University of Cambridge

History of Changes in Soccer Football Rules – A Thorough Look

History of Changes in Soccer Football Rules – Introduction

It should be noted that the primary motive for all the official changes in football rules is to improve the spirit of the game and make the game better in every possible way. Essentially, we will look at the major changes in the 19th century and the 20th century. As one can understand after going through this article, the game has undergone considerable changes in its rules over a period of time and this will be an ongoing process. As times change and new exploits are pointed out, the official game rules will continue to change either to fix or to improve the game.

Early Rules Changes

We should not forget that soccer existed hundreds of years before and people used to play football with varying rules during the initial days of football.

There were no proper common rules before 1863 to govern the game and changes in football rules were frequent during those initial periods. One of such two early rules that gained popularity are the Cambridge rules, first drawn up at Cambridge University in 1848 and the Sheffield Football Club rules, formed by former public school pupils in 1857.

During the early 1860s, there were increasing attempts in England to unify and reconcile the various football games that were played in the public schools as well in the industrial north under the Sheffield Rules.

19th Century Changes

The first uniform football rules and regulations were formed in the year 1863.The Cambridge Rules are taken as a base and are rewritten to arrive at the first official laws of the game. In the year 1866, the offside law is changed to allow players to be onside provided there are three players between the ball and the goal.

The year 1891 is a very important year for soccer rules in particular and the game in general. A game changing rule called “the penalty-kick” was first introduced into the game. A penalty kick is awarded against a team which commits offence within the 18 yard box, also called the penalty box. This changed the game drastically and offered an immense advantage to the team that is awarded a penalty kick.

20th Century Changes

The year 1925 witnessed another major change in soccer “offside” rule. The offside law which is conceived in the year 1866 initially allowed players to be onside provided there are three players between the ball and the goal. The amendment in 1925 changed the number from three to two players.

Substitutes are permitted for the first time in the year 1958. But this confined only for an injured goalkeeper and one other injured player.

Card system is introduced in the year 1970. The system of red and yellow cards is introduced for the 1970 FIFA World Cup finals as a means of warning or penalising a player. Referees indicate that a player has committed an offense and red card represents more serious offense than the yellow card.

In 1990 the offside law is once again changed and this time in favour of the attacker. As per this change in law, the attacker is now said to be onside if he/she is in level with the penultimate defender.

Other changes include the Goalkeepers forbidden from handing back-passes in 1992. The technical area is introduced into the Laws of the Game in 1994, with the Fourth Official following the next year. Initially who were referred to as “Linesmen” are renamed as “Assistant Referees”, in the year 1996. In the year 1997 the Laws are revised once again for the betterment of the game.

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