History of the soccer ball: what has been its evolution from its origins to today?

The ball he is the true protagonist of the matches of soccer and over the years it has transformed from a rudimentary object into highly technological product. In the second half of the nineteenth century, when football was born, balls made of animal bladders covered with leather. In the following century numerous changes were introduced, including the inner tubeand in the 1970s the dark leather balls were replaced by those with black and white squares, still very widespread today. In more recent times, balls made with have become established in high-level tournaments heat-sealed polyurethane panels and equipped with sensors to make referees' decisions easier.

The original ball: from animal bladders to the inner tube

The characteristics of the soccer ball were defined in 1872 from the Football Association English and have remained almost unchanged since then: the ball, made of leather or other suitable material, must have a circumference between 68 and 70 centimeters, a weight between 410 and 450 grams and a pressure between 0.6 and 1.1 atmospheres. Only the weight has undergone some changes over the years.

The 1934 World Cup ball (credits MDBR)

There have been numerous changes to the materials. In the 19th century, footballs were made with pig bladders inflated and covered with leather strips sewn together, like almost all balls used for recreational purposes. The first innovations came at the beginning of the 20th century, when the animal bladder was replaced by the inner tube. The ball, however, was still covered with leather strips, usually twelve in number, and was coloured brown/dark red: the natural color of leather. Balls of this type had many defects: they were not perfectly spherical, they tended to deform during play and they were not waterproof.

The Telstar revolution: the soccer ball between the 60s and 70s

After the Second World War, sewn-striped footballs continued to be used, but some innovations were already experimented in the 1960s. In 1962 a Danish company, Select, created the first ball made of 32 leather wedges, 20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal, instead of stripes. Other companies produced the first footballs White color.

Based on these innovations, the ball in its most classic configuration was born between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. At the 1968 European Championships, Adidas, which became the official supplier of FIFA and UEFA, presented the Telstar, a balloon with white hexagonal segments and black pentagonal segments. Besides being more spherical, the Telstar was more visible on television screens: television had taken on a leading role in the popularization of football but, as the broadcasts were in black and white, the dark red ball was not seen well. It is no coincidence that the name Telstar recalled that of the first telecommunications satellite.

The 1970 Telstar

After 1970 Adidas has remained the official supplier for the world championships and many other competitions, although other giants such as Nike and Puma are also present on the market.

The evolution of football between the 80s and 2010s

Over the years, leather has been replaced by synthetic materials, primarily polyurethane. The first fully synthetic ball, the Azteca, was used at the 1986 World Cup.

The Azzeca ball between Maradona's feet

Also colors have changed: until the 1990s the balls were black and white, but at the 1998 world championships, held in France, the black was replaced by the colors of the French flag. Since then, it has become customary to use balls with colored inserts in the most important competitions.

The most important innovation of recent years is heat sealing, i.e. welding panels using heat instead of sewing. The first ball built with this technique, the Roteirowas used at the 2004 European Championships. At the same championships they were used for the first time specific balls for each match, which reported the names of the teams on the field and the city where the game was played. For the 2006 World Cup the Teamgeistthe first ball that did not have the 32 segment configuration, but 14.

Teamgeist ball (credits Antiker)

Balls with sensors and microchips

In recent years, footballs have become technological. In 2012 the IFAB, the body responsible for updating the rules of football, approved the use of goal line technology, which involves the presence of a sensor in the ball to establish when it crosses the goal line. The sensor has been used at the world championships since the 2014 edition. The ball of the last edition of the tournament, played in Qatar in 2022, also had a microchip to semi-automatically define when a player is in the starting position. offside: a technology probably destined for further development. Furthermore, at Euro 2024 the ball will recognize hand touches.

Today the balls for the most important competitions are highly technological objects, produced after years of research and, sometimes, with collaboration between companies and universities. Generally, the innovations introduced in major international competitions are then replicated in national championships. However, in less prestigious tournaments and in amateur football, sewn balls without technological accessories are still used.