If I asked you to draw a picture of a soccer ball, what would you draw? Likely it would look like the picture above. Universally, people around the world would draw the same. I was curious to know why that was the case. This what I found.
The black and white soccer ball became mainstream during the 1970 World Cup, when Adidas designed the Telstar, short for Television star, for black-and-white television. During this World Cup, televised soccer gained popularity and fans struggled to follow the monochromatic (one color) soccer ball on screen.
The tradition continued and at the 1974 World Cup, FIFA declared an “official” soccer ball for the first time in history. Soccer has been around for several thousand of years passed from various cultures. The soccer ball has an equally interesting history and design. Keep reading to learn more.
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A Short History on the Soccer Ball
Football or soccer has a long decorated history. History shows soccer first emerged around 3,000 years ago in China with a game called cuju. They made their own football with animal skin stuffed together to form a sphere. While the Greeks used a ball wrapped in linen stuffed with hair.
As the Middle Ages started, soccer was a massively popular sport through out the region. As more people became interested in the sport, the ball changed. In the 1600s, Italians played ball with a pig bladder. The only problem was the bladders could puncture easily and they weren’t round. To resolve this issue, leather wrapped around the bladder to make the ball more durable and spherical.
In 1855, the modern soccer ball was invented by Charles Goodman. He discovered vulcanization, a way for to treat rubber to be more durable and reliable without losing its shape or bounce. In addition, this brought standardization to soccer balls. Every animal bladder was a bit different, and Goodman’s method created consistency among soccer balls.
However, leather soccer balls continued became to be the material of choice. Once the English Football League established in 1888, the manufacturing of leather soccer balls took off. The ball was made of several panels of pure leather with laces at top to keep the animal bladder contained.
As of the 1950s, leather soccer balls became water proof with the use of synthetic paints. Laces were removed to make the ball smoother and easier to control. Additionally, soccer balls were painted white because it was easier for players and live spectators to see and follow. Orange balls were used during snowy games.
We discussed earlier on the reason for the black and white color formation: the advent of televised sporting events. It changed the game forever. Soccer continued to use the Telstar for several decades until 2006 World Cup. Adidas released a new and improved 14 paneled soccer ball called the Teamgesit or Team Spirit in German. The reduction in panels made the ball smoother, which improves the ball’s performance and feel. As of 2010, Adidas introduced an 8-panel soccer ball. Many different versions of soccer balls exist today.
A Simple Structure
A soccer ball has three components: covering, nylon lining and the inner bladder. The shell or surface of the ball is made of leather or synthetic leather. Several layers of cloth are glued to the back of the leather as a buffer between the leather and the inner bladder. In addition, a ball has stitching and a value.
Fun Fact: Over 75% of the world’s soccer balls are manufactured in Sialkot region of Pakistan. 71% of all soccer ball imports into the United States
Each of these components have a defined purpose. The outer cover is to protect the ball against the elements. In the past, this part of the soccer ball were made of many different forms of materials including animal bladder, animal hair and cork, and leather. As time progressed, better materials give the ball a more spherical shape and absorb less water. The outside layer is made of panels. For decades, soccer balls were made with 32 panels and is called the Buckminister ball. All the panels are stitched together to make the outer layer of the ball. Today, there are many panel formations used.
The bladder contains all the air in the ball. It is usually made of latex or butyl. Latex bladders have good tension but lose air pressure quicker than butyl. Within the bladder, an air value is installed to users to inflate the ball with air. There are two types of air values: butyl and silicone. Butyl are used more common
The liner is the in between the outer cover and the bladder. The higher quality balls have more layers between the two. This allows more control of the ball and a more cushioning effect. For reference, a professional soccer ball has at least four layers. A wide range of materials are used for the lining such as foam, polyester, and cotton. Lining gives the ball bounce, strength and structure.
The Different types of Soccer Balls
Soccer is played in many environments in countries all over the world. To no surprise, there are hundreds if not thousands of options of soccer balls to choose from. There are several main categories that you should be aware of.
- Premium match balls is the highest ranking soccer ball in existence. FIFA approves these balls after conducting a series of tests based on many factors. These are the official game balls of professional league and tournaments: UEFA European Championship, Copa América, Champions League, English Premier League. In most instances, you will never need nor come across these.
- Match balls are high quality soccer balls used with similar materials to premium match balls with a few construction differences. High and colleges use match balls. Official match balls are stamped with NFHS or NCAA approval. A few criteria include circumference between 27 and 28 inches, weight of the ball must be between 14 and 16 ounces, pressure of the ball should be between 8.5 and 15.6 psi, and many more.
- Training balls are built to last a long time. Most recreational league use training soccer balls during their matches and practice sessions. These balls use long-term materials to withstand thousands of touches over long periods of time. The construction differs slightly a match ball in a few ways. First, there is less lining between the outer shell and the bladder, which makes the ball harder to the touch. The bladder used is stiffer as well. While the ball may lose some points in comfort, it makes up for any weaknesses with durability.
- Futsal ball is specific for the Futsal. Since futsal is played indoors on a smaller, hard surface field, the ball is smaller and heavier. The ball is heavier because the ball bounces less and allows better ball control on hard surfaces. The outer layer of a Futsal ball is made with felt or suede.
- Beach balls generally have a softer surface since players use with bare feet. Also, the ball will be more water resistant versus a match or training ball. Outside of that, there are many similarities between a traditional soccer ball and a beach soccer ball.
- Indoor soccer balls are like Futsal soccer balls. Indoor balls are designed to reduce bounce and assist in making the ball move quickly across the field. The outside construction is made of felt or a suede-like material. Indoor fields are smaller, consist of walls and artificial turf. One unique aspect to indoor soccer is the ability to play off the wall. There are no throw-ins or out of bounds like a traditional soccer game.