New Rules of Football
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But over the years many rules have come and gone, and others have stayed around.
FootballTerms digs into some of the best and worst rule changes from recent years. Will FIFA ever stop tinkering?
The backpass rule
In 1992, the backpass rule was abolished. You wouldn’t have thought it was particularly difficult to grasp that you could no longer pass it back for the keeper to pick up, but it was intellectually beyond some players, who just couldn’t break the habit with hilarious consequences.
Time was you could waste a few minutes as the goalie rolled it out to the back four only for them to pass it back to him. Indeed Liverpool won many trophies doing exactly that once they were a goal up.
Instead, the back four now pass it aimlessly between themselves and the goalkeeper on the floor, which I’m sure we can agree is huge progress. Snark aside, it now looks weirdly transgressive for a keeper to pick up a back pass and the law will surely always remain as it made the game much better.
Red and yellow cards
It is hard to imagine football without the referee brandishing a card. However, they were only introduced for the 1970 World Cup having been invented by Ken Aston, an English referee who was basically the Mike Dean of his era.
Previously, when a player was sent off, the ref had to just gesture to the touchline presumably while saying ‘off you jolly well pop, sir’. Fans couldn’t tell what was going on.
The cards made everything more straightforward and have since been turned into a performative tool of authority held aloft in a variety of manners from a Nazi salute to a casual flip of the wrist. Talk is now of an orange card.
Golden goal (1993-2004)
Whoever dreamed up the golden goal probably thought it would be an exciting way to end a game that was tied. But it wasn’t.
The first use in a tournament was the 1995 Football League Trophy between Birmingham City and Carlisle United was won 1-0 by the Blues, with a golden goal from Paul Tait.
Germany famously won the 1996 Euros with one and France the 2000 Euros and in 2001 Liverpool beat Alves in the UEFA Cup final with a hip variant, the golden own goal.
But usually, it just encouraged more defensive play in extra time, and so, in 2004 it was taken for a long walk off a short plank and never seen again.
Silver goal (2002-2004)
For two years, UEFA brought in the silver goal which basically meant that the team winning the game at half-time of extra time would be declared the winner.
Famously, this decided Greece vs Czech Republic game in the 2004 Euros. It was dumped along with its golden companion because it pleased no one and no one could justify it.
The six-second rule
In 2000 the four-step rule which said a keeper could only take four steps holding the ball was kicked out and one designated he must get rid after six seconds brought in.
Has anyone ever seen a goalie punished for taking too long? It must be the most transgressed rule which goes unpunished.
Before 1965, if you had a player who got injured, you hauled him off the pitch and played with a man less.
This had led to some badly injured players hobbling around with bits of themselves hanging off, so the substitute law was introduced in the 1965/66 season. Only one, mind.
This held right until 1987 when a second sub was introduced, as long as it was a goalkeeper, but when the Premier League started, everything went substitute-a-go-go.
A team could name three subs, two outfields, and a goalie, but only two could play. But that lasted just two years and by 1994 you could name three and play three as long as one was in goal.
By 1996/97 you could put five on the bench and play any three, by 2008/2009 it was seven on the bench, also playing three. During Covid-19 it went up to being able to play five subs but is now back at three again with a fourth concussion sub also hanging around, pouting a little.
It now seems incredible that football went a hundred years without subs, especially as the modern player is made of flakey pastry and can break into several pieces if exposed to a stiff wind.
Advance 10 meters
Remember this one? If the ref blew for a free kick and you launched a tirade of abuse at the foolish man in black, the kick would be moved forward 10 meters. If you still gave him an earful, it could go forward another 10.
It was introduced in 2000 and lasted until 2005 when FIFA just scrapped it without any real justification.
Referees quite liked it as it reduced dissent in the final third. But players, being dedicated to cheating, started to provoke the advancement of the ball to make life harder for the free-kick taker as it was closer to the goal and harder to get up and down in time.
In 2005 it was handed a revolver and told to walk into the desert and not come back and no more was heard of it.
Three points for an away win
Tried in the Alliance Premier League in 1983/84, the fifth tier at the time. Two points for a home win, three for an away and one for a draw meant clubs played a more progressive game away from home.
But all that happened was that clubs won more away games and lost more home games. When Enfield won the title in 1985/86 and would have done so in both systems, it was binned off and everyone pretended that such a silly idea hadn’t even happened at all.