Main content

Rule changes since 1858

1858
No time limit existed for matches. The team first to score two goals was declared the winner.
Either spherical or oval footballs could be used.

1859
The playing area to be a maximum of 182 metres wide.
The length of the field and the distance between pairs of goalposts to be decided by the participating captains
The captains to toss for choice of goal. The loser’s team to kick off from the centre to start play.
A goal had to be kicked fairly between the posts without touching a teammate or opponent.
Kick-off posts to be positioned 18.2m from each goal post in a straight line.
After the ball passed behind the goal line, it had to be kicked in directly towards the opposite goal by a member of the defending team from any part of a line drawn 18.2m from and parallel to the goal line.
A player catching the ball directly from a kick by a foot to call ‘mark’ and take a free kick. No opponent to come inside the spot where the mark was taken.
Tripping and pushing permitted, but no hacking (forcing a player off balance by taking his feet from under him) when the ball-carrier was in rapid motion.
The ball could be taken in hand only when caught from a kick, or on the first hop (bounce). It could not be lifted from the ground.
After going out of bounds along a sideline, the ball to be thrown in at right angles.
The ball not to be thrown in general play.

1860
Tripping, holding and hacking outlawed.
Unless umpires were appointed, the participating captains to be the sole judges of infringements.

1866
The maximum playing area to be 182m long by 136.5m wide.
A pair of goalposts to be seven yards apart, of unlimited height.
A protected 4.5m area surrounding a player taking a free kick or mark) introduced.
After each goal was kicked, teams to change ends.
Holding to be permitted only when an opponent had the ball in hand during general play.
The ball to be carried by a player no further than what was necessary for a kick, unless it was struck against the ground every 4.5m or six yards 5.4m.
Each team in a match to appoint an umpire. The nearest one to be appealed to in the case of dispute.
Time limit for matches introduced. Team scoring most goals declared the winner. Field umpires acted as timekeepers.

1869
One field umpire only appointed to control play.

1874
When half the time arranged for play had expired, the teams changed ends. The second half to start when the umpire threw the ball up.
A kick defined as from the leg below the knee.
A player with the ball required to immediately drop it if tackled by an opponent.
Field umpire required to start second halves of matches by throwing the ball in the air.

1877
A size two rugby ball of 66cm long circumference to be used in matches.
The kick-off line reduced from 18.2m to 9.1m from the goal line.
The ball not to be handed to a teammate.
Each participating team to appoint a goal umpire to be the sole judge of goals and shots passing behind the goal line.
A field umpire being appealed to could either award a free kick, call play on or stop play and throw the ball into the air to discourage scrimmages.

1886
Matches consisted of four 25-minute quarters instead of two 50-minute halves.

1887
Timekeepers and bell system introduced. Field umpire no longer required to keep time.
Field umpire required to bounce the ball at the start of each quarter instead of throwing it up into the air.
Goal umpires empowered as sole judges in scoring decisions.
System of waving flags to signify goals implemented.
The distance of the behind posts from the goal posts decreased from 18.2m to 9.1m.
Pushing from behind prohibited.
Minimum distance of ball-travel for a mark decreased from 4.5m to 1.8m.
Unfair interference with an opponent who had marked became reportable.

1889
Player kicking off from centre required to cover a minimum forward distance of 18.2m.
Goal umpires required to inform field umpire of all scoring decisions.
Players unnecessarily delaying disposal from marks or kick-offs were deprived of possession and a ball-up resulted.

1891
Introduction of centre bounce after every goal as well as at the start of quarters.
The distance of the behind posts from the goal posts decreased from 9.1m to 6.4m.

1897
The ‘little mark’ abolished.
Free kick for push from behind introduced.
Present scoring system introduced – six points for a goal and one point for a behind

1899
Teams were reduced from 20 to 18 players (two followers instead of four).

1904
Boundary umpires were used for the first time in all VFL matches. They punched ball back into play.

1905
Unintentional interference when going for a mark was permitted for the first time.

1906
Clubs were to be fined by the VFL if they were not ready to play by 3pm. Late starts had previously been common.

1908
A 4.5m square in the centre introduced for the Collingwood v Essendon semi-final.
No player was permitted within two metres of the ball until it touched the ground following a ruck contest at a centre bounce.
Boundary umpires, for the first time, were given the power to report players.

1910
Goal umpires, for the first time, were given the power to report players.
A 2.4m centre circle replaced the square.
Boundary umpires obliged to throw ball in overhead instead of using the punch off the palm.

1912
Introduction of an on-field steward for each match. His role was to report players.

1918
Steward system abolished because of complaints by players and umpires that they obstructed play.

1920
Boundary umpires were required to throw the ball into play a distance ranging from 9m to 22m instead of 4.5m to 13.5m.

1921
Boundary umpires first required to return the football to the centre after a goal was scored.

1924
Only one player was permitted to stand on the mark.

1925
Free awarded against player who kicked or forced the ball out of bounds was introduced.
Boundary umpire required to bounce ball 5m in from boundary instead of throwing in.
Handball rule clarified. Ball to be punched out not just struck. (Flick pass was permitted previously.)

1927
Goal umpires required to compare scorecards at the conclusion of each quarter.

1930
Use of a replacement (19th man) permitted for the first time. Once replaced a player could not return to the field.
Holding man-holding ball rule amended. A player was not permitted to drop the ball when tackled. A handpass or kick had to be attempted. The amendment was repealed two months later because of its unpopularity.

1933
System of determining percentage altered. Points for were divided by points against and multiplied by 100. Previously points against were divided by points for and multiplied by 100.

1934
Handball rule altered. The ball could be held in one hand and knocked with the other (ie the flick pass was again permitted).

1938
Shepherding in ruck duels prohibited.
Introduction of rule allowing a player the option of another scoring opportunity if he is interfered with after the all-clear has been given.

1939
Reintroduction of general boundary throw-in. Frees were no longer awarded when the ball was kicked out of bounds.
Holding man-holding ball rule revised. Free to be paid against player who deliberately dropped ball when tackled.

1940
The centre circle was increased from 2.4m to 3m.
Introduction of rule determining that the ball could not be kicked in after a behind had been scored, until the goal umpire had finished waving the flag.

1945
Introduction of a free downfield if player is interfered with after disposing of the ball.

1946
Two reserves (19th and 20th men) permitted for the first time. Once replaced, a player could not return to the field.
Siren replaced bell at the MCG.

1950
Siren replaced bell at all venues.

1952
White footballs used in wet conditions.

1953
June: Trainers banned from delivering coaches’ messages.

1955
Introduction of 15-metre penalty for time-wasting.
Coaches’ runners (a trainer) used for first time. They were permitted to talk to team members during matches.
Boundary umpires’ whistles first used in place of white handkerchiefs.

1960
New ball used in each quarter when unfavourable conditions prevailed.

1964
Coaches were permitted to address players on field at quarter-time for the first time.
Goalposts fitted with protective padding.
Coaches’ runners were permitted to speak to team captains and vice-captains only on the
field during matches.

1965
Coaches’ runners were again free to speak to all team members.

1966
June 2: Flick pass outlawed. Ball had to be struck with a clenched fist.
Centre rectangle (45m x 27m) experiment used by coaches Ron Barassi (Carlton) and Bill Stephen (Fitzroy).

1968
An opponent became obliged to return ball to recipient of mark or free if the opponent had possession of the ball at the time of the umpire’s decision.

1969
Introduction of the free against player kicking ball out of bounds on the full.

1972
Umpires required to toss coin for captains for the first time.

1973
Centre diamond (sides 45 metres long) introduced. Four players only from each team permitted in the area at centre bounces.

1975
Centre diamond amended to become centre square.
Video-tapes of incidents became admissible evidence at VFL tribunal hearings.

1976
Introduction of the two field umpire system.

1978
Interchange player system introduced.
Goal umpires required to touch goal post if the ball had hit post. Also two flags were positioned at one post and one flag at the other to save time when signalling scores.

1980
Introduction of line across centre circle to avoid physical interference at centre bounces. Ruckmen had to stand on the defensive side of the line.
Fifteen-metre penalty extended to include kick-in after behind scoring situations.
Field umpires required to carry notebooks to record details of reportable incidents.

1981
Fifteen metres instead of 10 metres allowed for running with ball without it making contact with the ground.

1986
Fifty-metre arcs in goal areas introduced.
Video investigations for on-field misconduct introduced.

1988
Player awarded free obliged to kick the ball.
Replacement of 15-metre penalty with 50-metre penalty.
Player kicking in from goal-square obliged to clear ball at least two metres from the goalsquare before regaining possession.
Emergency umpires were empowered to report players.

1990
Player awarded free again given option of kick or handpass.

1994
Playing time for a quarter amended to 20 minutes plus time-on instead of 25 minutes plus time-on.
Introduction of third field umpire.
Introduction of third interchange player.
Introduction of third boundary umpire, using rotational interchange system in pairs.

1995
Revised system of adding time-on. Recorded when boundary or goal umpires signal, until the next act of play.
Tripping by hand becomes reportable. Penalty: Free & 50 metres.
Tripping by foot remains reportable. Additional penalty: Free & 50 metres.
Player must kick ball back into play following the scoring of a behind immediately after one warning from field umpire. Penalty for delay: Ball-up on centre of kick-off line.
Player kicking in after a behind is allowed to kick ball clear of hand and foot within the goal-square before playing on.

1996
Any player receiving treatment from medical staff required to be removed from centre square prior to centre bounce.
Protected area around player taking set disposal from free or mark changed from 10-metre semi-circle to five-metre corridor on either side.
Amendment in the interpretation of the holding ball law. If player has had a prior opportunity to dispose, he must kick or handball immediately once tackled.
Deliberate tripping by hand incurred a free plus 50-metre penalty. The offence was no longer reportable.

1997
Repeated abusive language to an umpire incurred a free plus 50-metre penalty. The offence was no longer necessarily reportable.

1998
Introduction of fourth interchange player.

1999
Bringing the ball into play from a mark or free permitted beyond the boundary line provided that the player moves in one direction while in the act of disposal.
Tripping by hand reverted to being reportable.

2000
Introduction of free against team whose team official interferes with the play. Fifty-metre penalty automatically imposed on a player when reported for an offence. (Rescinded after Round 17.)

2001
Time-saving second goal umpiring behind flag introduced. It was placed on the same post as the goal flags.

2002
Minimum distance of ball travel for a mark increased from 10 metres to 15.

2003
Play-on to be called if a player unnecessarily delays disposal after mark or free.
Playing on from a kick-in after the registering of a behind permitted provided that the ball is kicked clear of hand and foot within the goal-square.
Shepherding at centre bounce ruck contests outlawed.
Elimination of advantage free from a centre square infringement.
Penalty introduced for deliberate tapping of ball out-of-bounds on the full in a ruck contest.
Player catching ball from centre or field bounce or throw-in to be deemed to have had prior opportunity to dispose of it.

2004
Size of centre square increased from 45m to 50m.

2005
Introduction of a 10-metre diameter outer circle, where ruckmen must be positioned at centre bounces.

2006
Removal of the requirement of a player kicking in after the scoring of a behind to wait until the goal umpire completes waving the flag. The kick-in can occur as soon as the goal umpire signals the score as a behind.
Allowance of a set shot at goal from a mark or free awarded within the goal-square to be taken from directly in front.
Introduction of automatic time-on from when a field umpire crosses his arms until a ball-up.

2007
Introduction into official laws of the game of an automatic free kick to a player with his head over the ball or if any high contact made in any way. This also became an automatic reportable offence.

2008
Interchange rule violation penalised with a free kick against the offending team, 50 metres forward of the centre circle (introduced mid-season).
Introduction of a four-boundary umpire system (introduced in round 21).

2009
Umpires empowered to recall an errant bounce at a stoppage and replace it with a throw-up.
Penalty for interchange rule violation became a free kick, plus a 50-metre penalty from wherever play is stopped.
A free kick paid against a player engaged in any form of misconduct.
The scoreline to be aligned with the back of the goalpost padding.
A player in possession of the ball, when the play is stopped for stretcher usage, to retain it when the game restarts.
If an umpire impedes a player when setting the mark for a shot at goal, play to be stopped and the mark to be re-set to avoid a disadvantage.
After the all-clear is given for a score and an infringement against the defending team occurs before play restarts, the free kick to be taken either where the infringement occurs or 50 metres from the kick-off line, whichever is to the advantage of that team.

2011
Interchange: three interchange plus one substitute. The three interchange players able to rotate off the bench as four have done in previous years. The substitute player empowered to go on at any time to replace a player. The player he replaces cannot come back on to the ground.
The infringed player, rather than an umpire, given the power to determine the advantage rule.
A player who elects to apply a bump in any situation will become liable if he makes forceful contact with the head, unless: the player was contesting the ball and did not have a realistic alternative way to contest the ball; or the contact was caused by circumstances outside the control of the player which could not be reasonably forseen.
Emergency field umpire empowered to award prohibited contact free kicks from interchange bench.
Stricter interpretation placed on deliberate out of bounds rule to focus on less benefit of doubt for the player who has the ball and walks over the boundary line.

2012
Goal line technology introduced to assist goal umpiring decisions.

2013
A free kick to be awarded against any player who makes forceful contact below the knees of an opponent (does not apply to smothers with the hands or arms).
Umpires to throw the ball up for all field stoppages during the game. The bounce will continue to be used at the start of each quarter and after goals.
Separation of ruckmen at stoppages, with no contact permitted until the ball has left the umpire.

2017

Law 5.1 will be modfied such that each team will have 16 players on the Playing Surface and 6 interchange players

A size 4 football will be utilised for the competition instead of a size 5, a variation of Law 4.1

The timing of AFLW matches will be 15 minutes plus time on for goals and other major injuries, a variation of Law 10.1 and AFL Regulations

There will be no interchange cap for the AFLW competition, a variation of AFL Regulations.

Contact from a Reportable Offence will be deemed as either body or high/groin/chest, a variation of AFL Regulations.

AFLW players will not be punished by fines for low-level Reportable Offences, and will instead receive Reprimands, where two Reprimands within a single AFLW season will equate to a 1 match suspension.

2018

A player will be penalised with a free kick if they kick or handball the ball over the boundary line without it being touched by an opposition player (Last Disposal Out of Bounds Rule)

The number of interchange players will be reduced from 6 to 5

Time-on for all match stoppages will be implemented in the last two minutes of each quarter.

2019

The Last Disposal Out of Bounds Rule will now only operate between the 50m arcs.

The boundary umpires will bring the ball in 10m for throw-ins.

Runners will be permitted to continue their duties on-field during a match, a variation of the 2019 AFL Regulation change.

The AFLW Low-Level Classifiable Offences sanction table be modified to comprise Reprimands and financial sanctions only;

The early plea discount is removed for suspensions, and AFLW clubs risk a $5000 bond (with 50% included in the cap) by challenging charges at the AFLW Tribunal.