Football's coming home - World's oldest football club hopes to buy first official rulebook for the game

The world’s oldest club has launched a campaign to bring football 'home' by buying back a rule book said to be the first official guide to the modern game at an auction.

Rules, Regulations, and Laws of the Sheffield Foot-Ball Club was printed in 1859.

Sheffield FC, founded two years earlier, produced the booklet and a given to every member after the club's committee met to draft the laws of the beautiful game in 1858.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The club, which predates the FA by six years and is acknowledged as the world’s oldest, said it sold its previously owned copy during the last financial crisis.

Rules, Regulations, and Laws of the Sheffield Foot-Ball Club was printed in 1859
Rules, Regulations, and Laws of the Sheffield Foot-Ball Club was printed in 1859

Now it has launched a crowdfunding bid to buy back the 'exceptional' piece of sporting history which is to be sold at Sotheby's on July 20, with online bidding opening yesterday (July 12).

The auctioneers believe the 16-page booklet could fetch between £50,000 and £70,000 and is one of only two known copies - the other being the first ever version.

The club, who currently ply their trade in in the Northern Premier League Division One East in the eighth level of the football pyramid, are hoping to buy the historic document back.

A fundraiser has been launched with the auction set to end on July 20 with a starting bid of £45,000.

Could football be 'coming home' to Yorkshire?

Club chairman Richard Tims said he hopes ‘a little piece of football truly comes home’.

He said: “There is only one other copy in existence and is in private collector hands. It cannot be underestimated the importance of this item not only for the club but to be displayed to a wider audience.

"After selling some of our collection during the last financial crises to secure our home stadium from the bank we now have an opportunity to rebuild our collection in time for the development of our new stadium and visitor centre/museum.

"What a great story for football if we can achieve this. A little piece of football truly comes home.”

The booklet, which is owned by club member William Bakers, is bound in a Victorian scrapbook of printed letters and cuttings.

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.

They played a crucial role in the development of the modern game: the indirect free kick, the corner kick, and the crossbar were all innovations of the Sheffield game.

The club committee held a series of meetings in October 1858 to draft the laws of the game, and it was agreed they be printed and a copy given to every member of the club.

Prior to the discovery of the current copy, the only known copy of the first printed rules was the one that formed part of the historic archive of the club itself.

Dr Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s Books and Manuscripts Specialist said: “This exceptional piece of sporting history takes us straight back to the origins of ‘the beautiful game’ over 160 years ago.

“It was in Sheffield that football was first revealed as an unrivalled spectator sport, that the experience of interclub competition was first experienced, and that football fans first revealed their loyalty and passion.

“This was the earliest expression of the modern footballing culture we know so well today.

"As well as being an important artefact in its own right, the pamphlet also gives us a unique insight into the development of the rules of the game through hand written annotations, presumably added by its first owner, as the rules continued to be developed and altered in the early years.”

The 16-page 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, 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'.

A new law is also added by hand, requiring that flags be placed four yards from each goal post 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.