In every attempt to give guidance to referees on the interpretation of the Laws of the Game, reference is made to the spirit of the game and the spirit of the Laws of the Game (even if) it is not always easy to say precisely what is meant by these expressions..."
This somewhat stiff turn of phrase in the introduction to his book, "A History of the Laws of the Game" (1973) serves well to characterise the commitment of a man whose name will remain eternally linked with the Laws of the Game and especially with their development and revision.
Sir Stanley Rous, born in Watford in 1895, was an indefatigable defender of the educational value of football, a man who insisted upon the Laws being respected, elucidated and consistently applied. He was one of the game's greatest protagonists.
After his days as a student, Stanley Rous became a teacher at Watford Grammar School and soon made his name as a referee. Those were the days when referees and linesmen still wore knee-length knickerbockers, and a jacket over their shirt on the field of play, and this was how Rous himself took charge of many international matches. He seemed destined for greatness, thanks to the experience he thus gained of the practical side of the game, his subsequent work as Secretary of The Football Association in London (from 1934), his inexhaustible interest in the Laws of the Game, and his steadfast belief in Fair Play.
When the International Football Association Board met in the Welsh resort of Llandudno in 1937, it gave Rous the task of overhauling the Laws of the Game by its next annual meeting. The text in force at that time had been gradually gathering dust for some 75 years, riddled with countless changes and additions and not a particularly palatable work. Rous himself was far from happy with the text as it stood.
Within a year, with the aid of an editorial committee, Stanley Rous had worked out the 17 Laws as we know them today, and presented them to the Board in 1938. The success of his project was only really to be fully appreciated as the Laws proceeded to stand the test of time, through six decades of monumental developments in the world game.
For Stanley Rous, this was just the beginning of a great international career. He played a major role as an advocate of England's return as a member association of FIFA in 1946, and was also a key figure in the successful organisation of the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Knighted by King George VI, he was elected President of FIFA in 1961 after 28 years at the fore of The F.A., and remained in office until 1974.
Also as President of FIFA, Sir Stanley Rous never tired of stressing the basic values of football, such as "the wide responsibility of the referee in upholding the spirit of the game", a major theme of his in the early 1970s. Fitting, therefore, that shortly before his death in July 1986, Sir Stanley was able to attend the 100th anniversary celebrations of the International Football Association Board and part of the World Cup in Mexico.