160 years ago today : The 1858 Sheffield Football Rules were published

The 27th of October 2018 marks the 160th anniversary of the writing of the 1858 Sheffield Rules. These rules were the crown jewels in the Sheffield FC Archive that was sold at Sotheby’s in July 2011 for £881,250.

The video of the actual sale is here: 


This places the Sheffield Football Archive as the world’s second most expensive piece of football memorabilia in history. Ahead of Alan Ball’s World Cup Medal (£164,800), Jules Rimet Trophy Replica (£254,500), Oldest Surviving FA Cup (£478,400) but behind Geoff Hurst’s World Cup Winning Shirt (£2.3 Million).

The purchaser and the current location of the actual archive remain a mystery but thanks to the amazing hard work of Sheffield Libraries, copies of this incredibly important piece of football heritage were displayed at the  Sheffield Football Treasures Day held at Sheffield Central Library on October 25th. This 1858 Sheffield Football Archive display will continue until the end of half term -the 3rd of November.

I have fully revised and updated my book ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889: Speed, Science and Bottom’ to coincide with this important anniversary. The new book has 28 extra pages, 20 new images and a new fold out map. It features new chapters celebrating the 160th anniversary of the 1858 Sheffield Rules and the fact that Sheffield is the Home of Football.

You can buy the book here: http://bit.ly/2qYw0r0

The 1858 Sheffield Rules
A year after Sheffield FC had founded, the club members clearly felt a need to produce a set of rules to play by and in October 1858 this process began. This is a hugely important milestone in the history of Association football. For the third time in history a football club decided to write itself some rules to play by, following in the footsteps of John Hope’s Foot-Ball Club (1833) and Surrey FC (1849). The difference from their predecessors is that the Sheffield Rules of 1858 would go on to be very influential in the evolution of the current Association football game. This moment is a full five years before the London Football Association would begin their bad-tempered debate at the Freemason’s Tavern in 1863 to devise a set of universal footballing laws.
What follows is from a Sheffield FC club manuscript written in 1907:
After season 1857-8 the Hon. Sec. Nathaniel Creswick and committee drew up printed rules, regulations and laws for the club, and from these is to be seen that game was half rugby and half association.”
The process for creating the 1858 Sheffield Rules began with a copy letter by Nathaniel Creswick dated 9th October 1858, calling a meeting of the club at his office ‘on Thursday next 7 O’ Clock’. The minutes of that meeting included the resolution that ‘the following Rules & Laws be submitted to a meeting of the Members to be held at 6 O’ Clock on Thursday next the 28 inst. at the Adelphi Hotel’. These included a draft of four club rules, minutes of a meeting on 14 October appointing club officers and committee signed by the President Frederick Ward. It is not known where these later meetings took place, but it is likely they were held at Park House.
The first draft of the rules from 14th October were written down by Nathaniel Creswick:

  1. Kick off from the middle must be a place kick.
  2. Kick out must not be more than 25 yards out of goal.
  3. Fair catch is a catch direct from the foot of the opposite side and entitles a free kick.
  4. Charging is fair in case of a place kick (with the exception of a kick off) as soon as a player offers to kick, but he may always draw back unless he has actually touched the ball with his foot.
  5. No pushing with the Hands or Hacking is fair under any circumstances whatsoever.
  6. Knocking or pushing on the Ball is altogether disallowed. The side breaking this rule forfeits a free kick to the opposite side.
    The next item in the club archive is the minutes of a committee meeting held on the 21st October with drafts of nine club rules and the ‘First draft of the Laws of the Game, with 12 Laws’ which had been extensively revised in pen and pencil by Nathaniel Creswick. We can see by comparing the two drafts that the committee was strongly opposed to hacking and tripping but were not averse to pushing. Use of hands was acceptable to push or knock it were permitted but holding of the ball (except when fielding a fair catch) was against the rules. These rules clearly favour the dribbling game and legislate against a rugby-type game.
    Second draft 21st October 1858:
  7. Kick off from the middle must be a place kick.
  8. Kick out must not be more than 25 yards out of goal.
  9. Fair catch is a catch from any player provided the Ball has not touched the ground and has not been thrown from touch. Entitles a free kick.
  10. Charging is fair in case of a place kick (with the exception of a kick off) as soon as a player offers to kick, but he may always draw back unless he has actually touched the ball with his foot.
  11. Pushing with the Hands is allowed but no Hacking (or tripping up) is fair under any circumstances whatsoever.
  12. Holding the Ball, excepting the case of a free kick is altogether disallowed.
  13. No player may be held or pulled over.
  14. It is not lawful to take the ball off the ground (except in touch) for any purpose whatever.
  15. The ball maybe be pushed or hit.
  16. A goal must be kicked but not from touch nor by a free kick from a catch.
  17. A Ball in touch is dead, consequently, the side that touches it down, must bring it to the edge
    of touch & throw it straight out at least six yards from touch.
  18. Each player must provide himself with a red and dark blue flannel cap- one colour to be worn by each side.
    Finally, in the archives we see the minutes of a meeting from 28th October passing the above rules and laws, which included even more revisions. This final seminal meeting was held at the Adelphi hotel, which was demolished in the 1970s to make way for the Crucible Theatre.
    Before the rules were handed over to Pawson and Brailsford of the High Street to print in 1859 an official ‘Rules, Regulations, & Laws of the Sheffield Foot-ball Club’ some further restructuring ensued, and the twelve laws were reduced to eleven. Original laws 6 and 9 were removed and replaced by a new law: ‘The Ball may be pushed or hit with the hand, but holding the Ball (except in the case of a free kick) is altogether disallowed.
    Sheffield football can be credited with the following rule innovations:
    The crossbar.
    The half way line kick-off.
    Corner kicks.
    The 1867 Youdan Cup rules introduced the concept of the golden goal and that matches should last for ‘one hour and a half’.
    Heading the ball initially developed in the Sheffield game but was not mentioned in the rules, it was just accepted as part of the local game. They did not realise how alien it looked until it generated mirth from members of the London FA in a match in 1866.
    The penalty arc of ‘D’ became an FA law in 1937 but it was Sheffield football that first suggested the idea a long time before in 1924, following an incident match between Sheffield United and Burnley FC. A Sheffield & Hallamshire County FA referee submitted a sketch to the Green ’Un newspaper that could prevent further disputes. The idea was also submitted to Sir Charles Clegg the President of the FA, but nothing was instigated for thirteen years. The idea was claimed later by a Mr. Leitch but was disputed by a new article that reprinted the original Green ‘Un story.