Throughout its long and illustrious history, the sport of Soccer has evolved to become the world’s most popular sport. As the sport has evolved so has the equipment that is used to play the game. The Center piece and most important piece of equipment used when playing soccer is the soccer ball.
Ancient civilizations such as the Ts’in and Han Dynasties of China and even the ancient Egyptians, who played games similar to soccer, used animal skin and other animal parts to construct the first “soccer” balls known to exist. The first predecessor of the modern soccer ball was constructed in 1855 by Charles Goodyear. Goodyear’s ball was constructed using vulcanized rubber, a newly invented technology allowing for more predictable ball behavior when kicked. This design was later improved upon in 1862 by H.J. Lindon which was the first inflatable ball design.
In 1872 the English Football Association set forth some general rules for soccer balls which stated that the ball must be spherical with a circumference of 27 to 28 inches and weigh between 15-17 ounces. In 1937 the weight of the Soccer Ball was increased to 14-16 ounces. The only drastic thing that has changed about the soccer ball since 1872 is the material of the ball and the shape of the panels that form the ball. During the late 1880’s interlocking panels helped to increase the overall strength and stability of the soccer ball.
In the Early 1900’s Soccer balls were made of stronger rubber and interlocking leather panels, enabling the soccer ball to withstand more force. The heavier rubber and leather construction of these balls enabled them to be quite durable. However, during rainy conditions the leather would absorb moisture causing the ball to become very heavy and ultimately caused many head injuries. Water absorption was eventually combatted by using synthetic paints and other nonporous materials.
During the 1950’s a few more advances took place in the evolution of the soccer ball. A new valve was developed which no longer required a slit in the outer layer of the ball, allowing for more air retention, and the first white soccer ball was permitted allowing for higher visibility.
Synthetic soccer balls did not come into existence until the 1960’s and continued to gain acceptance up until the 1980’s when leather soccer balls were obsolete. Synthetic soccer balls performed much like their leather counter parts with the major advantage being less water absorption.
The Buckminster soccer ball is probably the most iconic soccer ball design throughout history. Originally created by Richard Buckminster Fuller, the Buckminster soccer ball design consisted of a series of 20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal surfaces sewn together to make a nearly perfect sphere. Alternation of black and white panels helped players discern any movement in the balls trajectory.
The ultimate goal is to develop a ball that is water proof, faster, more accurate, softer and will not absorb energy. The design of the soccer ball will continue to evolve as new materials and manufacturing processes are developed.