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?
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.