The Cambridge Rules were a code of rules for football first drawn up at Cambridge University, England, in 1848, by a committee that included H. de Winton and J. C. Thring. They are also notable for allowing goal kicks, throw-ins, and forward passes and for preventing running whilst holding the ball. In 1863, a revision of the rules played a significant part in developing the rules that became Association football.
The playing of football had always been popular in Cambridge and in 1579 one match played at Chesterton between townspeople and Cambridge University students ended in a violent brawl that led the Vice-Chancellor to issue a decree forbidding them to play "footeball" outside of college grounds. Despite this and other decrees, football continued to be popular in Cambridge, as George Elwes Corrie, Master of Jesus College, observed in 1838, "In walking with Willis we passed by Parker's Piece and there saw some forty Gownsmen playing at football. The novelty and liveliness of the scene were amusing!" A former Rugby School pupil, Albert Pell, was organising football matches at the university in 1839 but, because of the different school variations, a compromise set of rules had to be found and these are held to have been the origin of the Cambridge Rules. As a result of its role in the formation of the first football rules, Parker's Piece, Cambridge, remains hallowed turf for football fans and historians.
In 1846, H. de Winton and J.C. Thring, who had both attended Shrewsbury School, succeeded in making some old Etonians join them to form a football club at Cambridge University. Only a few matches were ever played, but in 1848 interest in the sport was renewed. The story of how the 1848 rules were formulated was related by Mr H.C. Malden in a letter dated 8 October 1897.
I went up to Trinity College Cambridge. In the following year an attempt was made to get up some football in preference to the hockey that was then in vogue. But the result was dire confusion, as every man played the rules he had been accustomed to at his public school. I remember how the Eton men howled at the Rugby men for handling the ball. So it was agreed that two men should be chosen to represent each of the public schools, and two who were not public school men, for the 'Varsity. G. Salt and myself were chosen for the 'Varsity. I wish I could remember the others. Burn of Rugby, was one; Whymper of Eton, I think, also. We were 14 in all I believe. Harrow and Eton Rugby, Winchester, Shrewsbury were represented. We met in my rooms after Hall, which in those days was at 4.pm.; anticipating a long meeting, I cleared the tables and provided pens, ink and paper. Several asked me on coming in whether an exam was on! Every man brought a copy of his school rules, or knew them by heart, and our progress in framing new rules was slow. On several occasions Salt and I, being unprejudiced, carried or struck out a rule when the voting was equal. We broke up five minutes before midnight. The new rules were printed as the "Cambridge Rules", copies were distributed and pasted up on Parker's Piece, and very satisfactorily they worked, for it is right to add that they were loyally kept, and I never heard of any public school man who gave up playing from not liking the rules. [...] Well Sir, years afterwards someone took these rules, still in force at Cambridge, and with a very few alterations they became the Association Rules. A fair catch, free kick (as still played at Harrow) was struck out. The offside rule was made less stringent. "Hands" was made more so; this has just been wisely altered.
The creators of the Cambridge rules sought to formulate a game that was acceptable to students who had played various codes of public school football. The public school games included a wide range of rules, from the Rugby game (with ball handling and backwards-only passing) through the Eton game (which favoured dribbling and had a tight offside rule) to the Charterhouse football (that involved dribbling and whose representatives favoured rules permitting forward passing). The off-side rule adopted by the Cambridge rules stated that:
"If the ball has passed a player and has come from the direction of his own goal, he may not touch it till the other side have kicked it, unless there are more than three of the other side before him. No player is allowed to loiter between the ball and the adversaries' goal." (1856, probably earlier)
This rule was subsequent adopted in essence by the Football Association in 1867, but weakening from "more than three" to "at least three". This off-side rule, which permitted players to move in front of the ball opened the way to the subsequent development of the Combination Game.
The Cambridge Rules were the first codified rules of football and the predecessor of modern association football. They were very influential in the creation of the modern rules of football drawn up in London by Ebenezer Cobb Morley for the Football Association, as shown in the following praise:
'The Cambridge Rules appear to be the most desirable for the Association to adopt'
'They embrace the true principles of the game, with the greatest simplicity'
A plaque has been mounted at Parker's Piece, Cambridge to document its unique role in the creation of modern football. It bears the following inscription:
Here on Parker's Piece, in the 1800s, students established a common set of simple football rules emphasising skill above force, which forbade catching the ball and 'hacking'. These 'Cambridge Rules' became the defining influence on the 1863 Football Association rules.
The Cambridge University Association Football Club also played a key role in developing modern passing football. The side is credited with "transforming the tactics of association football and almost single-handedly inventing the modern game" in 1882. Contemporaries described Cambridge as being the first "combination" team in which each player was allotted an area of the field and played as part of a team in a game that was based upon passing" In a discussion by CW Alcock on the history of a "definite scheme of attack" and "elaborate combination" in early football playing styles (including references to "Northern" teams, including Queens Park), Alcock states (in 1891): "The perfection of the system which is in vogue at the present time however is in a very great measure the creation of the last few years. The Cambridge University eleven of 1883 were the first to illustrate the full possibilities of a systematic combination giving full scope to the defence as well as the attack"
No copy of the 1848 rules survives but the following set of University Rules, circa 1856, still exists in the Library of Shrewsbury School.
- This club shall be called the University Foot Ball Club.
- At the commencement of the play, the ball shall be kicked off from the middle of the ground: after every goal there shall be a kick-off in the same way.
- After goal, the losing side shall kick off; the sides changing goals, unless a previous arrangement be made to the contrary.
- The ball is out when it has passed the line of the flag-posts on either side of the ground, in which case it shall be thrown in straight.
- The ball is behind when it has passed the goal on either side of it.
- When the ball is behind it shall be brought forward at the place where it left the ground, not more than ten paces, and kicked off.
- Goal is when the ball is kicked through the flag-posts and under the string.
- 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.
- If the ball has passed a player, and has come from the direction of his own goal, he may not touch it till the other side have kicked it, unless there are more than three of the other side before him. No player is allowed to loiter between the ball and the adversaries' goal.
- In no case is holding a player, pushing with the hands, or tripping up allowed. Any player may prevent another from getting to the ball by any means consistent with the above rules.
- Every match shall be decided by a majority of goals.
H. Snow, J. C. Harkness; Eton.
J. Hales, E. Smith; Rugby.
G. Perry, F. G. Sykes; University.
W. H. Stone, W. J. Hope-Edwardes; Harrow.
E. L. Horner, H. M. Luckock; Shrewsbury.
In 1862, J.C. Thring, who was then a master at Uppingham, brought out a new set of rules for what he called "The Simplest Game"; these rules are also known as the "Uppingham Rules". Thring's rules are not normally referred to as the Cambridge rules.
- A GOAL is scored whenever the ball is forced through the goal and under the bar, except it be thrown by hand.
- HANDS may be used only to stop a ball and place it on the ground before the feet.
- KICKS must be aimed only at the ball.
- A player may not kick the ball whilst in the air.
- NO TRIPPING UP or HEEL KICKING is allowed.
- Whenever the ball is kicked beyond the side flags, it must be returned by the player who kicked it, from the spot it passed the flag line, in a straight line towards the middle of the ground.
- When a ball is kicked BEHIND the line of goal, it shall be kicked off from that line by one of the side whose goal it is.
- No opposite player may stand within six paces of the kicker when he is kicking off.
- A player is 'out of play' immediately he is in front of the ball and he must return behind the ball as soon as possible. If the ball be kicked by his own side past a player, he may not touch or kick it nor advance until one of the other side has first kicked it or one of his own side, having followed it up, has been able, when in front of him, to kick it.
- NO CHARGING is allowed when a player is out of play – i.e. immediately the ball is behind him.
In October 1863, shortly before the first meeting of The Football Association, a committee drew up a new revision of the Cambridge rules. These rules were soon published in the press, and were subsequently brought to the attention of the committee of the fledgling Football Association. Elements of these rules found favour with a majority of the members of the FA and influenced the draft rules that were then under discussion by the FA. The FA committee voted to adopt parts of the Cambridge rules (and parts of Sheffield Football Association rules) and led to the displeasure of representative from Blackheath. Blackheath's decision to withdraw from the FA further precipitated the subsequent development and codification of the Rugby game.
- The length of the ground shall not be more than 150 yds. and the breadth not more than 100 yds. The ground shall be marked out by posts and two posts shall be placed on each side-line at distances of 25 yds. from each goal line.
- The GOALS shall consist of two upright poles at a distance of 15 ft. from each other.
- The choice of goals and kick-off shall be determined by tossing and the ball shall be kicked off from the middle of the ground.
- In a match when half the time agreed upon has elapsed, the side shall change goals when the ball is next out of play. After such change or a goal obtained, the kick off shall be from the middle of the ground in the same direction as before. The time during which the game shall last and the numbers in each side are to be settled by the heads of the sides.
- 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 whatsoever prevent any other player from doing so.
- When the ball goes out of the ground by crossing the side lines, it is out of play and shall be kicked straight into the ground again from the point where it first stopped.
- When a player has kicked the ball beyond the opponents' goal line, whoever first touches the ball when it is on the ground with his hand, may have a FREE kick bringing the ball straight out from the goal line.
- No player may touch the ball behind his opponents' goal line who is behind it when the ball is kicked there.
- If the ball is touched down behind the goal line and beyond the line of the side-posts, the FREE kick shall be from the 25 yds. post
- When a player has a free-kick, no-one of his own side may be between him and his opponents' goal line and no one of the opposing side may stand within 10 yds. of him.
- A free kick may be taken in any manner the player may choose.
- A goal is obtained when the ball goes out of the ground by passing between the poles or in such a manner that it would have passed between them had they been of sufficient height.
- The ball, when in play may be stopped by any part of the body, but it may NOT be held or hit by the hands, arms or shoulders.
- ALL charging is fair; but holding, pushing with the hands, tripping up and shinning are forbidden.
Rev. R. Burn (Shrewsbury), Chairman
R.H. Blake Humfrey (Eton)
W.T. Trench (Eton)
J.T. Prior (Harrow)
H.L. Williams (Harrow)
W.R. Collyer (Rugby)
M.T. Martin (Rugby)
W.P. Crawley (Marlborough)
W.S. Wright (Westminster)