Victorian Football

Penalty Law 1891

The penalty kick was introduced to the Football League in 1891, and its invention was credited to Irishman William McCrum. A goalkeeper for Milford FC and a member of the Irish FA, McCrum proposed the penalty as a solution to reduce the number of deliberate fouls being committed to prevent a goal.

The idea was submitted to the IFAB (International Football Association Board) – and initially rejected. However, following a high-profile incident during an FA Cup quarter-final in which a Notts County defender prevented Stoke City from scoring via a blatant goal-line handball, the penalty was incorporated into the Laws of the Game.

Initially there was no penalty area or penalty spot, so the original penalty kick was somewhat different to the modern version. The kick could be taken from any point 12 yards from the goal-line, and the goalkeeper could advance six yards off his line, allowing keepers to narrow the angle.

The introduction of the penalty brought derision from amateur players, who detested the implication that any player would commit a deliberate or ‘professional’ foul. Great Corinthian CB Cry wrote, ‘It is a standing insult to sportsmen to have to play under a rule which assumes that the players intend to trip, hack and push their opponents, and behave like cads of the most unscrupulous kidney.’

The first penalty was awarded on 14 September 1891 to Wolverhampton Wanderers against Accrington FC. Joseph ‘Billy’ Heath took the kick – and scored in a 5-0 win.

From the IFAB minute book, 2 June 1891: ‘If any player shall intentionally trip or hold an opposing player, or deliberately handle the ball, within 12 yards from his own goal-line, the referee shall, on appeal, award the opposing side 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 goalkeeper (who shall not advance more than six yards from the goal-line) shall stand at least six yards behind the ball. The ball shall be in play when the kick is taken, and a goal may be scored from the penalty kick.’

This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.

For more IFAB minutes and documents visit the IFAB Archive.

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2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Penalty! Invention of football’s spot-kick”

  • Brian Webb

    31 July 2016 at 7:41 am

    This article is incorrect. The penalty kick was introduced in 1890. See my article at
    which has newspaper articles of the time in support.

    • Goal-Post

      1 August 2016 at 11:22 am

      Thanks Brian, very interesting, as you say perhaps the record books need to be changed.

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