Prior to 1863, football developed organically in different parts of England and Scotland, with no one unified way to play. Various sets of rules (though lost) were alluded to by University of Cambridge students in the 1830s and 1840s : a surviving set, drafted by a different set of students, exists from 1856.

In Sheffield, a different set of rules were written in 1858, committed to paper by Sheffield Football Club. One of the noticeable differences was the ability to handle the ball: the Cambridge rules state that catching the ball is allowed (though running with it was not permitted), while the Sheffield rules stated that a “fair catch” would see a free kick awarded to the catching team.

Neither code permitted “hacking” – the kicking of players’ shins – though many rugby clubs played the game in this manner. In The Football Association’s formative year, there was much debate about whether to permit such behaviour, but ultimately, hacking was banned.

At a meeting in December 1863, 13 laws were drafted by Ebenezer Morley, the first secretary of The Football Association, creating one single set of laws. These laws can be found below:

  1. 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
  2. The winner of the toss shall have the choice of goals. The game shall be commenced by a place kick from the centre of the ground by the side losing the toss, the other side shall not approach within 10 yards of the ball until it is kicked off
  3. After a goal is won the losing side shall kick off and goals shall be changed
  4. 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
  5. 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 it shall not be in play until it has touched the ground
  6. 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 the ball has been played; but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked from behind the goal line
  7. 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 (but at the goal only) from a point 15 yards from the goal line opposite the place where the ball is touched. The opposing side shall stand behind their goal line until he has had his kick
  8. If a player makes a fair catch he shall be entitled to a free kick, provided he claims it by making a mark with his heel at once; ad in order to take such kick he may go as far back as he pleases, and no player on the opposite side shall advance beyond his mark until he has kicked
  9. No player shall carry the ball
  10. Neither tripping nor hacking shall be allowed and no player shall use his hands to hold or push his adversary
  11. A player shall not throw the ball or pass it to another
  12. No player shall take the ball from the ground with his hands while it is in play under any pretence whatever
  13. No player shall wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on the soles or heels of his boots

However, these laws were not immediately adopted nationwide. The world’s first organised football tournament, the Youdan Cup, took place using the Sheffield Rules in 1967. Amendments and developments in the various codes followed as the game evolved, until the Sheffield Association ultimately adopted The FA’s codified laws in 1877.

In 1886, IFAB (International Football Association Board) was formed to oversee the rules for all of the home nations. When FIFA was formed 18 years later, the international body immediately adopted IFAB’s definition of the laws, ensuring their eventual worldwide adoption.