Some people refer to soccer as the greatest game ever invented. It’s a fair argument. But what is the game of soccer without the soccer ball? This whole website revolves around the soccer ball or football, and while we discuss the up and coming trends in soccer ball technology and reviews, we haven’t discussed the history of the soccer ball background.
Over time, the shape and composition of the football has changed to achieve the perfect shape we have today. Technology has increased the aerodynamics as much as possible and enable more precise play. The balls of today have little in common with those used decades ago.
The development of the soccer ball has also been linked to the minor and major changes that football has experienced over time. The ball and the game’s history can be analyzed by reviewing the origins and evolution of the ball with the passing of time in the major leagues, tournaments, and cups around the world.
Today we review the history and origin of the soccer ball to understand how it has changed over the centuries. In contribution with the players, coaches, fans, and media, the balls have created the most dynamic game of all time.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST SOCCER BALL?
Throughout history there have been various civilizations and towns that used balls for different games or sports. For example, the Mesoamerican ball game or pok ta’pok practiced by the Maya more than 3,000 years ago was already using a sphere made with rubber tree sap.
The Aztecs played a game called Ullamaliztli, the famous Aztec ball game, which was played on a tlachtli ball court (the game is sometimes referred to as Tlachtli). It was a very difficult game played with a large rubber ball. And supposedly the loser was sacrificed, although not confirmed by us…
England Advances Football
Although many other games have been played with a spherical ball in the past, there is a huge debate about who invented the actual soccer game we know toay. However, in relation to football, it is in the United Kingdom where this sport, that mostly resembles soccer/football, begins to become popular in the 19th century.
But even in the middle of the 19th century, Charles Goodyear was making rubberized soccer balls. Inside was a pig bladder that was filled with hay, for example. The pig bladder would only last a few days. The early soccer balls were not completely spherical, they did not bounce evenly, they even had a bump that could even harm the players. We’ve heard stories about deaths and major injuries in the early days of soccer, and apparently even the ball could hurt you!
Then in 1862 a fellow by the name of H. J. Lindon developed an inflatable rubber bladder. This changed everything and it was time for the English Football Association to make a rule regarding soccer ball specifications. They came up with the rule that balls should have a circumference of 70 centimeters and weigh between 350 and 400 grams. And thus became the first standardized soccer ball in the history of soccer and could now be mass produced.
Although some artisens were still making some handmade soccer balls while everyone else was adjusting to the new parameters. We are almost positive that it was the older players that refused to adjust, lol!
Mitre Produces The First Soccer Ball
The first soccer balls that were mass produced, by Mitre, at this time were thick leather and were hard to head because of the cord that closed the seams on the outside. And besides, if they got wet they were much heavier and difficult to control due to the absorbtion of water by the leather. Most balls produced by that time used rubber bladders.
Subsequently, with the passing of the time, several decades later, the balls would evolve. These changes would be appreciated and welcomed by those involved with the game, including the professional players in each Soccer World Cup. The bladders improved and manufacturers started using synthetic leather for the soccer ball cover.
HISTORY OF THE SOCCER BALL IN THE WORLD CUP
The tiento, the first ball used in the first World Cup in the history of football, the one held in 1930 in Uruguay. In fact, in the final between the host country, Uruguay and Argentina, each team had to present a ball. The Argentines produced the Tiento while the host country produced a T-Model, a larger and heavier ball which the Argentines blamed for losing.
In the years to come and in the subsequent World Cups, the balls changed. The bladder inside that provided them with consistency begins to be replaced in the 1938 World Cup in France by an inflatable valve that allowed the ball to be inflated without having to rip it apart. In turn, the panels were increased and the models that used the 18 panels in the year 1954 in Switzerland appeared.
The segments that formed the contour and the shape of the soccer ball did not allow making a ball too spherical which impacted the irregularity of the ball. In 1962 World Cup held in Chile, the Crack, the name of the official ball of the WC, changed the shape of its panels. The manufacturer expanded and changed the shape of pattern and instead went with 12 hexagonal and six rectangular shapes, which contributed to a more regular appearance. It also incorporated the latex valve that kept the air longer in the previous version. However, the rectangular segments returned to the traditional model in the year 1966, in which it was the first ball created by the English manufacturer, Slazenger and not Adidas.
The great revolution came in 1970 in the Mexican World Cup championship. In 1970 Adidas struck a deal with FIFA and became the brand that would sponsor the balls for the World Cup and presented the now famous Telstar. This 32 polygonal segments ball was something new and also had adopted the black and white color that would be established as the classical look to increase visibility for fans and TV audiences.
Following this design, in 1978 Argentina WC Adidas created another ball that marked another era: the Tango of hexagonal segments and that would be used for 6 more WC editions, although it would experience some variations.
In the 1982 World Cup in Spain, leather and polyurethane were combined to make the ball waterproof and ensure water and moisture did not make it heavier. The other major change came four years later, when the first 100% synthetic ball cover was created, which further reduced water absorption compared to those seen to before.
While the Tango lasted, models were created that improved the composition using polyethylene foam, braided fiber meshes, resistant micro gas bubbles, polyurethane on the outside … All this contributed to create more manageable, resistant and spherical balls.
It was in 2002 when Tango stopped being used and the new Fevernova arrived, used in the World Cup in Korea and Japan. The Fevernova is one of the most remembered balls in these competitions. Noted for its colorful design that was inspired by the culture of both countries. It incorporated a new system of three woven layers to have a more precise and predictable flight.
It is from 2002 when the most groundbreaking developments in soccer balls begin to arrive. The 2006 World Cup presented a ball with fewer segments, the Teamgeist. Although it was in 2010 when one of the most revolutionary was created: the Jabulani, protagonist of the World Cup in South Africa because of the complicated result of stopping and the strangers he seemed to be doing in the air. It was the most spherical ever created. And the employee in the World Cup Final, the Jo’bulani, with which Spain won its first world championship with the mythical goal of Andrés Iniesta is already a ball of legend.
In 2014, Brazuca arrived, which with six panels tried to maintain the same control, weight and roundness in all the scenes regardless of the area for which it is improved.
And finally, in 2018, Adidas chose to return to the legendary Telstar in the World Cup. This time with technological improvements never seen before. This time with only 6 panels instead of the original 32. It also incorporated a chip which allowed officials to know if the ball crossed the goal line.
From vulcanized rubber, to thick leather, and pork bladder to polyurethane and technology chips, the history of the soccer ball has had some significant advances. A complete change in the quality of the soccer ball occurred. Will the sphere that makes soccer so great and loved by billions continue changing? How much better could a soccer ball get?