Thursday June 12 marks the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The Cup is a chase that will be followed by passionate soccer (or football, depending on where you live) fans all over the world. One fact about the sport is indisputable: games would look a bit silly without a ball, and the object of every team’s desire has seen many changes over the centuries.
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In honor of the most important equipment in the game, let’s take a look at some of the soccer balls used in the history of the game. This year’s model, the adidas Brazuca, is featured here, a name chosen by a poll of over a million Brazilian football fans. The ball hasn’t always been that elegant piece of high-tech witchcraft, as the next slide will reveal.
People have been kicking balloons – in one form or another – for a long, long time. The Chinese of 255 BC. Eventually, in the Middle Ages, someone came up with the idea of stitching leather over the bladder to make it more durable and rounded.
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Unfortunately, there are no pictures of these early bladder-based balls. The oldest known bullet we can see is this one, which is in the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Scotland and is dated to the 1540s. It sort of got stuck in the rafters of the Queen’s bedroom at Stirling Castle, and it was only found when work on the ceiling in the 1970s triggered its discovery.
As we just noted, early soccer balls were often made from pig bladders. This posed problems – not only for the pigs but for future football players. The size and shape of the ball depended on the size of the bladder, so the uniformity of the size of the soccer singular tool was lacking. That would start to change, spherically speaking, once the vulcanized rubber patented by Charles Goodyear and bullets began to shift to rubber as the bladder of choice. Now the ball could have a more uniform size and, indeed, in 1872 the English Football Association considered that soccer balls should be as spherical as possible and measure 27 to 28 inches in circumference. Even today, it is the official size.
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Shown here is the football team of the 1st Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment), 1896, holder of the Army Football Association Challenge Cup. The ball certainly looks kickable.
Although it is an event today, the first World Cup was not held until 1930. Here we see the ball used in the 1930 World Cup final, on display at the National Football Museum .
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The two final teams, Argentina and Uruguay, argued over which ball to use, so two balls were used, one in each half. The first-half ball, chosen by Argentina, was a 12-panel ball, while this ball, chosen by the Uruguayan team, was used in the second half and was a “T-model” common, with five rows of laces. (There were actually two Model T balls used in the second half; the first ball deflated.) Uruguay won the match and became the first World Cup winner.
The 1970 World Cup in Mexico marked Adidas’ first official soccer ball for the World Cup, and the company has since provided official match balls. This ball inaugurated the advent of the prototypical look of the soccer ball. The classic design alternated white hexagons and black pentagons in 32 hand-sewn panels covering the ball. The ball has an iconic look which, to this day, is probably the image people wear in their heads of a “soccer ball”. One of the goals behind its two-tone look was to create a ball that would really stand out on black and white TVs.
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As we’ll see in the following snapshots, the World Cup ball always has at least one design or structural adjustment to go with the last competition.
For the 1974 World Cup, adidas supplied two match balls: the adidas Telstar and the adidas Chile. The logo has changed from gold to black with the new balls.
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The 1978 World Cup in Argentina brought a major change in look, with the use of the adidas Tango, which put 20 identical circles across the ball.
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Spain hosted the World Cup in 1982, and for that series of games the ball, the adidas Tango Espana, changed in a key but not visual way: it used taped and sealed seams that helped the ball. to avoid getting waterlogged during wet matches.
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Big structural changes were underway with the 1986 ball for Mexico matches. The adidas Azteca became the first fully synthetic polyurethane coated match ball. The Azteca provided a more durable bullet that was even less sensitive to water absorption. Visually, the ball was the first design to use images of the host country – drawing inspiration from influences from Aztec architecture and murals.
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Under the adidas Etrusco Unico from the 1990s, a new layer of polyurethane foam made it completely water resistant. The history of the host country, Italy, and Etruscan art featured in the design.
During the 1994 World Cup, held in the United States, the adidas Questra was the official match ball. The ball was now softer to the touch and faster to exit the foot, thanks to an outer layer of Styrofoam. The rocket images on the balloon represented American space technology and the country’s continued quest for the stars.
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The World Cup moved to France in 1998, and the adidas Tricolore became the first multi-colored match ball. The ball, which used the French national colors, also incorporated new printing methods aimed at improving the visibility of the ball.
Korea and Japan hosted the 2002 World Cup, and these matches featured the bright and colorful adidas Fevernova, inspired by Asian culture.
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The adidas Teamgeist match ball, for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, made huge design changes by decreasing the number of panels, creating a smoother surface that helped players with their precision and control.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa saw the debut of the adidas Jabulani, which used new technology to improve grip in all conditions. Its eight panels were cast in what the company hailed as its roundest and most precise ball to date. With this year’s Brazuca, a six-panel design was engineered by adidas to improve grip, stability and aerodynamics. According to the company, more than 600 top soccer players were involved in testing the ball, which will hopefully fly more faithfully than any previous World Cup soccer ball. Let the games begin.