Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world. While most people know how the game is played and understand the rules and regulations, not everyone knows why a soccer ball looks the way it does. This isn’t just about those hexagon-shaped panels or the size of the final product, but about the basic black and white pattern of a standard soccer ball. If you love soccer and have been curious about why the soccer ball looks the way it does, here you’ll find some interesting information about it that you can share with your soccer-loving friends and family.
The soccer ball has changed throughout the years. It wasn’t always an inflatable piece of plastic patterned with black and white hexagons. In fact, when soccer first came to be, the ball was actually an inflated pig’s bladder that was covered in leather. Thankfully, time has moved forward and different advances over time pushed the pig’s bladder to the side and manufacturers started using rubber, leather, and plastic to make soccer balls.
Charles Goodyear developed and made the first soccer ball using his patented vulcanized rubber in 1855 while HJ Lindon created one of the original inflatable rubber bladders that were used in sports balls in place of pigs’ bladders. Both of these developments lead to the creation of the traditional soccer ball as you know it but not before it went through a few more changes.
The ability for a great soccer ball to retain its shape has been one of the most important factors throughout the decades of the game’s history. This is why leather was the chosen material for encasing the rubber bladder. In the 1900s, soccer balls were made by covering inner tubes with brown leather made from the rump of a cow. They bounced well and were strong enough to withstand being kicked around. The end result of the production was a stitched together brown ball with an inflated inner tube inside of it.
As soccer became a regulated sport, the design of the ball needed to be agreed on. Here, the English Football Association declared that soccer balls must be round with a designated circumference of 27-28 inches (a regulation that is still in effect today). The regulations also state that the ball must be encased in leather or another approved material. This is where most of the changes to the primitive soccer balls came about.
In 1937, soccer balls were upgraded a bit, mainly because of the sport’s popularity and the first World Cup competition happening in 1930. In that World Cup game, Argentina and Uruguay played against each other. They couldn’t agree on which ball to use and thought that using the Argentinean ball in the first half and Uruguayan ball in the second half would be a fair compromise. While this seemed like a good idea, it actually led to some controversy. With the use of the Argentinean ball, Argentina took a 2-1 lead going into halftime. However, when they switched to Uruguay’s ball in the second half of the game, Uruguay came from behind to win the game 4-2. The differences in the quality of the leather used to make the soccer balls are believed to have played a part in this outcome. Understandably, this created a controversy over whether or not the differences between the two balls led to a flawed outcome.
To keep this from happening in the future, upgrades were made to the soccer ball throughout the years in terms of the material. Most notably, cloth carcasses were used between the leather and the rubber bladder to help control the shape and to help with water retention. This let the ball move better and made it safer for players to hit headers since the ball wouldn’t become too heavy from absorbing water during the game.
However, it wasn’t until the 1960s when synthetic balls were made and used. Here, synthetic patches were stitched together in a designated pattern that was known as the Buckyball thanks to Richard Buckminster Fuller’s design. Buckminster Fuller was actually an architect who stumbled upon the design while trying to come up with ways to build structures with the least amount of materials possible. The final product is what you know today: a spherical ball with panels of hexagons and pentagons sewn together across the surface.
While the Buckyball is the standard design that is still used, developments have continued with companies using high-tech materials and manufacturing processes to create their soccer balls. The overall goal is to have the ideal soccer ball that is waterproof, moves fast in the air, moves accurately when kicked, is durable but feels soft, and is safe for headers. If a ball meets FIFA standards, it’s considered passable.
While the materials were upgraded over time, the color remained brown throughout the 1900s. However, with the invention of television and the airing of games, the brown ball proved to be a problem; it was hard to see on the black and white televisions. To help this, a white ball was permitted in 1951. Orange balls were also permitted when games were played in the snow. Finally, in 1970, the black and white soccer ball that you know today came about. It was known as the “Telstar” and was originally made by the popular sports brand Adidas.
Adidas came up with the black and white pattern to make it easier to see on television but also because the contrasting colors helped the players on the field. The placement of the black pentagons helped the players figure out where to put their foot in order to move the ball the way they wanted to. The “Telstar” pattern became the agreed-upon standard in FIFA and other leagues. It was so beloved that it was selected as the official World Cup ball every year from 1970 to 2006.
While the black and white design is still popular and considered to be iconic, nowadays, soccer balls come in different colors and patterns. This is mainly because colored televisions are standard and people no longer have a problem following the ball due to its color. The variations seem to have been met with good reviews from professional organizations, but there are still plenty of people who believe that the black and white Telstar ball is still the gold standard of soccer balls.