spielregeln, Regelgeschichte

Law 9: The ball in and out of play

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 More on trials or withdrawn and defeated football rule proposals discussed at the Annual General Meeting of The IFAB on request (Contact).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 the laws on when the ball is still in play and when it is no longer in play are described.


Until 1938, this laws comprised descriptions of the continuation of the game after the ball went into touch or behind the goal. The addition of throw-in, goal kick and corner kick made this obsolete.

Since 1938, this law comprises a description when the ball is in and out the play – and that can be quickly described: If he leaves the field or the referee interrupts the game. This was described in more detail in the FA Rules from 1886 onwards in several rules. A brief summary:

Ball in play

Year (Source) new or changed laws (proposing club/association, if known)
1887 (IFAB) Addition: A ball on the line is in play.
1896 (IFAB) Addition: The ball remains in play even if it hits the corner flag, referee or assistant referee (FA).


Ball out of play

Year (Source) new or changed laws (proposing club/association, if known)
1888 (IFAB) The ball is out of play when it crosses the touch line or goal line, either on the ground or in the air.
1895 (IFAB) Addition: The ball is considered to be in play until the referee indicates that he is out of play (FA).
1997 (IFAB) The ball is out of play when it has completely crossed the line or when the play has been stopped by the referee.
2019 (IFAB) The referee is no longer „air“, if it touches a match official, remains on the field of play and
– a team starts a promising attack or
– the ball goes directly into the goal or
– the team in possession of the ball changes