Heading the ball


Where does heading in the game come from?

Whatever your views are regarding heading a ball, heading is a skill that has been part of the game since it’s very earliest days. Football rules originally had a fair catch rule which allowed players to catch the ball in the air then place it and take a free kick. As handling the ball was erased fully from the game during the late 1860’s & into the very early 1870’s, players faced with a ball in the air coming at them started to play the ball more with their heads. Eventually the skill developed to passing with the head and then scoring headed goals. All legal of course.

The very first accounts of heading we have in football come from a Sheffield vs Derby game in January 1871. The report stated: ‘and catching being disallowed, the players naturally headed.’


A year later during a London vs Sheffield match at The Oval, the reporter noted the following:

‘The first to show conspicuously was G. H. Sampson who played the ball with his head, which caused some amusement. This was kind of play which the Sheffield team often indulged during the contest, the Londoners preferring to use the foot’.

Other reports of the same game mention – ‘ingenious method of heading’ & ‘Sampson headed the ball judiciously. This style of play was evidently new to the Cockneys and caused a hearty laugh.’

The first headed passing attempt comes from a November 1872 Derby vs Sheffield match – ‘In a few moments after-wards Sampson made a good attempt to head the ball through’

Heading seems to have crept into the Scottish game in late 1872 since there are accounts of heading during the first formal international between Scotland & England by the Scott’s. Scottish players may have started to head the ball separately to its development in Sheffield but there are nearly 2 years between Sheffield’s first report of heading and the first international. People could move around on trains between Sheffield & Glasgow, so I am going to leave it to the reader to decide if the Scott’s copied Sheffield footballers or not. We may never know.

Finally, our earliest account of a headed goal was T Heeley for Perseverance vs Oxford at the Ecclesall Road ground in 1873.

Heading, yet another Sheffield football invention.

Do you have more information about this that we could add? Are any of the facts wrong? Please get in touch if so.

Source: Steve Wood
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