KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- After Sir Stanley Rous another Englishman, David Elleray, has come to the rescue of the ever-burgeoning volume known as the Laws of the Game of Association Football.

The original 12 laws – not rules! – were enshrined in December 1863 after a stormy meeting of the newly-created Football Association. A variety of changes and piecemeal interpretations led to a first major revision in the late 1930s by Sir Stanley Rous, then secretary of the FA.

A further revision was undertaken in 1997 to delete some irrelevant paragraphs and insert further clarifications.

All one-time schoolmasters: J C Thring (top left), Sir Stanley Rous (below) and David Elleray

Since then the lawbook, as governed by the International Football Association Board, has expanded to a 144-page volume split into two. Section one, a mere 48 pages, covers the now-17 laws. A second section of a further 87 pages deals with interpretations and clarifications.

In total the oeuvre adds up to 22,000 words which Elleray, former FIFA referee and Harrow schoolmaster, has reduced to 12,000 by editing, refining, simplifying and striking out contradictions.


The work, involving widespread consultation with IFAB’s advisory subcommittees, has taken 18 months.

One of the refinements which may be noted in due course by fans in senior football is a permit that a player who has been injured by a violent challenge which leads to disciplinary action against an opponent will not have to leave the pitch after treatment.

Elleray said: “It is clearly unfair that a team whose player has been injured in such a manner should be handicapped on the restart of play.”

This change exemplifies the overall aim of the revision.

As Elleray added: “We want to encourage referees to referee according to the spirit of the game and with common sense. So in these revisions we have tried to use much clearer language. We have tried to avoid a lot of unnecessary repetition and we have tried to make it up-to-date.”

The first laws of the game were based on two earlier frameworks. One comprised the Cambridge Rules of 1846. The authors were two undergradates, John Charles Thring and Henry de Winton. In 1862 Thring, now a master of Uppingham School, produced a further set of laws for what he defined as The Simplest Game.*

A year later came the formation of the Football Association at the Freemason’s Tavern, in London’s Great Queen Street. A stormy meeting in December 1863 led to the approval of the original eight laws of the game. Two proposed laws – permitted handling of the ball and hacking – were scrapped.


IFAB was created to control the laws in 1886 with its membership comprising two representatives from each of the FAs of the four British home nations: the Football Association, Scottish Football Association, Football Association of Wales and Irish Football Association (now responsible for the game in Northern Ireland).

Two representatives from FIFA were admitted in 1913. Now the four home nations each have one vote and FIFA has four votes, representing the rest of the world. Approval for a change in the laws demands a three-quarters majority: ie, six votes.

Hence at the annual meeting every spring FIFA, on its own, or the British home nations together, can block a proposed change in the laws or other item.

Thus, last year, FIFA blocked a move to opening experimentation on video assistance for referees because, according to secretary-general Jerome Valcke at the time, it had not been provided with the interim results of a Dutch study and lacked sufficient information on which to reach an opinion.

Even the latest, “strong recommendation” to launch experiments could yet go the same way next March.

** J C Thring is sometimes, erroneously, described as the headmaster of Uppingham. In fact that position was held by his brother Edward.