Sheffield club to auction football's first rulebook

UNDER THE old rules, it was 20-a-side, matches lasted two hours and players wore puffy flannel caps

UNDER THE old rules, it was 20-a-side, matches lasted two hours and players wore puffy flannel caps. There were no penalties, goal kicks or corners, and outfield players could catch the ball in the air provided it had not touched the ground first.

Needless to say, the rules of club football have been tweaked since they were first laid down in 1858 by Sheffield FC, acknowledged by Fifa as the world’s oldest soccer club.

The club’s original handwritten rulebook is part of a unique tranche of football memorabilia being auctioned by the club at Sotheby’s in London today.

The lot, which also contains the only known surviving copy of the printed rules of the game from 1859, charts the birth of the modern game, and is expected to fetch up to £1.2 million (€1.36m).


Speculation is rife that a group from Qatar is planning a major bid so the memorabilia can be put on display when the country hosts the 2022 World Cup.

The original 11 laws – known as the Sheffield code – were the earliest known attempt to standardise the rules of the game. The laws formed the basis for the English FA’s Laws of the Game in 1863 – the blueprint for the modern game.

The Sheffield rules are credited with introducing free kicks for fouls, corners and throw-ins. The code was also first to eliminate the “fair catch” rule which permitted players to catch the ball from the air and claim a free kick, similar to the “mark” rule in modern rugby. Its removal paved the way for a culture of heading the ball.

The original rules allowed for limited physical contact between opposing players which included “pushing with the hands”. However, tripping and hacking were strictly forbidden.

Perhaps rule 11, stipulating that each player must provide himself with a red or blue flannel cap, might have posed the biggest challenge to modern players with their increasingly bizarre hairdos.

A notable absence from the code was any form of off-side rule.

The lot, which also contains several club minute books and match reports from the time, is being put up for auction by non-league Sheffield FC to help fund the construction of the new stadium.

Club chairman Richard Sims described the decision to sell “this remarkable piece of sporting history” as tough but said the proceeds would allow the club survive for another 150 years.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times