1858 football rules set to sell for more than £1m

A handwritten pamphlet outlining the rules of club football, one of the earliest codifications of the world’s most popular game, is being sold as part of an archive expected to fetch up to £1.2m ($2m).

The archive belongs to Sheffield FC, the world’s oldest football club. The set of rules, drawn up in 1858, is the highlight of the collection, which is being put up for auction by Sotheby’s in London in July.

Such is the worldwide interest in the archive that it is being taken to Paris, New York and Doha by the auction house in the coming weeks to attract potential buyers.

“It reflects the fact that football is now truly a global game,” said Gabriel Heaton, senior specialist in Sotheby’s books department.

He described the set of rules as an “important historical document” which was bound to attract international interest.

The pamphlet introduces laws of the game that still exist today, such as the indirect free kick, the corner kick and the use of a crossbar. Some other rules appear liberal to the modern eye, however: “Pushing with the hands is allowed but no hacking or tripping is fair under any circumstances whatsoever.”

Dr Heaton said the evolution of football’s rules in the game’s early days was a “complex” one. It was already being played in private schools and Cambridge university, under a variety of different rules.

But the Sheffield version was notable for its innovations, and for taking the game out of the hands of the elite educational establishment for the first time.

Sheffield FC, acknowledged by football’s governing body Fifa as the oldest club in the world, was formed in 1857, six years before the formation of the Football Association.

Its chairman, Richard Tims, said the decision to sell the archive was a “tough” one, but had been taken to secure the club’s future.

The club runs 27 teams, including four disability teams, and works extensively with schools and a charity in Africa. “We run things on fresh air and goodwill,” he said.

Mr Tims said the decision to sell the archive was sparked by the sale at Sotheby’s New York last December of an 1891 document spelling out the rules of basketball for $4.3m, more than double its pre-sale estimate.

“If you are looking for a piece of footballing history, this is the ultimate prize,” he said.

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