You might not think it, but football rules have changed considerably over time.

What we now know as ‘the beautiful game’ has actually been through quite a few changes. The sport we know and love today was actually pretty different when it first started.

In this blog post, we’re going to look at the most important rule changes for football – or soccer. We’re pretty confident you’ll have a whole new view of the game by the time you’re finished reading!

The formative years: 1800s

Believe it or not, when football first started, it wasn’t possible to distinguish the two sides by the colours of their shirts. And there certainly weren’t any numbers on the back of them, either.

The size of the pitch also varied massively – as did the number of players taking part.

Thankfully, things began to get a little more structured in 1848 when the Cambridge rules were introduced. There was, however, plenty of debate about how the game should be shaped, and there were numerous meetings which decided on crucial elements such as hand balls and the many rules which now divide football and rugby.

Back then, the rules were still far removed from what we know today. For instance:

– no crossbar was required;
– if a player caught a high ball, he’d get a free kick;
– throw-ins were awarded to whoever retrieved the ball first; and
– throw-ins were one handed.

When did the referee enter the fray?

Guess what: there wasn’t a referee in football until 1871! Before that, the responsibility of keeping things in order fell on the shoulders of both teams’ captains.

It was a gentleman’s sport, you see.

The next biggest change didn’t arrive until the World Cup in 2018, when cameras were introduced as ‘video assistant’ referees under the guise of the much maligned VAR system.


It’s the position few people want to take up during a five-a-side kickabout, but back in the early days of the sport, it wasn’t even a designated position. Everyone just got involved once things neared the goal line.

It was in 1909 when one player was designated the goalkeeper and given a different coloured shirt to denote the fact.

The corner kick

Corner kicks weren’t introduced until 1872.

During 1924, the lawmakers of the game decided that corner kicks were allowed to go straight into the goal. The first player to achieve that was Argentine Ceáreo Onzari.

It’s still ok to score that way now, but can you remember the last time you witnessed such a feat?

The dreaded penalty

If there’s one thing that strikes fear into every footballer, it’s the dreaded penalty – particularly when it’s part of a penalty shootout to decide a big game.

However, they were only introduced in 1891. Before that, the closest thing to a penalty was an indirect free kick (a rule that still exists today). Part of the reason for this was that pitches back then weren’t marked with penalty areas.

You may not be aware that penalty shootouts actually arrived as late as 1970. They remain one of the sport’s most tense, joyful and heartbreaking rules.

You’re offside!

If you were asked to name one of the most frustrating football rules, it’d probably be this one.

The offside rule has taken on several forms over the years. In 1866 it changed to allow the ball to be passed forward, providing three players of the opposite team were between the ball and the opponent’s goal.

This resulted in a significant lack of goals, and was subsequently changed during the early part of the 1900s. Now, it’s arguably one of the most hotly debated rules of the modern game.

Wrapping up

See? We bet you didn’t realise there were quite that many rule changes to the sport you know and love.



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