The Rolling History of the Soccer Ball

The phrase ‘play ball’ has most probably emerged from our natural instinct to kick at anything we find lying on the ground, be it paper, plastic or a rubber ball. In the olden days, people even kicked heads for fun. The Chinese in the Ts’in and the Dan dynasties invented animal skin balls between 255BC -220 AD, which they dribbled between two poles through gaps in nets. The ancient Egyptians conducted rituals which resembled a football and the Greeks and Romans also played similar games.

Even the South Americans Indians knew the use of a light elasticized ball. During the pre – medieval times, people of an entire village took to kicking a skull into the square of another village, as a favorite past time. The bladder of pigs was inflated and used for playing. Hence the shape and size of the ball depended on the pig’s bladder, so the trajectory of the ball when kicked could not be predicted. This habit of kicking slowly saw the evolution of the first ever rubber ball in 1855, when Charles Goodyear, after patenting vulcanized rubber, made the first ever rubber ball, which now stands displayed at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, NY, USA.

In 1862, H. J. Lindon, invented the first inflatable rubber bladders for balls. The next year, the newly created football association chalked out the rules of the game. By 1872, it was agreed that the ball would be ‘spherical with a circumference of 27 or 28 inches’ and would weigh 13 to 15 oz, which exists even today in the FIFA rule book. In 1937, the weight was increased to 14 to 16 oz. According to the Encyclopedia of Association Football which was first published in 1956, the ball has to be spherical with and outer casing of leather or other approved materials, while the size and weight has remained constant till date.

The founding of the English Football League in 1888 gave a fillip to the mass production of soccer balls, with Mitre and Thomlinson of Glasgow being the first two companies to begin manufacturing. Retaining the shape of the ball was imperative, so good quality leather covers were made from the rump of the cow. The 20th Century brought changes in the design as interlocking panels replaced the large leather sections that met at the north and south of the ball.

The color of the soccer ball in the 1950s used to be orange so as to make it visible while playing on snow. In 1951, the first white ball was played with using floodlights. By 1980s, leather was totally replaced by synthetic material. The present 32 panel soccer ball in white and black is the invention of Richard Buckminster Fuller, consisting of 20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal surfaces. This soccer ball was first marketed by Select in Denmark in the 1950s and the first official FIFA world cup soccer ball – the Adidas Telstar was used in the World Cup at Mexico in 1970.

Nicole Thomas

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