English football · Esoteric · Football history · Laws of the game · Other sports · Playing football

Early Rules & Formations


Modern-day association football is defined by the current Laws of the Game.

Nevertheless, early versions of the Cambridge Rules (originating in 1848), the Sheffield Rules (1858), the Uppingham Rules (1862) and the FA’s 1863 Laws of the Game are readily available.

I’ve come across a couple of references to the Nottingham Rules, but haven’t found the rules themselves (or any version of the rules):

(1) – “On 2 January 1865, [Sheffield FC] played its first fixture outside Sheffield against Nottingham, playing eighteen aside under Nottingham Rules.”
(2) – “1866, 22 February — Sheffield FC play first match out of town, travelling to play against Nottingham, playing under Nottingham Rules.”

It would appear to be the same match, just that the date is wrong in one (or both) of the references.

It is to the Sheffield Rules that a clear preference for a kicking game over a handling game is attributed:

The rules had been in use since the establishment of [Sheffield FC]. Although a selection of rules from public schools were seen there, the 1858 rules show little evidence of their influence. Many of the original members were from the local Collegiate School, which favoured the kicking style of the game, rather than handling the ball. The kicking game was also prevalent in the local villages of Penistone and Thurlstone.

The article contains an interesting account of the convergence between the Sheffield Rules and the FA’s Laws of the Games in the 1860s and 70s.

It would be interesting to re-enact a match played under early rules. I suppose it’s been done before. It would be a very different game from the modern one. Also, apart from differences in the rules and interpretation of rules, differences in formations and tactics could produce a game that appeared very different from that actually played in the 1860s and 70s. I suppose without actual footage, no one can be sure what the game looked like back then.

It’s one thing to say that the Sheffield Rules influenced Australian Rules Football – it’s another to say Australian Rules Football “resembles the original Sheffield code in various respects”.

I suppose any re-enactment would be aided by accounts still available of the “combination game”, a formation/strategy used in the 1860s and 1870s.

It will be the 150th anniversay of the Uppingham Rules next year, and of the FA’s Laws of the Game in 2013.

There might well have been other early sets of rules which have been lost in time.

(First posted on Tony Kempster’s Non-League Forum)

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