More than 3.5 bil­lion fans around the world believe that foot­ball is the most pop­u­lar sport in the world. This is not at all a recent devel­op­ment, peo­ple have been play­ing cer­tain forms of foot­ball for cen­turies. One of the most impor­tant com­po­nents of any foot­ball match is, of course, the ball! When most peo­ple think of a soc­cer ball, the image of a black and white ball comes to mind, but his­to­ry knows oth­er options. Did you know that the soc­cer ball has under­gone major changes in recent years?

soccer ball

The ear­li­est soc­cer balls were uncon­ven­tion­al at best. Entire vil­lages gath­ered for foot­ball match­es using ani­mal skulls and bloat­ed stom­achs. Unlike mod­ern soc­cer balls, these items were irreg­u­lar­ly shaped, mak­ing them unpre­dictable when hit.

ball history

As var­i­ous improve­ments were made to soc­cer balls over the next few cen­turies, the ball as we know it today slow­ly took shape. By the 1900s, soc­cer balls were made from tanned leather. The pro­to­types of these balls were a bit like a strange hybrid of mod­ern vol­ley­balls and soc­cer balls. This is where the expres­sion “leather ball” came from, although today they are made from com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent mate­ri­als.

Along with new ball styles came new chal­lenges. They depend­ed on tight­ly knot­ted laces to seal the air inside, which often let air through. The play­ers had to stop to re-inflate the ball sev­er­al times dur­ing the game.

yellow ball

Leather soc­cer balls were good for kick­ing, but due to their ten­den­cy to absorb water, they could become very heavy in the rain. This posed a seri­ous risk of injury if the play­er head­butted the ball. World War II brought a tem­po­rary solu­tion to the prob­lem. By using syn­thet­ic dyes to coat the skin, the bal­loons absorbed less water from the grassy fields.

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A much lighter and safer syn­thet­ic ball would be intro­duced in the 1960s, but it was­n’t until the 1980s that syn­thet­ics com­plete­ly replaced leather. Syn­thet­ic soc­cer balls are still in use today. In addi­tion to resist­ing water absorp­tion, they also offer more con­sis­tent flight and rebound.


So where did the black and white pat­tern come from? Until the mid-1900s, soc­cer balls were brown or white. In the 1950s, the first orange ball was intro­duced, with the hope of mak­ing it eas­i­er for play­ers and spec­ta­tors to rec­og­nize in the snow. Foot­ball fans had to wait until the 1970 World Cup to see the first black and white ball on the field.

The ball that changed the face of foot­ball for­ev­er? Tel­star. The 1970 World Cup in Mex­i­co was the first tele­vised World Cup in his­to­ry. Tel­star gets its name from a com­bi­na­tion of the words “tele­vi­sion” and “star”.

vintage soccer ball

But there was one small prob­lem. The white ball on the black and white TV was not so easy to see. Offi­cials had to come up with a way to make the ball eas­i­ly vis­i­ble to those watch­ing at home. Their sim­ple solu­tion? Draw black pen­tagons on the white ball. To date, Tel­star remains the most com­mon design for soc­cer balls.