The original incarnation of association football didn’t involve a crossbar. The FA’s Laws of the Game, introduced in 1863, initially stated that a goal should be ‘two upright posts, eight yards apart, without any tape or bar across them’. However, other sets of rules did require a tape or cord to be strung between the two goalposts.
In a match between Charterhouse and Crusaders in January 1863, Charterhouse’s Kenneth Muir Mackenzie shot just over the ‘cord’, and appealed that it should have been a goal. ‘Some unfortunate accident had happened to the pegs which tightened the cord,’ reported Bell’s Life, ‘so that it was hanging slack, and deviating considerably from the straight line, and would not admit the ball under the required limits.’
In 1866, after a peculiar incident in which a goal was scored at Reigate, when the kicker ‘raised the ball quite 90 feet in the air between the goal-posts’, the FA changed its rules to add the requirement for a tape.
Solid crossbars began to be used in the 1870s, but, it wasn’t until 1882 that the updated Laws of the Game required every club to provide crossbars.
In the winter of 1887-88, an FA Cup fourth round replay between Crewe Alexandra and Swifts was ordered to be replayed again due to an argument over a crossbar. The initial match was played at Crewe, and an end-to-end game finished as a 2-2 draw. However, tempers were high, with Swifts claiming Crewe had played ‘none too fair a game’.
The replay, at the Oval on the following Saturday, involved ‘some very exciting play’, and the Swifts triumphed 3-2. However, Crewe subsequently lodged an appeal with the FA, claiming that one of the crossbars was a full two inches lower than the required height.
The FA duly ordered another replay, two weeks later, at the neutral venue of the County Ground in Derby. In unfavourable conditions, the game was ‘by no means a brilliant one’. Crewe had an early goal disallowed for offside (although ‘some of the spectators avowed that the umpire was mistaken’), but eventually won 2-1. Swifts went out, and Crewe went through – eventually reaching the semi-final.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.