The Laws of the Game[1] are the codified rules that help define association football. These laws are written and maintained by the International Football Association Board and published by the sport's governing body FIFA. The laws mention: the number of players a team should have, the game length, the size of the field and ball, the type and nature of fouls that referees may penalize, the frequently misinterpreted offside law, and many other laws that define the sport.

Current Laws of The GameEdit

The current Laws of the Game (LotG) consist of 17 individual laws, each law containing several rules and directions:[2]

Today, the above 17 laws are less than 50 pages of a 140 by 215 mm (roughly A5-size) pamphlet. In 1997, a major revision dropped whole paragraphs and clarified many sections to simplify and strengthen the principles. These laws are written in English Common Law style and are meant to be guidelines and goals of principle that are then clarified through practice, tradition, and enforcement by the referees.

The actual law book has long contained 50 pages more of material, organized in numerous sections, that contain many diagrams but did not fit with the main 17 laws. In 2007, many of these additional sections along with much of the material from the FIFA Questions and Answers (Q&A), were restructured and put into a new Additional Instructions and Guidelines for the Referee section. This section is organized under the same 17 law points, consists of concise paragraphs and phrases like the laws themselves, and adds much clarifying material that previously was only available from National organizations and word of mouth among referees.

Referees are expected to use their judgement and common sense in applying the laws.

History and developmentEdit


Games which could be described in the most general sense as 'football' had been popular in Britain since the Medieval period. Rules for these games, where they existed, were not universal nor codified. A significant step towards unification was the drafting of the Cambridge rules in 1848 – though these were not universally adopted. In 1858 the Sheffield rules of football were written.

1863 rulesEdit

Original laws of the game 1863

The original hand-written 'Laws of the Game' drafted for and on behalf of The Football Association by Ebenezer Cobb Morley in 1863 on display at the National Football Museum, Manchester.

The Football Association Laws of 1863 as published in Bell's Life in London for approval on 5 December 1863:

  • The maximum length of the ground shall be Template:Convert, the maximum breadth shall be Template:Convert, the length and breadth shall be marked off with flags; and the goal shall be defined by two upright posts, eight yards (7.3 m) apart, without any tape or bar across them.
  • A toss for goals shall take place, and the game shall be commenced by a place kick from the centre of the ground by the side losing the toss for goals; the other side shall not approach within Template:Convert of the ball until it is kicked off.
  • After a goal is won, the losing side shall be entitled to kick off, and the two sides shall change goals after each goal is won.
  • A goal shall be won when the ball passes between the goal-posts or over the space between the goal-posts (at whatever height), not being thrown, knocked on, or carried.
  • When the ball is in touch, the first player who touches it shall throw it from the point on the boundary line where it left the ground in a direction at right angles with the boundary line, and the ball shall not be in play until it has touched the ground.
  • When a player has kicked the ball, any one of the same side who is nearer to the opponent's goal line is out of play, and may not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so, until he is in play; but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked off from behind the goal line.
  • In case the ball goes behind the goal line, if a player on the side to whom the goal belongs first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick from the goal line at the point opposite the place where the ball shall be touched. If a player of the opposite side first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick at the goal only from a point Template:Convert outside the goal line, opposite the place where the ball is touched, the opposing side standing within their goal line until he has had his kick.
  • If a player makes a fair catch, he shall be entitled to a free kick, providing he claims it by making a mark with his heel at once; and in order to take such kick he may go back as far as he pleases, and no player on the opposite side shall advance beyond his mark until he has kicked.
  • No player shall run with the ball.
  • Neither tripping nor hacking shall be allowed, and no player shall use his hands to hold or push his adversary.
  • A player shall not be allowed to throw the ball or pass it to another with his hands.
  • No player shall be allowed to take the ball from the ground with his hands under any pretence whatever while it is in play.
  • No player shall be allowed to wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta-percha[3] on the soles or heels of his boots.

At its meeting on 8 December the FA agreed, as reported in Bell's Life in London, John Lillywhite should publish the Laws, which he said he could do at a cost of a shilling for the pocket size and 1s 6d for the larger size for club rooms.

Evolution of the rulesEdit

The rules of the game changed over time. Variations between the rules used in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland led to the creation of the International Football Association Board (see below) which governs the rules.

Notable amendments to the rules include:

  • 1866 – Forward passes are permitted, as long as there are three defending players between the receiver and the goal. This was the first step from a consideration of offside as seen in modern rugby towards the offside rule known in association football today. Handling of the ball is outlawed, with the exception of one player from each team, the goalkeeper.Template:Citation needed
  • 1877 – Full unity with the Sheffield Rules is established – several features of the northern code had been incorporated into the London-based association rulebook over the preceding 14 years.
  • 1891 – The penalty kick is introduced.
  • 1925 – The offside rule is reduced from three to two defending players.
  • 1958 – Introduction of substitutes.
  • 1970 – Introduction of red and yellow cards.
  • 1992 – Introduction of the back-pass rule.

Unlike in several other sports, in association football television replays are not permitted to be part of the match officials' decision-making process. Whether game rules and practices should be amended to allow these and/or goal-line technology is a matter of considerable current debate.

International Football Association BoardEdit

Main article: International Football Association Board

The Laws of the Game are written by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). They meet at least once a year to debate and decide any changes to the text as it exists at that time. The meeting in winter generally leads to an update to the laws on 1 July of each year that take effect immediately. The laws govern all international matches and national matches of member organizations.

The board was established on 6 December 1882 when representatives from the Scottish Football Association (SFA), the Football Association of Wales (FAW) and the Irish Football Association (IFA) (now the governing body in Northern Ireland and not to be confused with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) the governing body in the Republic of Ireland) were invited to attend a meeting in Manchester by the FA; previously games between teams from different countries had to agree to which country's rules were used before playing.

When the international football body on the continent FIFA was founded in Paris in 1904, it immediately declared that FIFA would adhere to the rules laid down by the IFAB. The growing popularity of the international game led to the admittance of FIFA representatives to the IFAB in 1913. Today the IFAB is made up of four representatives from FIFA representing their over 200+ member Nations and one representative each from the four associations of the United Kingdom. Because six votes are required to make any changes to the Laws, no change can be made without FIFA's approval, but FIFA cannot change the Laws on its own.


  3. Gutta-percha is an inelastic natural latex, produced from the resin of the Isonandra Gutta tree of Malaya. It was used for many purposes (e.g. the core of golf balls; the insulation of telegraph cables) before the invention of superior synthetic materials.


  • The History of the Football Association Naldrett Press (1953)
  • The Rules of Association Football, 1863: The First FA Rule Book Bodleian Library (2006)
  • GCCSA Recreational Council

External linksEdit