Published on February 6, 2013 | by George Preece


FA 150 – What’s changed?

This week England meet Brazil in a friendly match to celebrate the Football Association’s 150th anniversary. Since the FA’s inauguration, football has developed immensely from when the first set of rules which were drawn up in 1863.


There seems to be a trend of football becoming more health and safety conscious. When England played Sweden in 1989, the game would be remembered for one reason: Terry Butcher, his white England shirt turned red due to a huge head wound. Compare that image to the modern game where the tiniest spec of blood on a player’s shirt would require the player to change shirts immediately.

The shirt change rule is there for a reason. However, there is one rule which everyone seems to agree on being just a bit pointless. If a player needs treatment for an injury where the physio is required, then after they are treated the player is ordered to leave the field. The player can only return once the referee has indicated to them that they can come back onto the field of play, which is usually straight away. This seems time consuming and gives the team a disadvantage of having a man less for a corner or free-kick despite it being their player who was fouled.


Tackling looks to be a dying art in the modern game, highlighted recently by the sending off of Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany following a tackle that would have had footballers of the past purring.

Compare this incident to the infamous battles of the 1970s between Leeds and Chelsea and you can see how football really has grown softer. At the heart of these quite often bloodbaths were two players: Norman ‘Bites yer legs’ Hunter and Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris – no prizes for how they acquired their nicknames. Harris recently asked former Leeds United player Eddie Gray for his studs back following a challenge on the winger back in the 70s.

Referees were also more inclined to allow stronger tackles to be part of the game, but with rule changes about tackling from behind and two-footed tackles, for example, referees are now much stricter.

Nowadays we’re more used to seeing a ball-boy on the receiving end of a tackle than a player.


Perhaps the most well known rule in football is the offside rule. The rule has been used since the first set of rules was established in the 19th century. However, the rule has seen many changes since its introduction. One of the earliest offside rules is much like the rugby offside rule where anyone who is in front of the ball is in an offside position.

During the 1987/88 season, the FA experimented with a new offside rule in the Conference division where attacking players could not be ruled offside from any free-kick. This was not deemed a success as teams would pack the penalty box and would often place several players in front of the goalkeeper. The rule was dropped for the next season.

The current offside rule has proved confusing in some areas as the notion of a player being ‘active’ is open to interpretation and often leads to debate even if, by the letter of the law, a decision is correct.

Another significant rule change that has been introduced concerns the back-pass. The rule was bought into place in 1992 following excessive defensive and time wasting play during the 1990 World Cup in Italy. The rule change now allows the game to flow more freely. One such incident in the 1990 World Cup saw Irish goalkeeper Pat Bonner dropping the ball, dribbling it around then picking it up which slowed the game for several minutes.

Getting shirty

There are some strange rules that have been introduced over the years such as a player will receive a caution if he takes his shirt off in celebration of a goal. Similarly this includes shirts with messages on them.

Others include sock tape being the same colour as the sock itself and undershorts being the same colour as the shorts, which are nit-picky rather than essential.

So as you can see, since the FA started 150 years ago, rules have been trialled, changed and adapted, but ultimately, football is the same beautiful game it was when it all began.


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