The penalty kick has become an integral part of football since its introduction in 1890. However, the traditional penalty kick that we know and love today, took a long time to evolve.  The concept of a penalty goal for fouls within 2 yards of the goal was suggested at a Sheffield FA meeting in 1879.  However, the “invention” of the penalty kick is credited to the goalkeeper and businessman William McCrum in 1890 in Milford, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The Irish Football Association presented the idea to the International Football Association Board. The English FA regarded it as a slur on the character of its members: ‘only gentlemen played soccer and gentlemen didn’t cheat’. The press angrily condemned the ‘Irishman’s motion’ as a ‘death sentence’ for the game. After a blatant goal-line handball by a Notts County player in the FA Cup Quarter-Final against Stoke City and a similar incident in Scotland, the four British associations agreed in June 1891 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.

The new rule came into force in the 1891-92 season. The first ever penalty kick in English football was awarded to Wolverhampton Wanderers in their game against Accrington at Molineux Stadium on 14 September 1891. The penalty was taken and scored by John Heath as Wolves went on to win the game 5-0.  Another Wolverhampton Wanderers player, Harry Allen, became the first man to miss a penalty just 5 days later, shooting over the bar against West Bromwich Albion.

Harry Bailey of Leicester Fosse in all likelihood scored the second ever penalty in English football, in a friendly against Notts County at the County Ground – “…. and the Fosse right ran down, warm pressure resulting in a “free” to the Fosse in front of goal, and under the new rule they had the goal at their mercy, Bailey being called up to score with a terrific kick, the pace of which complexly beat Toone…”- Leicester Daily Post – 15 September 1891. Notts won the game 4-3.

Corinthians, proud of their amateur status, held true to their ideals that a gentleman would never deliberately commit a foul. If awarded against them, the goalkeeper would leave the goal unguarded while the opposition took the penalty kick, and if they were awarded a penalty, they would deliberately miss it. The legendary Corinthians player CB Fry wrote, “It is a standing insult to sportsmen to have to play under a rule which assumes that players intend to trip, hack or push their opponents, and behave like cads of the most unscrupulous kidney”. 

A further development came the following season when Stoke City were once again the victims in a match that saw another step forward in the penalty law. On Saturday November 21st, 1891, Stoke City were losing 2-1 to Aston Villa when they were awarded a penalty with seconds of the match remaining. However, a Villa player kicked the ball out of the ground and by the time it had been returned the referee had blown for full-time. Later in that season the law was changed to allow time to be added to allow penalty kicks to be taken. Under the 1891 law a penalty was awarded for an offence committed with 12 years of the goal-line. The penalty spot was introduced in 1902.  It was not until the 1901-02 season that the 18-yard penalty box was introduced into the English game. Before 1905, goalkeepers were allowed to charge up to six years out of their goal, but this led to so many penalties being saved that the lawmakers changed the rule that forced the keeper to stay on his line. Previously the penalty area ran across the entire width of the pitch.  In the 1937-38 season the ‘D’ on the edge of the penalty area was introduced to ensure that all players are 10 yards from the penalty spot when the kick is taken.