Football technology has come a long way since people started kicking around inflated pig hearts or whatever other ball type shapes they could find. Today football is a multi-billion pound industry and football design is an industry in itself. In this blog, we’re going to look at how balls have changed over the years.
Charles Goodyear is the man responsible for the modern football more than anyone else. In the 19th Century, he invented vulcanised rubber, which is the basis for the modern football. Vulcanisation of rubber means it is treated, allowing it to become stretchy. This allows the bladder of footballs to stretch, allowing the ball to bounce better. Until the 1960s footballs followed the same construction pattern, a vulcanised rubber bladder surrounded by tanned leather cut into panels and stitched together. The problems with this type of ball were numerous – the leather absorbed water, making it heavy when wet and the water made the leather stretch, making the ball misshapen over time.
Stitched Synthetic Footballs
Advances in fabric technology in the post-war era made synthetic leather available and this was soon adopted as the material of choice for footballs. This led to the design of the truncated icosahedron 32-panel football, first seen at the 1970 World Cup. This basic principle allowed balls to retain their shape better and not take on water when they are wet. This basic design and construction of stitched synthetic leather over an inflatable rubber bladder kept mainly unchanged apart from the shape of the panels for 30 years.
A fabric layer is placed between the rubber bladder and the exterior shell to improve the consistency of the ball on impact. This fabric can also have waterproofing to ensure no water is absorbed by the ball.
Thermally Bonded Footballs
The latest new design used by football manufacturers is thermally bonded. This type of construction uses no stitching, instead, a mould and adhesive are used to bond the football together with heat. The pieces of the ball are die cut and arranged inside a mould where adhesive is added to them. The mould is then heated and pressurised, glueing the pieces together to create a sphere. This type of ball was first used in the 2004 European Championships. With this construction method panels can be any shape and balls with fewer panels are possible. Manufacturers also add texture to the ball to enhance the aerodynamic performance. This means the ball has more movement in the air, which creates spectacular goals, though goalkeepers don’t like the unpredictability of the ball in the air.
Technology moves on all the time and now we have goal-line technology that is being added to footballs, where a sensor is added to the centre of the ball to indicate to the referee when the ball has crossed the goal line. I suspect we’ll see more new football innovations in the coming years.