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  • THE EARLIEST FOOTBALL RULES BOOK TO BE OFFERED AT SOTHEBY’S

    One of only two known surviving copies of the earliest football rules printed by the world’s first football club, Sheffield Football Club, in 1859 comes up at Sotheby’s in July. The sixteen-page pamphlet, recently discovered bound in a Victorian scrapbook, is estimated to make £50,000-70,000 in London on July 20, with bidding open online from July 12-20. Established in 1857, Sheffield Football Club predated the founding of the Football Association by six years, and is acknowledged by both the FA and FIFA as the world’s oldest football club. The formal rule-based game of football was a Victorian innovation, incubated at public schools and universities. However, it was the foundation of Sheffield Football Club that brought the game into the community.

    This pamphlet is also uniquely revised to keep it up to date with developments in the laws of the game. The most significant is the hardening of the rules against handling the ball. The 1858 rules allowed the ball to be “pushed or hit with the hand” but not held (law 8), but in this copy a printed slip disallows “knocking or pushing [the ball] on”. A handwritten note finesses the throw-in, specifying that the ball must “touch the Ground before coming in Contact with any player” (law 10). A new law (law 12) is also added by hand, requiring that flags be placed four yards from each goal post (this was to allow a short-lived secondary scoring system called a rouge). These revisions must have been made before 1862, when the club issued a new rulebook that included these and other changes.

    This copy of the Sheffield FC rules was preserved in a scrapbook compiled by a local clergyman, the Rev. Greville John Chester (1830-92). The club’s historic archive was sold at Sotheby’s in 2011 for £881,000.

    UPDATE: THIS SOLD FOR £56,700

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