The History and Evolution of Soccer Equipment

Soccer, or football depending on where your from, is the single most popular sport in the world and has retained that standing almost since the creation of the sport. This means a lot of equipment and apparel is manufactured every year for fans to use and enjoy. Designers and engineers are constantly working to develop this equipment for better performance as well as upgraded style. Because of this, the gear used to play soccer, or football, has changed drastically throughout time. There are four main pieces of equipment that players typically use in a soccer game. These four items are, soccer cleats, shin guards, the soccer ball, and usually goalkeeper gloves. The ball is obviously the most vital to the actual game but in this day and age, the rest of the equipment has become a necessity for the players. Everyone has a different style in terms of both performance and aesthetic preference. This paper will lead the reader through the decades, describing the history and development of soccer balls, cleats, shin guards, and keeper gloves as they have evolved with the game of soccer.

As stated before, the soccer ball is the only piece of equipment absolutely vital to the game. The actual origins of soccer or football is not entirely known but the first recognized, organized play was after association football split from rugby football in England in 1863. Soccer balls before the 1800’s were a bit of a mystery as well. A majority of them were made of animal bladders, usually pig, but there are stories and some historical references that give an insight into other soccer ball materials.

Many possibilities have been speculated on for the shape and make of the first soccer balls. It has been said that in medieval Europe, villagers would kick around disembodied animal or human heads and skulls. A definite improvement upon these would be the pig and other animal bladders or stitched up pieces of skin that were used in early times to create a ball shape to play with.

This took place until the twentieth century, when rubber bladders started to be put into use, and the ball was uneven and much more unpredictable based on the shape or size of the skin or bladder. In 1836 Charles Goodyear found a way to manufacture vulcanized rubber and by 1855 he made the first vulcanized rubber soccer ball. This advancement set in motion huge changes to the game by beginning to give a standard size and shape to the ball soccer is played with. However, this version of the ball still had plenty of its own issues. The vulcanized rubber ball was quite heavy and after time began to reform and had to be replaced. To help solve these problems, H.J. Lindon found a way to make an inflatable rubber bladder.

This design was much lighter and kept its shape better, being able to be inflated when starting to lose form. Somewhere around a decade later, the English Football Association, the only governing body for the rules of soccer at the time, decided on the laws regarding the weight, size, and other specifications necessary for a match ball. It was decided that the soccer ball must be a spherical ball with a circumference of 27 to 28 inches. The weight had to be 13 to 15 ounces.

It would also be required to have a leather outer casing, or one made of other approved materials. After these laws of the game were passed, soccer balls began being mass produced. Still, these mass produced balls were all hand stitched and because of this had various inconsistencies and relative variation between each ball. An interesting piece of trivia, these rubber, inflatable balls actually became the ones used to invent the game of basketball.

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