How Old Football Rules Would Affect the Modern Game

Football is mental. An estimated 3.5 billion people enjoy watching 22 men trying to kick a ball into a rectangle. FOOTBALL IS MENTAL.

Some of its rules used to be mental too. New laws have slowly been implemented since the earliest set of rules – coded by Cambridge University in 1848 – most notably in 1863 when the Football Association created the first codified laws of the game. But here’s how some famous results would’ve changed if any given rule from the early days of football were still in place.
1. (1863) Cambridge Rules

“The maximum length of the ground shall be 200 yards, the maximum breadth shall be 100 yards, the length and breadth shall be marked off with flags; and the goals shall be defined by two upright posts, 8 yards apart, without any tape or bar across them.”

Affected Result – 1966 World Cup Final

With no crossbar, Geoff Hurst’s extra-time effort goes behind for a goal kick. Vorsprung Durch Technik ensures a revival in the opposition’s spirit and West Germany are crowned World Champions.


2. (1863) Cambridge Rules

“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.”

Affected Result – Emile Heskey’s Career

Emily Heskey becomes England’s all-time top scorer. He is signed by Real Madrid and wins the Ballon d’Or five times in a row.


3. (1856) Cambridge Rules

“When a player catches the ball directly from the foot, he may kick it as he can without running with it. In no other case may the ball be touched with the hands, except to stop it.”

Affected Result: Arsenal vs. Manchester United, April ’99

Ryan Giggs’ famous run from the halfway line to score the winning goal in the FA Cup semi-final replay never happens. United go on to lose the tie, and with shattered confidence, lose ground in the title race and are eliminated from the Champions League. They finish what would’ve been a treble-winning season with no silverware. United now play in the Conference.


4. (1858) Sheffield Rules

“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.”

Affected Result: England vs. Argentina, 1986 World Cup

Diego Maradona’s Hand of God stood as a goal anyway, but with this rule in effect, England fans have no excuse for their exit. They accept the team is simply abysmal. England gets mad and declares war on Argentina for the second time in four years.


5. (1858) Sheffield Rules

“Pushing with the hands is allowed but no hacking or tripping up is fair under any circumstances whatever.”

Affected Results: Roy Keane’s Career/Scottish Prowess

With violence in the sport condoned, players take every opportunity to throw one another off the ball. Roy Keane is a timid player amongst the carnage and is revered as a gentleman of the game.

Additionally, the Scottish Premier League is given an honorary award for consistent fair play from FIFA.


6. (1871) Sheffield Rules

“No goal shall be obtained by a free kick.”

Affected Result: David Beckham’s Career

Sorry, who? With no opportunity to score directly from free kicks, Beckham doesn’t score the winner for England against Greece in 2001. England don’t qualify for the World Cup the following year and haven’t qualified for a major tournament ever since. Beckham doesn’t even feature in that match after Manchester United releases him due to poor performances. He is now an Assistant Manager at a Renault Dealership.


This is, of course, total nonsense. But think of how many legends and pivotal moments football might have missed out on. Think about how many we have missed out on. Who’s to say we wouldn’t be hailing John Doe as the greatest catcher in football history? Or Joe Bloggs winning Player of the Year for constantly (and fairly) pushing players to the ground.

Either way, the moral of the story is… FOOTBALL IS MENTAL. And that’s why we love it.

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.