Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Load Of Old Balls (And One Recent One)

Exactly as it says on the tin. Here are nine great footballs (and one utterly useless one) that have graced the pitches and back gardens of the world over the last forty years or so, in chronological order (up to a point).

1. The 1966 World Cup Final Ball: The end of an era, this. Traditionally, footballs were made of 18 panels of leather, arranged in a pattern consisted of six strips of three, and this design made its last appearance at the 1966 World Cup Final. The first World Cup to be recorded in colour (though not shown on British television in Colour - British television didn't start broadcasting in colour until 1969, and the first match to be shown in colour was a First Division match between Liverpool & West Ham United, in case you were wondering) was also to be the last time that the old type of ball would be used on the international stage. Made of leather (synthetic materials wouldn't be used for balls at the World Cup Finals until 1982), you can see from the picture how intimidating it must have been to stand in a wall for a free-kick. It looks like it's made of freshly varnished wood rather than leather. Curiously, although most manufacturers changed their design, Mitre, the UK's biggest football manufacturers, haven't done so, meaning that England, the SPL, Wales and the Football League use the older, 18 panel design.

Most Famous Moment:
Geoff Hurst's second goal for England in that match, which clearly crossed the line by at least three yards, if not more.

2. The Adidas Telstar (1970): Jingoists should probably look away now, but you know the "classic" design of the football? The one that you almost certainly think of when someone says the word "football"? Well... the designer was... American. The design (32 panels - 20 of them hexagonal and 12 of them pentagrams) came from the American architect Richard Buckminster, who was searching for a "perfect" spherical shape. Nicknamed in architectural circles the "Bucky Ball", they're used in structures known as "geodesic domes" (here's one), and was picked up by Adidas, who had won the contract to supply balls for the 1970 World Cup. Naturally Adidas were interested in the concept of a "perfect sphere", but their stroke of genius was to colour in the pentragammic panels in black, whilst leaving the hexagonal panels white. This had two main beneficial effects - firstly, the two contrasting colours allowed players to judge the spin on a moving ball more effectively. Secondly, in an era when many countries still broadcast in black and white (Italy, for example, wouldn't get colour television 1977, whilst Romanians would have to wait until 1983), it was easier to pick out on a television screen. Curiously, this iconic design was also one of the shortest-lasting.

Most Famous Moment - Carlos Alberto
thumping the ball the ball into the net for Brazil against Italy in the Azteca Stadium.

3. The 1973 FA Cup Final Ball: The white football was the norm in a global scale by the middle of the 1970s. However, in 1973 the FA decided to use a yellow ball for the FA Cup Final between Sunderland and Leeds United. There's something very much of its time about this decision. Not only slightly gimmicky, but the fact that it was slightly off-colour looking fitted in with the economic state of the country. Perhaps the ongoing effects of the Three Day Week meant that white colourant was in short supply. Maybe it was just some crazy psychedelic decision made by the FA (because this was definitely the hairiest FA Cup Final of all time). It wasn't repeated.

Most Famous Moment - In lieu of Jim Montgomery's
brilliant double save from Peter Lorimer (which has been taken down from You Tube by ITV - well done lads, you must be so very, very proud - I wouldn't be so irritated by this were it not for the fact that ITV Sport has a vast sports archive which it does precisely bugger-all with), here's Ian Porterfield's winning goal from the same match.

4. The Adidas Tango (and its enormous spawn of variants): I can only presume that someone in the design department thought that the Telstar (which was withdrawn after the 1974 World Cup in West Germany) wasn't confusing enough for viewers. The Adidas Tango Durlast appeared in time for the 1978 World Cup, at a time when marketing was starting to creep into the game. Possibly inadvertently, they came up with a design classic. The geometric design had (to the glassy eyes of at least this six year-old) an almost other-worldly look about it, and it would prove to be a durable look. The use of the Tango would spread into the Football League in the early 1980s, and Adidas left the design unchanged for the 1982 World Cup (although the 1982 ball - the Tango Espana - was widely criticised because the general build quality was so bad that they had to be replaced several times throughout the course of each match due to wear and tear), and it wouldn't change much cosmetically over the next twenty years. If you want to know just how durable this design was, the last team that I played for, just four years ago, used Adidas Tangos identical in pattern to the original 1978 design.

Most Famous Moment: Too many to mention really, but
Nelinho's outrageous curling goal for Brazil against Italy in 1978 seems as iconic as any.

5. The First "Official" Football League Ball: In 1979, the Football League decided that a little bit of marketing money should come their way, and so was born the "Official Football League" ball, would be be seen sporadically on "Match Of The Day" for the next three or four years or so, primarily at Norwich City, Ipswich Town and Manchester United, though it was also used for the League Cup final for a few years too. It was a strange affair, reminiscent in its own way of the Nike ball currently being used by the Premier League, with one orange stripe around the middle of it. But who made it? Well, I put a little bit too much effort into researching this last night. The answer is... everybody, it would seem. As you can see from the above picture, Minerva had a go, but this picture of Manchester United goalkeeper Gary Bailey seems to show a ball with the Mitre logo on it, whilst the cricket kit manufacturers Stewart Surridge also stake a claim to it (under the very "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" name of "UFO"), and make a ball based on its design to this very day. If any of you want to buy me a present, you do much worse than sending me one.

Edit in December 2007: Hello, if you're stopping by from Digital Spy. I'm not spending a fiver to register on your forum and answer your question, so I'll answer it here. The ball was designed by the the Football League, and made between 1979 and 1982 by Mitre, Minerva and Surridge Sports. Should you wish to, you can still buy the Surridge UFO here. Only £6.00 including VAT.

Most Famous Moment:
Justin Fashanu's Goal Of The Season for Norwich City against Liverpool in 1980.

6. The Minerva Supreme: While the rest of the football world was starting to tentatively dip its toe into the murky world of marketing and aesthetics, the last of the truly old-time balls was still being used at a large number of football league clubs. Plain, simple and to the point, the last of the traditional white balls would often acquire enough dirt by the end of the match to be practically invisible. Mitre and Adidas also made plain white balls for English clubs that, you know, didn't want any of that "foreign muck".

Most Famous Moment - Nothing specific springs to mind, so I'll use the opportunity to post
this up instead.

7. Le Coq Sportif Triatom: Early in the 1980s, I started going on holiday with my parents more or less every summer. We used to try and take in a match wherever possible, and in every sports shop you went in you could by Le Coq Sportif Triatom, a ball whose design is forever indelibly linked with my childhood (largely because I would always return to England with one).

Most Famous Moment: Anything that Michel Platini did with one for Nancy or St Etienne before he moved to Juventus, I should think. I'd be amazed if there isn't one being used in
this video.

8. Mitre Indoor: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play football with a massive tennis ball? Well, anyone that has ever played five-a-side indoors will already know the answer. Covered with a layer of felt-type material which reduces the bounce and less likelihood of windows or other peripherals from being smashed to smithereens. From a playing perspective, they weren't too bad. It was still perfectly possible to belt them (as it goes, the fact that they were slightly softer than your normal leather ball almost encourages you to belt them) and, from a goalkeeping perspective, they didn't sting your hands at all. Now I've thought about it, I'd quite like to see a match played outside with one. I should imagine that it would absorb all the water on the pitch in about three minutes and acquire the consistency and properties of a lead cannonball.

Most Famous Moment: Erm...

9. Mitre Multiplex: When the next apocalypse comes, when the cockroaches crawl from the wreckage and set up their own Premier League, they'll have to use the Mitre Multiplex as their official ball, because these will be the only things that will survive it with them. I'm not being paid by Mitre to write these - the Multiplex was almost completely indestructible. If you pumped it up to its optimum weight, it took on the attributes of a ball of lightweight concrete - indeed such was its, well, "hardness" that it was difficult to even kick, making many a Sunday League match look a match-up between two teams of overgrown small children. Distressingly, I found out in the course of writing this piece that Mitre have taken to sticking patterns all over it. I can feel another internet petition coming on.

Most Infamous Moment: Any Sunday League or former Sunday League player will remember the unique simultaneously freezing cold and burning hot sting of receiving a Mitre Multiplex at close range on the inner thigh on a cold, January morning.

10. Adidas Fevernova: I dare say that we will see worse balls used for big football competitions in the future, but I wouldn't mind betting that the official ball of the 2002 World Cup will long be seen as the nadir of football design. Where to start? First up, it was gold. Sorry - "champagne". Adidas disingenuously tried to claim that this was "more visible" (more visible than white?), but this was mere marketing talk. It was designed to be sold to kids in sports shops rather than for professional footballers to use at the World Cup. The Italy goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, called it "a ridiculous kiddy's bouncing ball". Rivaldo (who you'd think would be one of those that would benefit from "a ridiculous kiddy's bouncing ball") described it as "too big and too light". The swerve on it was noticeable in almost every match. Although gold would continue to be used as a motif in the World Cup by FIFA (the ball for the 2006 final would be gold and white), the Fevernova was quietly dropped not long after the tournament.

Most Famous Moment: The 2002 World Cup. Here are
10 goals from it.


Ed said...

My favourite is the Adidas Tango, but the most emblematic is easily the Telstar. It even has the best NAME.

sp3ktor said...

Number 8: The Mitre Cyclone is a great ball for the way it changes in the way it plays over its lifespan.

When new and fluffy it's great: it sticks to your feet when dribbling and when kicked spins and swerves almost to perfectly. The only damage it can do is maybe the odd carpet burn at close quarters.

With age comes baldness. As it thins out to become just cloth covered ball. The rubber starts to go, so you have to pump it up harder to get any life out of it. This is the flat spot in the life of the ball - it's mid-life crisis.

Play a few more games and the cloth starts to rip and tear off, bulges start to appear from repeated wellying and the now necessary extreme pumping. For it to be playable the surface tension has to be near rock-like. The ball now develops its own version of reverse swing: dipping and swerving at random. After three games of this, a post match pub whip round for the £10 for a new one is advisable.

ursus arctos said...

Absolutely brilliant roundup, especially the inclusion of the Minerva Supreme.

FWIW, the Tango is still THE cult fooball in Italy. The Gazzetta dello Sport brought out a pink one for its 110th anniversary last year, and the FIGC (the Italian FA) have done a blue one to commemorate the 82 and 06 World Cup triumphs.

And of course the Azzurri still have the dubious right of using the 2006 ball with the gold inlays in official matches.

A lot of good it did them against Lithuania.

200percent said...

Thanks for your comments, all. Coming up later: The Complete History Of Goal Nets.

Don't fool yourselves into thinking that I'm joking.

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