The International Football Association Board (IFAB) may possess a proud reputation as having preserved the foundations of the game as it enters a third century, but there are still a few things about the way football was once played that might raise a few eyebrows…
1. During the very first international football match between Scotland and England in 1872, players not only wore “knickerbockers” or long pants but bobble hats or caps too. The head dresses were a normal part of the footballing attire at the time and lasted well into the 20th century.
2. Balls were not exactly round when the first club and country matches took place. A pig’s bladder was blown up like a balloon, tied at the ends and placed inside a leather case, affording it an egg shape. The discovery of Indian rubber in the 1860s gave the ball greater roundness.
3. While it is true footballs of yesteryear gained weight in wet conditions, they were in fact lighter than today’s ball. In 1889, the spherical object used had to be between 12-15 ounces (340 – 425 grams) but this increased to 14-16 ounces (397 -454 grams) in 1937.
4. In the FA rules of 1863, there was no mention of a crossbar. As in rugby today, a goal could be scored at any height as long as the ball went between the sticks or posts. A tape was used to close the goal during the first internationals before a crossbar replaced it in 1875.
A 450-year-old football, made from a pig’s bladder and pieces of leather, laced together and found in the rafters of Stirling Castle
5. Mob football, a descendant of the modern game, stormed into England around the 12th Century and caught on to such an extent it was banned by Royal decree by many kings and queens. It was a violent game in which “murder and manslaughter” were allegedly the only barriers to transporting the ball to village ends. King Henry VIII, however, is believed to have been a keen player.
6. Contrary to some beliefs, football was very much an upper class sport in England during its infancy. The rules of the game were largely drafted by students belonging to public schools and universities. The working class adopted the sport during the late 19th Century.
7. The first meeting of the Football Association on 26 October 1863 in London did not end in total agreement among the 12 attendees. One club walked out, refusing to accept the non-inclusion of hacking (kicking below the knee) among the original rules.
8. Early football tactics resembled those of today’s rugby. Teams were top-heavy with forwards and because of the offside law, which prevented advanced players touching the ball, attacking often meant players grouping or scrimmaging together around the ball to move it towards goal.
The ancient Greek “Maradona”, playing “Episkyros” with a pala (National Museum of Archeology in Athens)
9. Penalties or referees found no place in the original rules of the game. Gentlemen would never intentionally foul, it was assumed. In fact debating techniques were almost as important as ball skills in those days as players could appeal against decisions first to captains and then to umpires before referees, named so because they had originally been referred to by umpires, found their place on the pitch in 1891.
10. It was only in the 20th Century that the penalty spot was introduced. In the decade before penalties, originally called the kick of death, could be taken anywhere along a line 12-yards from goal.
11. The word soccer does not come from the United States but was a term used by public school and university students, most notably at Oxford, in the 19th Century to shorten the new game “Association Football”. The predilection to shorten words with “er” extended to Rugby too, known as rugger.
12. Many of football’s terms and expressions are of military origin: defence, back line, offside, winger, forward, attack, etc
13. The FA’s 1863 rules of the game permitted the use of handling. Although a player could not handle the ball if it was on the ground, he was able to catch it in the air and make a mark to gain a “free” kick, which opposing players were not allowed to charge down.
14. There were no David Beckhams or Roberto Carlos’ before 1927 as goals could not be scored from direct free kicks.
15. Goalkeepers, in their own half, could handle the ball both inside and outside the penalty area before 1912.
16. London’s Kensington High Street traffic lights are the inspiration for the red and yellow cards used in today’s game. English referee and then FIFA’s Head of Refereeing Ken Aston was driving through central London thinking of ways to better illustrate a caution or sending off when the change of green to yellow to red of the lights gave him the idea.
17. Before 1913 when a corner was taken, instead of deciding on an inswinger, outswinger or taking a short one, there was nothing to stop a player dribbling the ball by himself. The rules were changed after several players teed themselves up before scoring.
18. Not surprisingly with hacking only a thing of the recent past, shin pads or guards were first permitted in the rules as early as 1874. They first appeared as a cut down version of the cricket pad.
19. The first act of a goalkeeper on a Saturday morning was not always to throw open the doors of his wardrobe before selecting his mood colour that day. Back in 1909, he was given a choice of royal blue, white or scarlet. If a goalkeeper became his country’s number 1 in 1921, he wore yellow.
20. Referees attempted to catch up with play around the turn of the century decked in black trousers, blazer and bow tie!