Soccer is an evolving game. From the original codification in 1863 to the modern institution of video replay, football’s lawmakers are constantly tweaking the rules.
The following is a timeline of the major changes made to the game.
At the Freemasons’ Tavern in Blackheath, England, the original laws of the game were written down as the first official rules of football. Some rules still exist while others have been heavily modified through the century and a half since then. We wouldn’t mind seeing a few of the laws come back to the modern game.
Goal kicks were first introduced in 1869, allowing goalies to waste as much as 30 seconds at a time with impunity.
The first corner kicks were taken in 1872, five years after the Sheffield Rules adopted the rule. Amazingly, in that time players still haven’t mastered the procedure.
Crossbars were finally added to goals in 1875.
The first time a referee used a whistle to control the game was in 1878. Our hearing was never the same again.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) met for the first time on June 2, 1886. The IFAB, created to determine the laws of the game and make changes as needed, was originally made up of two representatives each from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. A three-quarters majority was required to pass a proposal.
Penalty kicks were created in 1891. They were originally called a “kick of death” — shame it didn’t stick.
Believe it or not, there was no center referee until 1891. Before then, two umpires, one for each team, officiated the game. The first referees merely stayed on the sidelines and were “referred” to if the umpires didn’t agree. But in 1891, 100 years before Antoine Greizmann was born, the referee was given authority to whistle for fouls, call penalties and send off players. Finally, the Luis Suarezes of the world had someone to deceive.
After 11 years of allowing penalty kicks to be taken anywhere along a 12-yard line, the penalty spot was created in 1902. This change coincided with the introduction of the 18-yard box as well as the six-yard box. Originally, the six-yard box was a semi-circle, similar to what’s found around the net in hockey.
FIFA was established in Paris in 1904 with France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland counted as founding members.
Lawmakers decided goalkeepers shouldn’t be able to handle the ball wherever they like, so in 1912 it was decided goalies could only use their hands in the 18-yard box.
FIFA joined IFAB in 1913, restructuring how laws of the game were amended. England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were each given a vote while FIFA was given four as a whole, with six votes still required to make a change.
In 1920, the rules were changed so that players could not be offside on a throw-in.
The offside rule changed from a three-player rule to a two-player rule. Starting in 1925, you were onside if there were two players between you and the goal (goalie included) instead of three.
The shape of the 18-yard box was finalized when the semicircle at the top was added in 1937.
Stanley Rous, then the secretary of the English FA, led the effort to rewrite the laws for the modern language. Rous was later elected FIFA president in 1961, an indication as to how well his efforts were received.
In an attempt to increase scoring, FIFA changed the offside rule to allow the offensive player to be onside if he was even with the second-to-last defender (goalie typically being the last defender). Also in 1990, denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity became a red-card offense.
The last major change made to soccer came in 1992, when IFAB decided to prevent goalies from using their hands on deliberately kicked passes from their teammates. Initially, there was chaos. Now every goalie fancies him or herself a sweeper keeper.
IFAB made one final tweak before the end of the millennium to prevent injuries and cynical play. In 1998 referees were instructed to view violent tackles from behind as red-card offenses.
UEFA began a trial using an extra official next to each goal in Europa League matches to assist the center referee. By 2012, the two additional assistant referees were used in all UEFA competitions, from Champions League to the Euros.
Goal-line technology was launched in 2013 at the start of the English Premier League season. England uses the system for matches in the Premier League, FA Cup and at Wembley to determine whether the ball has crossed the line for a goal.
Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was debuted in a FIFA competition at the 2017 Confederations Cup. Major League Soccer began using the technology a couple months later.