Laws of the Game (1897)

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For works with similar titles, see Laws of the Game.

The Laws of the Game[edit]

1. The game should be played by 11 players on each side. The dimensions of the field of play shall be — maximum length, 130 yards; minimum length, 100 yards; maximum breadth, 100 yards, minimum breadth, 50 yards. The field of play shall be marked by boundary lines. The lines at each end are goal lines, and the lines at the sides are the touch-lines. The touch-lines shall be drawn at right angles with the goal-lines. A flag with a staff not less than 5ft. high shall be placed at each corner. Lines defining 12 yards from the goal-lines and a half-way line shall be marked out, also semi-circles defining 6 yards from each goal post. The centre of the ground shall be indicated by a suitable mark, and a circle with a 10 yards radius shall be made round it. The goals shall be up-right posts fixed on the goal-lines equi-distant from the corner flag-staffs, 8 yards apart, with a bar across them 8 feet from the ground. The maximum width of the goal posts and the maximum depth of the cross-bar shall be 5 inches. The circumference of the ball shall be not less than 27 inches, nor more than 28 inches. In International matches, the dimensions of the field shall be — maximum length, 120 yards; minimum length, 110 yards; maximum breadth, 80 yards; minimum breadth, 70 yards; and at the commencement of the game the weight of the ball shall be from 13 to 15 ounces.

2. The duration of the game shall be 90 minutes, unless otherwise mutually agreed upon. The winners of the toss shall have the option of kick-off or choice of goals. The game shall be commenced by a place-kick from the centre of the field of play in the direction of the opponents' goal-line; the opponents shall not approach within 10 yards of the ball until it is kicked off, nor shall any player on either side pass the centre of the ground in the direction of their[2] opponents' goal until the ball is kicked off.

3. Ends shall only be changed at half-time. The interval at half-time shall not exceed five minutes, except by consent of the referee. After a goal is scored the losing side shall kick-off, but after the change of ends at half-time the ball shall be kicked off by the opposite side from that which originally did so; and always as provided in Law 2.

4. A goal shall be scored when the ball has passed between the goal-posts under the bar, not being thrown, knocked on, nor carried by any player of the attacking side. If from any cause during the progress of the game the bar should become displaced, the Referee shall have power to award a goal if in his opinion the ball would have passed under the bar if it had not been displaced. The ball is in play if it rebounds from a goal-post, cross-bar, or a corner flag-staff into the field of play. The ball is in play if it touches the Referee or a Linesman when in the field of play. The ball crossing the goal or touch-lines, either on the ground or in the air, is out of play.

5. When the ball is in touch, a player of the opposite side to that which played it out, shall throw it in from the point on the touch-line where it left the field of play. The player throwing the ball must stand on the touch-line facing the field of play, and shall throw the ball in over his head with both hands in any direction, and it shall be in play when thrown in. The thrower shall not again play until the ball has been played by another player. (NOTE. — This law is complied with if the player has any part of both feet on the line when he throws the ball.)

6. When a player plays the ball, or throws it in from touch, any one of the same side who at such moment of playing or throwing-in is nearer to his opponents' goal-line is out of play, and may not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any opponent from so doing, until the ball has been played, unless there are at such moment of playing or throwing-in at least three of his opponents nearer their own goal-line. A player is not out of play in the case of a corner-kick, or when the ball is kicked off from goal, or when it has been last played by an opponent.

7. When the ball is played behind the goal-line by a player of the opposite side, it shall be kicked off by any one of the players behind whose goal-line it went, within six yards of the goal-post nearest the point where the ball left the field of play; but, if played behind by any one of the side whose goal-line it is, a player of the opposite side shall kick it from within one yard of the nearest corner flag-post. In either case an opponent shall not be allowed within six yards of the ball until it is kicked off.

8. A player shall neither carry, knock on, nor wilfully handle the ball under any pretence whatever, except in the case of the goal-keeper, who, within his own half of the field of play, shall be allowed to use his hands in defence of his goal, either by knocking on or throwing, but not carrying the ball. The goal-keeper may be changed during the game, but notice of such change must first be given to the Referee.

9. In no case shall any goal be scored from any free kick (except as provided in Law 14), nor shall the ball be again played by the kicker until it has been played by another player. The kick-off, corner-kick, and goal-kick, shall be free kicks within the meaning of this law.

10. Neither tripping, kicking, nor jumping at a player shall be allowed. A player shall not use his hands to hold or push an opponent, or play in any manner likely to cause injury. A player shall not charge an opponent from behind, unless such opponent is not only facing his own goal, but is, in the opinion of the Referee, wilfully impeding his opponent while in that position. The goal-keeper shall not be charged except when he is holding the ball or obstructing an opponent.

11. A player shall not wear any nails, excepting such as have their heads driven in flush with the leather, or metal plates or projections, or gutta percha, on his boots, or on his shin guards. If bars or studs on the soles or heels of the boots are used, they shall not project more than half an inch, and shall have all their fastenings driven in flush with the leather. Bars shall be transverse and flat, not less than one and a half inches in length, and half an inch in width. Studs shall be round in plan, not less than half an inch in diameter, and in no case conical or pointed. Any player discovered infringing this law shall be prohibited from taking further part in the match. The Referee may be required to examine the players' boots before the commencement of a match.

12. A Referee shall be appointed, whose duties shall be to enforce the laws and decide all disputed points; and his decision on points of fact connected with the play shall be final. He shall also keep a record of the game and act as timekeeper. In the event of an[3] ungentlemanly behaviour on the part of any of the players, the offender or offenders shall be cautioned, and if the offence is repeated, or in case of violent conduct without any previous caution, the Referee shall have power to order the offending player or players off the field of play, and shall transmit the name or names of such player or players to his or their (National) Association, who shall deal with the matter in such manner as they may deem necessary. The Referee shall have power to suspend the game when he thinks fit and also to terminate the game whenever by reason of darkness, interference by spectators, or other cause, he may deem necessary; but in all cases in which a game is so terminated he shall report the same to the Association under whose jurisdiction the game was played, who shall have power to deal with the matter. The Referee shall have power to award a free kick in any case in which he thinks the conduct of a player dangerous, or likely to prove dangerous, but not sufficiently so as to justify him putting in force the greater powers invested in him. The power of the Referee extends to offences committed when the play has been temporarily suspended, or the ball is out of play.

13. Two linesmen shall be appointed, whose duty (subject to the decision of the Referee) shall be to decide when the ball is out of play, and which side is entitled to the corner kick, goal kick, or throw-in, and to assist in carrying out the game in accordance with the Laws. Any undue interference by a linesman shall be reported by the Referee to the National Association to which the linesman belongs, who shall deal with the matter as they may deem necessary.

14. If any player shall intentionally trip, charge from behind, push, or hold an opponent, or wilfully handle the ball, within twelve yards from his own goal line, the referee shall award the opponents a penalty kick, to be taken from any point 12 yards from the goal-line, under the following conditions: All players with the exception of the player taking the penalty kick and the opponents' goal-keeper (who shall not advance more than six yards from the goal line) shall stand at least six yards behind the ball. The ball must be kicked forward. The ball shall be in play when the kick is taken, and a goal may be scored from a penalty kick; but the ball shall not be again played by the kicker until it has been played by another player. If necessary, time of play shall be extended to admit of the penalty kick being taken.

15. In the event of a supposed infringement of the laws, the ball shall be in play until a decision has been given.

16. In the event of any temporary suspension of play from any cause, the ball not having gone into touch, or behind the goal line, the game shall be restarted by the referee throwing up the ball at the spot where play was suspended, and the players on either side shall not play the ball until it has touched the ground.

17. In the event of any infringement of laws 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, or 16, a free kick shall be awarded to the opposite side from the spot where the infringement took place.

Definition of Terms[edit]

A place kick is a kick at the ball while it is on the ground in the centre of the field of play.

A free kick is a kick at the ball in any direction the player pleases, when it is lying on the ground, none of the kicker's opponents being allowed within six yards of the ball, unless they be standing on their own goal-line. The ball must at least be rolled over before it shall be considered played; i.e., it must make a complete circuit or travel the distance of its circumference. A place kick or a free kick must not be taken until the referee has given a signal for the same.

Carrying is taking more than two steps while holding the ball, or bouncing it on the hand.

Knocking on is when a player strikes or propels the ball with his hands or arms.

Handling is wilfully playing the ball with the hand or arm.

Tripping is throwing or attempting to throw an opponent by the use of the legs, or by stooping in front or behind him; unless in the opinion of the referee a trip is intentional no punishment shall be imposed; thus, within the 12 yards line, a referee must enforce law 13, and has no power to mitigate the penalty.

Holding includes the obstruction of a player by the hand

Touch is that part of the ground on either side of the field of play.

Notes[edit]

  1. Changes from 1896: (All changes proposed by the Football Association unless otherwise noted).
    • Law 1: prepend "The game should be played by 11 players on each side"
    • Law 1: replace "The limits of the ground" with "The dimensions of the field of play"
    • Law 1: replace "maximum length, 200 yards" with "maximum length, 130 yards"
    • Law 1: replace "The length and breadth shall be marked off with four flags, with staffs not less than 5 feet high, and goal and touch lines; and lines defining 6 yards from the goal posts and 12 yards from the goal lines shall also be marked out" with "The field of play shall be marked by boundary lines. The lines at each end are goal lines, and the lines at the sides are the touch-lines. The touch-lines shall be drawn at right angles with the goal-lines. A flag with a staff not less than 5ft. high shall be placed at each corner. Lines defining 12 yards from the goal-lines and a half-way line shall be marked out, also semi-circles defining 6 yards from each goal post"
    • Law 1: replace "eight yards apart, equidistant from the corner flag staff" with "equi-distant from the corner flag-staffs, 8 yards apart"
    • Law 1: replace "the Association ball" with "the ball"
    • Law 1: replace "and in International matches" with "In International matches, the dimensions of the field shall be — maximum length, 120 yards; minimum length, 110 yards; maximum breadth, 80 yards; minimum breadth, 70 yards; and"
    • Law 2: prepend "The duration of the game shall be 90 minutes, unless otherwise mutually agreed upon"
    • Law 2: replace "ground" by "field of play"
    • Law 2: replace "the opposite goal-line" with "the opponents' goal-line".
    • Law 2: replace "The other side" with "the opponents".
    • Law 3: after the first sentence, insert "The interval at half-time shall not exceed five minutes, except by consent of the referee".
    • Law 3: replace "After a goal is won" with "After a goal is scored".
    • Law 4: replace "A goal shall be won" with "A goal shall be scored".
    • Law 4: replace "or" with "nor".
    • Law 4: replace "any one" with "any player".
    • Law 4: before the final sentence, insert "The ball is in play if it touches the Referee or a Linesman when in the field of play".
    • Law 5: replace "boundary line" with "touch-line".
    • Law 6: replace "throwing" with "throwing-in" (2 occurrences).
    • Law 6: replace "the opponents' goal line" with "his opponents' goal-line".
    • Law 6: replace "or in any way" with "nor in any way".
    • Law 6: replace "any other player" with "any opponent".
    • Law 6: replace "doing so" with "so doing".
    • Law 6: replace "but no player is out of play" with "A player is not out of play".
    • Law 7: replace "one of the opposite side" with "a player of the opposite side".
    • Law 7: replace "no opponent shall be allowed" with "an opponent shall not be allowed".
    • Law 8: replace "No player shall carry, knock on, or handle the ball" with "A player shall neither carry, knock on, nor wilfully handle the ball".
    • Law 8: replace "ground" with "field of play".
    • Law 8: replace "not more than one player shall act as goalkeeper at the same time, and no second player shall step in and act during any period in which the regular goal-keeper may have vacated his position" with "notice of such change must first be given to the Referee".
    • Law 9: replace "a goal" with "any goal".
    • Law 9: replace "Law 13" with "Law 14".
    • Law 9: replace "this rule" with "this law".
    • Law 10: replace "hacking" with "kicking".
    • Law 10: replace "and no player shall use his hands" with "A player shall not use his hands".
    • Law 10: replace "push his adversary" with "push an opponent".
    • Law 10: replace "No player may charge" with "A player shall not charge".
    • Law 10: replace "unless such opponent be" with "unless such opponent is".
    • Law 10: replace "impeding his adversary" with "impeding his opponent".
    • Law 10: replace "except he be in the act of playing the ball, or is obstructing an opponent" with "except when he is holding the ball or obstructing an opponent".
    • Law 10: delete "(Note:-- In the act of playing the ball means actual contact with the ball)".
    • Law 11: replace "No player shall wear" with "A player shall not wear".
    • Law 11: replace "on the soles or heels of his boots" with "on his boots".
    • Law 11: replace "this rule" with "this law".
    • Law 11: append "The Referee may be required to examine the players' boots before the commencement of a match".
    • Law 12: replace "rules" with "laws".
    • Law 12: replace "play going on" with "play".
    • Law 12: replace "and in the event" with "In the event".
    • Law 12: replace "contestants" with "players".
    • Law 12: replace "to rule" with "to order".
    • Law 12: replace "out of play" with "off the field of play".
    • Law 12: replace "in whom shall be solely vested the right of accepting an apology" with "who shall deal with the matter in such manner as they may deem necessary".
    • Law 12: replace "The referee shall have power to terminate the game" with "The Referee shall have power to suspend the game when he thinks fit and also to terminate the game".
    • Law 12: replace "he shall think fit" with "he may deem necessary"'.
    • Law 12: replace "the match was played" with "the game was played".
    • Law 12: replace "full power" with "power".
    • Law 12: The two sentences beginning from "Two linesmen" are moved into new Law 13.
    • Law 12: replace "case where he thinks that the conduct of a player is dangerous" with "case in which he thinks the conduct of a player dangerous".
    • Law 12: replace "to justify him in putting in force the greater powers vested in him as above" with "to justify him putting in force the greater powers invested in him".
    • Law 12: append "The power of the Referee extends to offences committed when the play has been temporarily suspended, or the ball is out of play" (approved by the meeting; amended from an original proposal by the Scottish FA).
    • New law 13 (part of old law 12): replace "corner-flag kick" with "corner-kick".
    • New law 13 (part of old law 12): append to first sentence: "and to assist in carrying out the game in accordance with the Laws".
    • New law 13 (part of old law 12): replace "in such manner as they may deem necessary" with "as they may deem necessary".
    • New law 14 (old law 13): replace "opposing side" with "opponents".
    • New law 14 (old law 13): replace "opposing goalkeeper" with "opponents' goal-keeper".
    • New law 14 (old law 13): replace "from the penalty-kick" with "from a penalty kick".
    • New law 15 (old law 14): replace "rules" with "laws".
    • Old law 15: delete law "The referee shall have power to stop the game for such a time as he may think fit, whenever he may deem it necessary to do so".
    • Law 17: replace "forfeited" with "awarded".
    • Definition of Free Kick: replace "any direction that the player pleases" with "any direction the player pleases".
    • Definition of Hacking: delete definition "Hacking is kicking an adversary intentionally".
    • Definition of Carrying: reorder to be immediately after definition of Free Kick / Place Kick.
    • Definition of Carrying: append "or bouncing it on the hand".
    • Definition of Knocking On: reorder to be immediately after definition of Carrying.
    • Definition of Handling: reorder to be immediately after definition of Knocking On.
    • Definition of Handling: replace "understood to be" with "wilfully".
    • Definition of Tripping: replace "adversary" with "opponent".
    • Definition of Touch: replace "field" with "ground".
    • Definition of Touch: replace "on either side of the ground, which is beyond the line of play" with "on either side of the field of play".
    For more information, see the minute book for this meeting. (Wikisource contributor note)
  2. Source has "their"; minute book and 1896/1898 versions of the laws suggest this is an error for "his" (Wikisource contributor note)
  3. source has "an"; likely a typographical error for "any" (Wikisource contributor note)


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1924, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.