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Netflix: The English Game – The football rules in 1879 to 1883

This article gives an overview of the FA’s football rules between 1879 and 1883. Some things, such as the number of players or, until 1883, the ball, were not regulated in the Laws of the Game, yet there were standards.

🇩🇪 Hallo! Diesen Artikel gibt es auch auf Deutsch. Wechsele hier zur deutschsprachigen Version.

However, in the 1860s and 1870s, the game was still developing into the game we often know. Mixed variants with rugby were possible. The style of play is also more reminiscent of rugby, especially that of the gentlemen.


Field size

1879: The pitch was about 91-183 metres (100-200 yd) long and about 46-91 metres (50-100 yd) wide.

Goal dimensions

1879: The gate was about 8 yd (7.32 m) wide and about 8 ft (2.44 m) high (as today). The height was marked by a ribbon or batten.

1883: The height could only be marked with a batten, no longer with a ribbon.

Playing field markings

1879: There were the four corner flags.

1883: The side lines and goal lines were added. They were usually made of a lime solution or a V-shaped gutter (quite dangerous for outside bands). Other field markings were added later.


1879: There were no specifications.

1883: The ball had a circumference of about 67-71 cm (exactly: 27-28 ins). In addition, in the 1880s it was customary that the home team provided the match ball and had to receive it back after the match – however, this was not part of the rules of the game, but a norm.

Number of players

1879: There were no specifications (not until 1897).

Player equipment

1879: There were only specifications for shoes: nothing was allowed to stick out, all nails must have penetrated the leather or the sole.

1881: Shin guards introduced – compulsory.

Match officials

1879: There was one elected Umpire per club who responded to calls. This was sometimes the captain (who was usually also the club’s coach and manager). They also controlled the boots and have flags to signal handball, fouls, offside and also when the ball was out of play.

1881: Introduction of a referee (also off the field) who acted on the call of the umpires. He was appointed by both clubs together. In addition, the umpires measured time and issued warnings and sending-offs.

1882: The referee could stop the game if it became necessary because spectators entered the pitch.

Playing time

1879: There were no regulations (not until 1897).

Game start

1879: Coin toss. The winner decided whether to kick off the game or choose the side. No player was allowed to be in the opponent’s half at kick-off. Only after the break were the sides changed (previously after each goal) and kick-off was by the same team as at the start.

1883: The kick-off could only go in the direction of the opponent’s goal.


1879: Offside was anyone between the ball and the opponent’s goal if there were fewer than three(!) opponents in front of you at the moment of passing. No offside in the case of passive offside and at the kick-off.

1882: No offside if ball comes from opponent.

1883: No offside at corner kick.


1879: Any handball was forbidden, whether intentional or unintentional. An offence was punished by an indirect free kick. In the case of a handball near the goal (not further defined!) the umpires decided whether the ball would have gone into the goal without the handball and could give a goal.

1882: Close to goal is defined as (2 yd).

Handball by the goalkeeper

1879: The goalkeeper was the player nearest to his own goal. However, he was not allowed to be changed on the fly. But he was allowed to hold the ball with his hands and throw and hit it, but not carry it. If the goalkeeper went too far out of the goal and could no longer defend it, no other player was allowed to step up to his position and touch the ball with his hands.

1882: The goalkeeper may only play the ball with his hands in his own half.

Foul play

1879: Foul play included: tackling without arms applied („charging“), putting his foot down, kicking intentionally („intentionally“), holding, pushing, attacking from behind (provided he did not intentionally block).

Since 1874, offences resulted in an (indirect) free kick for the opposing team, since 1877 in sending-offs.

1880: Jumping on an opponent is also a foul.

Free kicks

1879: Free kicks were always indirect free kicks.

Penalty kick

1879: There was no penalty kick yet (not introduced until 1891).


1879: If the ball went over the touchline into the outfield, a player could bring the ball back into the field by throw-in or by kick-in (this was valid from 1877 to 1886).


1879: If the ball went over the byline and was last touched by a player of the attacking team, a goal kick was taken from the goalpost nearer to where the ball went out of bounds.

Corner kick

1879: As today, if the ball went over the byline and was last touched by a player of the defending team, a corner kick was given from the corner nearer to where the ball went out of bounds.


Kategorie: English


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