Compared to the free kick, the penalty was something of a latecomer to the rules of Association Football, though the inadequacy of the former on occasions had exercised people’s minds and in 1881 the Football Association introduced an experimental law as a result. This stated ‘that the referee be given power to “award” a goal in cases where, in his opinion, a score had been prevented through the willful handling of the ball by one of the defending side’. However, the rule was so unpopular with the clubs that it was repealed for the following season.
The idea of the penalty kick was formally proposed by the Irish Football Association and was adopted by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the arbiters in such matters, on 2nd June 1891. ‘Now at last,’ reflects Association Football, a four-volume encyclopedia of the game from 1960, ‘a way was seen to punish those players and teams who willfully prevented the scoring of goals by unethical means.’
What the Irish didn’t do was to suggest a penalty spot. Instead, they advocated the kick ‘be taken from any point 12 yards from the goal-line,’ and should be awarded in the first place only on appeal to the referee, ‘if any player shall intentionally trip or hold an opposing player, or deliberately handle the ball within 12 yards of his own goal-line’. The proposal further required that the goalkeeper should not be allowed to advance more than six yards off his line and that everyone else should be at least six yards from the ball.
The fixed penalty spot was finally added to the rules in 1902, along with most of the rectangular pitch markings of today. The ‘D’ was added in 1937.
The practice of having shootouts from the penalty spot, as a way of resolving knockout ties for which there was no provision for a replay, has been part of the game on an international basis since 1970, though on whose initiative is still not clear. In general, the idea has been attributed to either Yosef Dagan, an Israeli, who thought of it after his team was knocked out of the 1968 Olympic Games on the toss of a coin, or to Karl Wald, a German referee said to have made the suggestion in 1970. Neither, however, invented the formula as it was in use in the Yugoslavian Cup as far back as 1952/53.
Brought into service on a wider stage, the new rules sometimes led to confusion. The Glasgow Herald speaks of there being ‘all sort of instructions and queries’ when Airdrieonians met Nottingham Forest in the Texaco Cup in September 1970, and that despite everyone being acquainted with the regulations, ‘putting them into practice took more than 20 minutes.’ More time was wasted later on, as the same paper reports: ‘Airdrieonians reached the unbeatable position at 4-1, but although everyone wanted to walk off the referee had to carry on with the ritual as per rule, making certain that all five kicks were taken by each side.’
Whether penalty shootouts are a satisfactory means of resolving drawn cup ties is something which is hotly contested. Few people seem to think so and even the IFAB working party that first considered the idea admitted they were ‘not entirely satisfied with the proposed new method’.
However, on 27th June 1970, and in the absence of anything better, the IFAB saw only one course of action. The official minutes give word of their decision: ‘The Board accepted a proposal by the Federation Internationale de Football Association, that the practice of drawing lots to determine which of the two teams in a drawn match in a knockout competition should be declared the winner, be discontinued, and be replaced by the taking of penalty kicks’