Charles Goodyear is considered as the inventor of the modern soccer ball. When and where the very first soccer ball was made is impossible to tell. Soccer-like games have been played since the earliest part of human civilization and the evolution of the game was accompanied by the soccer ball’s development.
The oldest soccer ball can be traced to ancient times (A). It was filled with different materials to make it round. It was in the Middle Age (B) that football balls were first filled with air.
Rapid developments came when soccer reached its modern period (C). Balls made of rubber were being produced and FIFA’s rules on soccer balls were established.
The football balls of current times (D) are radically different from their predecessors. Advanced production technology and materials are being used, and the balls that we play with just keep on getting better and better.
A. Ancient football – the first foot ball in history
The first ever soccer ball in history was invented by ancient civilizations, 3000 years ago. The Chinese, Aztec and Maya Indians, and Egyptians each had their own contributions to the first soccer ball in history.
- The Chinese made their own football with animal skin stuffed together to form a sphere.
- Maya and Aztec Indians in Central America made a rubber ball, which they formed from the latex of rubber wood.
- The Egyptians invented a football made of seeds wrapped in linen. They also made balls out of animal skin or catgut for improved bouncing.
- The Greeks, just like the Egyptians, created a ball wrapped in linen, but it contains hair inside instead of seeds.
B. The soccer ball of the Middle Age
By the Middle Age, football was already established as a popular sport and so more attention was given to the making of the ball. Bladders were the most common material for soccer balls in Medieval Europe, such as the pig bladder ball played by the Italians in the 1600s.
However, bladder balls were easily punctured and their irregular shape made them difficult to control. To solve these problems, bladder balls were wrapped in leather, making them more durable and rounder.
C. The ball at the beginning of the modern period of football
Football has become a well-recognized sport in the 1800s. It is in this era that professional football began and more attention was given to improving the quality of the ball.
1855: The first round foot-ball by Charles Goodyear
The year 1855 marked a significant event in the development of the soccer ball. It was in the year that the first round soccer ball was made, by a man named Charles Goodyear.
Prior to that, soccer balls were not totally round because they were made from animal bladders. Also rubber was not used as a material for competitive soccer balls because it is sticky and easily deforms in hot playing conditions.
Goodyear solved those problems by discovering a method of treating rubber so it becomes more solid and durable, without losing its bounce. The method was called vulcanization.
1872: The official soccer ball size & shape were set
Until the mid-1800s, there were no rules yet on the size and shape of the ball. The dimensions of the football ball depended on the animal bladder but with Goodyear’s invention meant that the shape of the soccer ball could already be set.
So in 1872, the English Football Association (FA) officially declared that the ball should be spherical and between 27 and 28 inches in circumference. It remains the official soccer ball size today.
This specification coincided with the Charles Goodyear rubber ball. Therefore Goodyear can be considered as the inventor of the modern soccer ball.
1880’s: The laced ball, the first World Cup ball
Leather balls were still widely used despite the introduction of the rubber ball. The establishment of the English Football League in 1888 spurred the first mass-production of leather soccer balls.
The soccer ball of this era was made of several panels of pure leather, laced at one surface to keep the bladder inside intact. This type of ball was the one used in the first ever World Cup, the 1930 World Cup.
1950’s: The water-proof ball
Leather soccer balls began to be water-proofed in the 1950s with the use of synthetic paints. The lace was also removed to make the surface smoother and the ball easier to control.
In 1951, white footballs were manufactured to improve ball visibility for players and spectators. In snowy venues, orange soccer balls were used.
D. Soccer ball of current times
The World Cup prompted many innovations of the soccer ball.
The black and white ball that remains today as soccer’s icon was first introduced by Adidas in 1970. Made specifically for the 1970 World Cup, it has 32 panels that were alternately painted in black and white (20 panels were in white and 12 in black).
It is called the Telstar, after the space satellite that resembles its geometry. Its color made the ball more visible on black-and-white television.
The Telstar was once again used in the 1974 World Cup, and it was in that world cup that FIFA declared an “official” soccer ball for the first time.
Teamgeist, Jabulani, and beyond
The 32-panel ball was the norm until the 2006 World Cup when Adidas introduced a 14-paneled ball called Teamgeist (German for “Team Spirit”).
Fewer panels made the ball smoother. Instead of being stitched, the panels were bonded together for a more even surface.
For the 2010 World Cup, Adidas introduced an 8-panel ball called the Jubalani (a South African word for “celebrate”). Fewer panels and better polyurethane materials improved the ball’s performance and feel.
Some prototype soccer balls today are already made with astounding technology. A soccer ball called CTRUS no longer need air inflation changes colors when it goes out of bounds or when it crosses the goal line.