In soccer, having a ball that follows the standards set by FIFA is extremely important. The ball has to have a specific circumference, pressure, and shape to be fit for international games.
According to Law 2 of the Laws of the Game by the International Football Association Board, the ball must be spherical in shape. Furthermore, FIFA is even more stringent standards that they have set alongside subordinate governing bodies.
Soccer balls these days are pretty complex. They are made using twelve regular pentagonal and twenty regular hexagonal panels, which are arranged in a truncated icosahedron spherical geometry. These panellings allow the ball to assume a spherical shape that FIFA accepts.
The inside of modern soccer balls also features a bladder made of latex or butyl rubber. These materials enable the soccer ball to be pressured. The outside of the ball is usually made using waterproof material, such as PVC, polyurethane, or synthetic leather panels.
Mostly the surface is weaved, embossed, or textured to improve the control and touch of the balls. The panels are often either thermo-bonded, machine stitched, or hand stitched. The most expensive and well-made soccer balls are hand-stitched ones. Furthermore, balls are usually coated with glue to prevent water absorption.
Regular soccer balls used in international competitions for players older than twelve are size five soccer balls. They are 22cm in diameter and 27 to 28 inches in circumference. Furthermore, according to the laws, the balls should weigh between 410g and 450g. The ball should also be inflated with a pressure of 0.6 to 1.1 bars.
However, the incredibly precise balls we see today are very different from what they used to be when soccer was first introduced. In the beginning, the spherical shape of a ball was very hard to achieve and could only be done if the soccer ball was made using sheep or pig bladder.
However, this method was not viable because the soccer ball would change shape and size based on the bladder used. Therefore, there was no standardization. Furthermore, with the use of natural materials, the soccer tournaments depended more on the soccer ball, the material it was made of, and how it reacted to the player rather than the player’s skill.
Soccer balls made using pig, and sheep bladders were also not hygienic. The creator of the rubber bladder suspects that his wife died young because she was exposed to such materials daily, as she was known to blow up soccer balls for her husband to sell.
Furthermore, making soccer balls using animal bladders also meant that manufacturers had to go through an extensive process for the bladders to be useable. They first had to be cleaned out and collected when such animals were slaughtered, and then they had to be rinsed and left to soak.
Usually, these bladders were placed in a mixture of half saturated saltwater and half antibacterial solution for around 56 hours. They are then removed and then rinsed again. Only after the soaking can these bladders be used in soccer balls.
However, despite all the effort to make these soccer balls from pig and sheep bladders, they were not standardized. Each ball was different, and it reacted differently. This was not as big of an issue until the Football Association brought up the fact that it was discouraging for the players and not as enjoyable for the viewers.
Therefore, standardizations began to be set in place to ensure that all the soccer balls were standardized and had the exact same size and shape. To follow these rules, the bladder had to be revamped and made from something that was not natural and hence varying.
The Introduction of Vulcanized Rubber
The pig and sheep bladder was too tiresome to make, and the regular reinflation was also an issue that the manufacturers and players wanted to avoid. Therefore, in 1855, Charles Goodyear stepped up and changed the soccer world.
He introduced a vulcanized rubber soccer ball, the first of its kind. This was a massive step toward the modern soccer ball; most importantly, manufacturers could control the shape and size of these soccer balls.
This was huge in those times because pig and sheep bladders came in different shapes and sizes, and it was impossible to control their size. Thus, whenever the player kicked it, they had no idea where the ball would fly.
The introduction of vulcanized rubber soccer balls changed the game because manufacturers realized they could use rubber bladders, which would serve way better than other kinds of bladders because they could standardize every aspect.
In the times when vulcanized rubber was introduced, rubber had flaws due to which pig and sheep bladders persisted. It was that rubber started to melt when it was exposed to either severe heat or extremely cold temperatures.
Due to these properties, rubber could not be used. However, one day Charles Goodyear accidentally added sulfur to rubber that was placed on a hot stove. Before his eyes, Goodyear saw the rubber hardening instead of melting.
From that day on, he applied himself to find the perfect mixture of rubber and sulfur to produce rubber that would not melt at extreme temperatures. He was eventually successful when he filed his patent on June 15th, 1844.
It is all thanks to Charles Goodyear, who paved the way for soccer ball shape and size standardization. If it weren’t for him, it would have taken much longer to find an alternative to the unstandardized sheep and pig bladder soccer balls.
After the success of vulcanized rubber, many people tried to better the soccer ball because the ball was still not waterproof and absorbed water if played in wet conditions. When it absorbed water, it became extremely heavy and was outright dangerous for players to play with.
Therefore, the subsequent development came in the form of inflatable rubber, introduced by H.J. Lindon in 1862. This soccer ball version was much lighter than the vulcanized rubber presented by Goodyear. Furthermore, it was expected to retain its shape much better.
These new soccer balls also had a brass ear syringe that helped blow up the ball. The logic behind this syringe was the way Lindon’s wife died, and he suspected that she died from a lung disease she caught from the pig bladders she was blowing up with her mouth.
If the pig was infected, a person blowing up the pig’s bladder would be inhaling hazardous substances. Since Lindon’s wife blew up soccer balls for her husband to sell, she would have been exposed to infected pigs without even knowing it.
He modified how air is blown into soccer balls to prevent others from catching such diseases. The syringe was a massive success as it helped produce soccer balls that had good air retention. Therefore, the soccer balls made were much rounder and held their shape much better.
A decade later, FIFA and other governing bodies set official standardization and basic rules into place. From then on, mass production of higher-quality balls began. One of the standardization rules included that the balls had to have an outer casing made from approved materials.
Therefore, manufacturers began manufacturing balls with covers made from cowhide. The higher quality balls were made from leather from a cow’s rump, and the lesser quality balls were made from leather that was taken from a cow’s shoulder.
The leather was stitched together by hand, due to which there were slight variations and inconsistencies. However, they were minor as compared to when the ball was made using sheep and pig bladders.
With the rise of soccer, there was a demand to make the balls more durable so that they would withstand harsh climates. Therefore, they were revamped again, and the outer cover was made of tanned leather panels. There was a slit left in between so that the bladder could be inserted into it.
Despite all the effort, the soccer balls were still weak, and the players would be lucky if the ball they were playing with lasted more than a single game. Therefore, there was still a long way to go.
The use of vulcanized rubber was a considerable step up from the material that was used previously. Changing the bladder material from natural to synthetic helped the manufacturers produce more standardized soccer balls.
Even though the Football Associations did not set the standardization rules, soccer ball makers understood the issues with natural bladders and how they were hindering the game for both the players and the spectators. Therefore, there was a race to find the next best alternative.
With the introduction of vulcanized rubber, there was the hope of standardizing the football and making the ball much more durable. It completely changed the game and brought forth massive changes in soccer balls that would forever improve the balls and the game.