A Guide to Soccer Balls
It is fair to say that modern players would have baulked at the idea of playing with the first-ever soccer balls.
Animal bladders were initially used for making balls in sport before the first vulcanised rubber soccer ball was created during the 1850s.
The introduction of inflatable rubber bladders in 1862 moved soccer ball technology on, and things have moved on apace since then. We take a closer look at the history of soccer balls.
Soccer Ball Technology
Soccer ball technology has progressed significantly since those first incarnations were used during the sport’s early history.
Brown leather balls with rubber bladders were the norm until the 1960s, before the first totally synthetic ball was produced.
Synthetic leather replaced leather by the 1980s, providing players with much more user-friendly soccer balls to play with.
Modern soccer balls feature panels stitched together to form a spherical shape, with 32, 26 or 18 the most popular with the major manufacturers.
Soccer Ball Sizes
The English Football Association first established specifications for the size of soccer balls in 1872, nine years after the laws of the game were published.
This stated that a soccer ball must be spherical with a circumference of 27 to 28 inches (68.6 cm to 71.1 cm). A ball must also weigh between 410 g (14 oz) and 450g (16 oz) at the start of the match.
The ball must have a pressure equal to 0.6 – 1.1 atmosphere (600 – 1,100g/cm2) at sea level (8.5 lbs/sq in – 15.6 lbs/sq in).
Smaller balls are used in junior and youth football to improve skills. Youngsters may find it difficult to develop their ball control and dribbling technique if they use a full-sized ball.
Soccer Ball Trends
As we alluded to earlier, soccer ball technology has rarely stood still over the past few decades as companies strive for the perfect design.
Nike are firmly established as one of the leading manufacturers in soccer balls, supplying balls to the Premier League since the 2000/01 season.
They have generally released a new ball every year, with the 2019/20 Nike Merlin ball arguably one of the biggest innovations ever to hit soccer.
It comprised four fuse-welded panels that created a bigger ‘sweet spot’ with fewer seams to enable greater range and accuracy.
Nike and the Premier League were clearly with the Flight, which was launched for the 2020/21 season and retained for the next campaign.
Moulded grooves and 3D-printed ink fine-tune flight through the air to help players put the ball exactly where they want it – each and every time.
Top Soccer Ball Manufacturers
Nike are one of the leading manufacturers at club level, supplying soccer balls to competitions in England, Italy, Brazil and many more.
Adidas have deals to supply balls for the World Cup and Champions League, while Puma are the official supplier to La Liga.
Puma also supplies balls to the English Football League, while Mitre balls are used in the FA Cup and Scottish Premiership.
Mitre balls are also extremely popular further down the scale, with thousands of clubs at grassroots level using them for training and matches.
Future Soccer Ball Innovations
With soccer increasingly using data to improve performance, it is no surprise that ball manufacturers have started to jump on the bandwagon.
Adidas embedded a microchip in the Telstar 18 ball used at the 2018 World Cup, although this was only used to share product information with consumers.
They have moved things on since then, with the adidas Smart Ball featuring technology that gives players and coaches feedback on spin, flight path and point of contact with the ball.
Microchips may be used in the future to alter ball pressures to ensure they are at their optimum level based on weather and temperature conditions.