The penalty kick was launched at a meeting of the International FA Board, held in the Alexandra Hotel in Glasgow on 2 June 1891.
The four British associations agreed that: If a player intentionally trip or hold an opposing player, or deliberately handle the ball within twelve yards from his own goal line, the referee shall, on appeal, award the opposing side a penalty kick, taken from any point twelve yards from the goal line under the following conditions—all players, with the exception of the player taking the penalty kick and the opposing goalkeeper, who shall not advance more than six yards from the goal line, shall stand at least six yards behind ball; the ball shall be in play when the kick taken; a goal may be scored from the penalty kick.
It was one of the most momentous changes to the Laws of the Game, and while the new law was intended for the following season it did not take long to make an impact. The first award of a penalty took place just four days later, on 6 June 1891, at Mavisbank Park in Airdrie.
Scottish Sport reported how Larkhall side Royal Albert defeated Airdrieonians 2-0 to lift the Airdrie Charity Cup, and how one of their players made history. Around 2000 fans ‘witnessed what is in all likelihood the first case of a referee granting a foul under the new law for tripping, holding, or handling the ball within twelve yards of goal. Mr Robertson was referee and decreed against one of the Airdrie backs soon after the start.’
Few people, least of all the players, knew what to expect: ‘That the new law was a puzzle to the players was evident, all appeared think they could stand in front of the ball as of old, but imagine the astonishment of both players and spectators when Connor alone was left between the sticks, while his ten companions had to go six yards behind the ball along with the Royalists. In simple, the new law means that but two men settle such infringement, the kicker and opposing goalkeeper, and a goal is a moral certainty with half good management.’
The writer was prescient enough to see trouble ahead: ‘The new penalty is most stringent, and referees will require to satisfy themselves that the law has been wilfully broken before bringing such penalty into force or we may hear of some ‘scenes’ during the incoming season when cup ties are in full swing, and partisanship red hot.’
The main protagonists in this little scene can all be identified. The referee was James Robertson of 5th KRV, who lived in Partick and represented the Southern Counties on the Scottish FA committee. The goalkeeper was the veteran James Connor, who had a Scotland cap to his name.
And most importantly, the scorer was James McLuggage.
Born in Ireland around 1865, James and his family moved to Scotland when he was a small boy and at some stage dropped a letter from their original name of McCluggage. A cotton dyer to trade, he started his football career with Cowlairs, and was good enough to be selected for Glasgow against Sheffield in 1886. When he moved to Larkhall he turned out for Royal Albert and the Motherwell Times in 1888 described how ‘a howl of joy and triumph arose from the Larkhall supporters’ when he took the field.
McLuggage also recorded occasional appearances for Third Lanark and Rangers before turning professional with Accrington in 1889. However, although he played in eight Football League matches it was not a success; by the end of the year he had joined Hyde and he was back in Scotland with Royal Albert in 1891, where he remained for at least four years.
His sole claim to football fame is that momentous penalty, but for him it wasn't even the biggest event of the month: three weeks later he married Jean, sister of Royal Albert player William Faulds. James McLuggage died in Larkhall on 18 November 1949.
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The penalty kick was properly introduced for the start of the 1891-92 season, and it did not take long for the first one to be awarded. It was seen by about 600 spectators in Carronshore, just north of Falkirk, when local side Gairdoch met East Stirlingshire on Wednesday 5 August 1891. Peter Rae of Gairdoch handled the ball and Harry Reid, newly joined from Falkirk, succeeded with the kick.
In common with many early reports of penalties, there was confusion about what to do. According to the Falkirk Herald: ‘It was a difficult matter getting some of the players to understand that they had to stand behind Reid. This is the first case of the law being enforced in this district, and on the whole general satisfaction was expressed with it.’
Three days later (8 August) there was a wave of penalties around Scotland. The Edinburgh Evening News reported ‘The penalty kick in front of goal was enforced in quite a number of cases, and as was only to be expected the application of the rule did not give general satisfaction, the clubs penalised seemingly fancying themselves aggrieved.’
These included the first penalty kicks in competitive league matches. Airdrieonians scored a penalty in the first day of the Scottish Alliance season in a 2-0 away win over Glasgow Thistle and Motherwell also scored with a penalty in their draw at Clydebank in the Scottish Federation. Neither of the scorers were reported.
Elsewhere, the first missed penalties took place. Gairdoch players had clearly learned little as they gave away another penalty for handball at Dunblane, but John Ramage’s kick ‘was a good hard swishing one, but had just a little too much screw, striking the foot of one of the goalposts and rebounding into play’.
Another to miss was Isaac Begbie of Hearts against Leith Athletic. According to the Evening News ‘the case was not specially favourable for the rule, as it would have been hard on the Athletic had it yielded the Hearts a goal, the back accidentally fisting the ball under circumstances which prevented any thought of it otherwise passing through.’ The Scotsman wrote ‘Begbie’s shot collided with the post and the goalkeeper conceded a corner.’ On the same day, Dumbarton also missed a penalty against 5th KRV in Dumfries.
The first penalty in the Scottish League was awarded on 22 August to Renton against Leith Athletic at Bank Park in Leith, a game which actually featured two penalties, one for each side. In the first half, according to the Scotsman ‘in a scrimmage near the goal mouth, G Anderson fouled the ball. As a result, the new rule was brought into requisition. J McCall, the Renton captain, took the kick and with a well-directed shot sent the ball well out of Burnside’s reach.’
This goal has been widely credited to Alex McColl, a Renton defender, but it is clearly attributed to the Scotland cap and team captain. And, when Renton had another penalty kick in their next match, against Vale of Leven on 29 August, this was also taken by James McCall, whose effort was saved by Vale goalkeeper Tom Wilson.
In the second half Leith Athletic had their turn but missed. ‘A foul similar to that in the first half was given against the visitors. M McQueen took the kick and though his shot was a good one, Lindsay very adroitly knocked the ball over the bar.’
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Elsewhere in the British Isles, the season started later but penalties were soon being awarded. In Ireland the first was scored on 29 August by an American, James Dalton of Pawtucket, a member of the touring Canadian-American team, against Linfield (some reports say it was Alex Jeffrey).
In England, where the league season began on 5 September, there were early penalties in Sunderland’s pre-season practice match on 25 August, and in Burnley’s practice match the following evening.
The first in a full club match appears to be on Tuesday 1 September. Aston Villa played a friendly against Small Heath at Perry Barr, and late in the second half were awarded a penalty which was taken by Gershom Cox. However, his kick was saved.
On Wednesday, Sunderland Albion faced Sheffield Wednesday and, after a deliberate foul by Tom Brandon of Wednesday in front of goal, Peter McCracken’s penalty proved the winner for Albion. Wednesday remained in the north-east to play Stockton in the Football Alliance the following day and again gave away a penalty but the new rule ‘was not properly enforced’, and ‘nothing material resulted’.
The first competitive penalties were scored on Saturday 5 September. Stockton scored with a penalty against Sunderland Albion in the Northern League, as did Shankhouse Black Watch against Southwick in the Northern Alliance. There were also penalty goals for other sides, including Ardwick (ie Manchester City) against Gainsborough Trinity, and uncertainty about how the new rule should work; the Accrington Reserves goalkeeper reportedly jumped out of the way of the ball, under the impression that if nobody touched it then a goal could not be awarded.
The first penalty in a Football League match did not come until Monday 14 September. Billy Heath of Wolves scored with a penalty against Accrington early in the second half in a 5-0 win. In some sources, it is reported that Leicester Fosse also scored with a penalty against Notts County. And five days later, Harry Allen of Wolves became the first man to miss a league penalty, shooting over the bar against West Bromwich Albion.
The penalty kick was now established as an essential part of the game.