The Story of Lincoln City’s First Ever Penalty (probably)

Courtesy Graham Burrell

There have been several amendments to the Laws of the Game introduced for this season including the change that the goalkeeper only needs to have one foot on the line during the taking of a penalty, writes Gary Parle.

Another proposed change that wasn’t introduced was the stopping of players scoring from a rebound if the goalkeeper saved the initial kick/it rebounded from the goal frame but it may be surprising to know that until 1891 the penalty kick didn’t even exist.

The original Football Association Laws in 1863 didn’t include any punishments for foul play etc as presumably such deeds were unthinkable to the “gentlemen amateur” players of the day but in 1872 an “indirect free kick” was introduced for certain offences including handball. However, that was not thought a severe enough punishment for handling to deny a goal so for 1882/83 only the referee was allowed to award a goal if he deemed a deliberate handball had denied the attacking side a goal. The law only lasted one season before reverting back to the indirect free kick.

As professionalism grew and with the advent of the Football League in 1888 and then the numerous other Leagues the instances where a defending player other than the goalkeeper “fisted” the ball off the goal line was increasing and still the only punishment the referee could give was to award an indirect free kick which, as the Athletic News article featured from July 1891 stated, “nine times out of ten is utterly useless”.  

Two high profile incidents in Cup ties in both England and Scotland in the 1890/91 season when players deliberately used their hands to prevent goals finally lead to the International Football Association Board to approve a more fitting punishment so they decided to allow the referee to award a penalty kick for any handling offence or a deliberate trip/holding of an opponent by a player anywhere within twelve yards of his own goal line. The penalty area as we know it wasn’t introduced until 1902.

A penalty could only be awarded though if there was an appeal (no appeal necessary after 1896) and the kick itself still wasn’t as it is today as it could be taken anywhere along a line twelve yards from the goal line (the penalty spot was again only introduced in 1902), the taker could dribble the ball forward (rule changed to allow him to only touch the ball once in 1892), he could kick the ball in any direction (changed to be kicked forward only in 1896) and the goalkeeper was permitted to move six yards off the goal line to face the penalty taker (rule changed to remain on goal line in 1905)

Further changes have also been made over the years but the original rule 13 regarding the taking of a penalty kick is as shown on the right.

The first reported penalty came (and was scored) in a Scottish friendly match in June 1891 and there were numerous instances both scored and missed in Scotland and Ireland and in friendlies and regional Leagues in England before Billy Heath scored the first known Football League penalty for Wolves in a 5-0 victory over Accrington on September 14th 1891. Five days later his teammate Harry Allen missed the first penalty shooting over the bar against West Bromwich Albion.

The nature of match reports at the time means it is always possible something is not recorded and tracing City’s first penalty is difficult as a) the British Newspaper Archive doesn’t include the Lincolnshire Chronicle for 1891 and b) Lincoln Central Library’s copies are virtually illegible but as far as can be traced from brief match reports published in other newspapers Lincoln had to wait until October 17th for the first penalty to be awarded in a first team fixture.

City were playing Rotherham Town in a friendly match at John O’Gaunts and towards the end of the game, with City leading 5-1, the visitor’s keeper Arthur Wharton, famous for being one of the pioneering black footballers, was beaten by a shot and full back Turner fisted the ball out. John Irving was entrusted with the penalty kick but shot straight at Wharton who cleared the ball at the expense of a corner. Any joy he felt at saving the kick was short lived as Isaac Moore headed the resultant kick into the goal for the sixth and final City goal.

Having missed the first penalty Irving was entrusted with the second one traced, again in a friendly game, against Long Eaton Rangers at John O’Gaunts on January 2nd 1892. This time he made no mistake despite the goalkeeper advancing off his line as his fiercely struck shot meant “the keeper not having a ghost of a chance to deal with the shot”

Irving took the first known City penalty in a competitive game at home to Sheffield Wednesday in an Alliance fixture on March 12th 1892. He missed though but the referee had spotted some of the visiting players had been too close to the ball and ordered a retake. This time James Mullineaux took responsibility and promptly sent in a weak shot that was easily saved!

The first competitive penalty awarded against City appears to have been in the 78th minute at Bootle on January 30th 1892 in an Alliance match. Not for the last time the award was considered controversial as the ball seemingly hit Arthur Marriott on the back but the referee awarded a penalty despite, as City players pointed out to him, no Bootle player appealing for the decision. He refused to change his mind and the kick was duly dispatched to bring Bootle level at 2-2 and they went on to win 3-2.

City’s first Football League penalty, again as far as can be confirmed, was scored by Joe Lees in 2-1 home victory over Newcastle United on October 7th 1893 with the same player being the first known to miss a Football League penalty when he saw his effort saved by Grimsby goalkeeper Jimmy Whitehouse in the 3-0 defeat at Abbey Park in November 1894.

Ongoing research has identified over 400 penalties (nearly 1 in 8 missed!) that City have been awarded in competitive games since 1891 so if anyone has any details of City penalties scored/missed (and also saved by City goalkeepers) or has any details of earlier penalties than those listed above please comment below.


  1. I believe it was Corinthian Casuals, who were strictly amateur, refused to score from penalties when they first came in, on the basis that they played against teams who would not use methods that meant a penalty could be awarded. Therefore they thought it unsporting to score from a pen. They would simply roll the kick to the goalkeeper or round the post. One of the reasons for the term The “Corinthian Spirit”.

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