You kick it, head it, throw it and block it—but have you ever thought of the history behind the soccer ball, the most essential item in the game? We’ve looked into the story behind the ball and all of its iterations and are presenting its history below.
The earliest soccer balls—the ones used even before the game had a name or a structured set of rules—were a far cry from what we’re familiar with today. Ancient civilizations are believed to have used skulls and other materials as the shaping of a ball, which would then be covered by stitched cloth. It would not be until much later that early soccer players would actually fill their balls with air (as opposed to stuffing materials), making for more agile and fast paced game play.
Some balls were also made with animal bladders covered with leather to preserve a more kickable shape.
When Charles Goodyear patented vulcanized rubber in the early 1800s, it forever changed the way soccer balls were made. While the balls used were not quite what we’re familiar with today, they were at least a bit closer—they were made with rubber that would improve the standardized shape of the ball, making game play easier to regulate.
Later on, inflatable bladders were used to ensure an even more uniform standard of size. When the English Football League was established in the late 1800s, soccer balls were starting to be produced in mass quantities. Still, different countries produced different types of balls—and it wasn’t until FIFA introduced regulations that made worldwide standardization possible. Without this standardization, we might not be able to enjoy and experience soccer as we do today—because each country might have an advantage (or disadvantage) due to the ball being used.
Before the introduction of synthetic later in the mid-20th century, you might have noticed that the soccer balls in use looked similar to today’s American football (due to the exterior stitching) or volleyball, due to the leather panels being used. In the 1980s, synthetic leather completely replaced natural leather as the material used for ball covering. This material is similar to true leather but is less water absorbent—making game play in a variety of conditions easier and more enjoyable.
Today’s soccer balls don’t use exterior stitching… instead, they take advantage of the Buckminster Ball—or Buckyball—design, a pattern that can be sewn together without laces. This led to the black and white ball we’re familiar with today. Since then, manufacturers have stuck to a similar pattern but have branched out and designed balls with unique designs and brand logos that stand out on the field.
Now that you know the history behind the soccer ball, does it make you appreciate the game a little more? Imagine using one of the older materials we mentioned above the next time you’re kicking the ball around with friends.