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Martin Smith column: If football’s forefathers had any idea what the game would become...

An early Sheffield FC team photo, believed to date from the 1890s
An early Sheffield FC team photo, believed to date from the 1890s

They couldn’t possibly have known what they were starting.

Those bewhiskered Victorian gents, professional men, toffs to the average Sheffielder, who sat down in the Adelphi Hotel, Sheffield on October 27, 1858 to write down the rules of football.

Sheffield Rules.

The laws of the game that created the basis for the global sporting monster that we now know and love - and sometimes hate a bit. Like when you walk to the railway station on a Friday afternoon between chanting and beery Leeds fans and their paramilitarily-clad police escort.

Exactly 160 years ago this month the foundations for the goals, the money and the social phenomenon were officially laid. Three years before Abraham Lincoln became US President and a few weeks after the term ‘hat-trick’ was allegedly coined when a collection cap was passed round after Heathfield Harman Stephenson took three wickets from three balls at Sheffield’s Hyde Park.

They are said to have bought him a hat with the proceeds. You decide. Later this month, alongside the FA Cup, Sheffield Central Library will host the first-ever public display of a copy of the original 1858 Sheffield Rules.

Sheffield Rules still form the basis of our global game but football’s laws have evolved considerably since William Prest and Nathaniel Prestwick’s Sheffield FC had them handwritten into history. And there are a few surprises within those lines probably written with one of those new-fangled fountain pens.

Law 11. “Each player must provide himself with a red and dark blue flannel cap - one colour to be worn by each side.”

No replica kits in 1858 - no kits full stop.

Law 5. “Pushing with the hands is allowed but no hacking or tripping is allowed under any circumstances whatsoever.”

We’re still arguing about that one now.

Law 8. “The ball may be pushed or hit with the hand but holding the ball, except in the case of a fair kick, is altogether disallowed.”

A fair kick?

Even VAR (Victorian Action Replays) would struggle to sort that out.

*The Sheffield Rules will be on display in the Central Library - just across the square from where they were written - on Thu 25 October 2018 from 10:30 to 2.30.

Sheffield Rules, and the rest of the world needs to know about it.