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What is a Football made from?

When it comes to a game of football, the average fan doesn't give a lot of thought to the ball itself - after all, it's a spherical object inflated with air that you can buy in any sports shop! On the contrary, the ball is vital to the success of the match and its design has evolved over the years to make it the perfect size and weight.

To ensure it's in peak condition for today's fast-paced game, the humble football has been subject to many changes over the years. Footballs in the 21st century are made from top-quality rubber - they have come a long way since the early balls that were made from a pig's bladder!


© jax10289 / Shutterstock.com


History of the football

Although the modern game of football, as we know it, is believed to have begun in the UK in the 19th century, versions of the game have been recorded in history as long ago as 300 BC. A group of men kicking about a spherical object for fun isn't anything new - in fact, the Chinese played a game called Tsu Chu some 2,000 years ago. It was an early version of football, although the "ball" was made of animal skin and it was kicked between two poles as goalposts.

Similar games were played in ancient Rome, Egypt and Greece. In Europe in Medieval times, primitive footballs were made of pigs' bladders inflated with air. The player tasked with blowing it up (before the days of ball pumps) must have had a strong stomach!

The sporting activity grew in popularity over the years and eventually, leather was introduced to cover the pig-bladder to make the ball more durable.


Vulcanised rubber

In 1836, Charles Goodyear patented vulcanised rubber, but footballs continued to be made from pigs' bladders for almost 20 years. The first natural rubber football was created in 1855, but experiments showed it bounced too much. Consequently, the first inflatable rubber bladder for a football was made in 1862.

The creation of the rubber bladder is credited to Richard "HJ" Lindon, born in 1816 at Clifton-upon-Dunsmore, near Rugby. He was a shoemaker who had 17 children with his wife, Rebecca. His cobbler's shop was near Rugby School and he was continually asked by pupils to supply them with footballs.

His wife was tasked with inflating the pigs' bladders, blowing into the stem of a clay pipe to do so, while he stitched the leather panels over the top. They began making more footballs than shoes and were working flat out. Tragically, his wife contracted lung disease and died at a relatively young age.

Her husband blamed himself, fearing her lungs had become infected from blowing up the pigs' bladders. Consumed with guilt, he set about designing an alternative and came up with the India rubber football bladder instead.

His invention, in 1862, enabled football manufacturers to control the shape and size of the balls. He became the principal football-maker for Rugby School and for Cambridge, Oxford and Dublin universities.


New regulations

The Football Association (launched in 1863) regulated the game itself with a list of rules, but none specified how big or heavy the ball should be. In 1872, the rules were revised and finally introduced a specific set of dimensions for the ball.

The actual dimensions of the ball have remained the same ever since, in that it must have a circumference of between 27 and 28 inches. The original weight of the ball was between 13oz and 15oz. The rules today stipulate it can be between 14oz and 16oz.

Back in 1888, Mitre started manufacturing footballs out of thick and heavy leather, made from cowhide. They believed this would help the balls keep their shape.


Rubber balls

By the early 20th century, rubber was commonly used for the balls' inner bladder. Manufacturer’s realised rubber could withstand a lot of pressure and would help the ball to be more hardwearing.

Six panels, with three strips of leather on each panel, were stitched together to make the ball. A football was traditionally dark brown for uniformity. Unfortunately, the leather absorbed rainwater and it could also get under the surface through the stitching, so the ball was uncomfortable to head.

In the 1950s, the famous brown ball was replaced with other colours that were more easily visible. This was due to the introduction of floodlit pitches. The usual colour was white, but if it snowed, an orange ball was used instead.

During the World Cup in Spain in 1982, rubber was inlaid over the balls' seams for the first time, to prevent water from seeping in and making the footballs too heavy.


International rules

Surprisingly, there weren't any international rules on a uniform size for the ball until 1996! Until this date, national teams playing against different countries may find themselves playing with various balls of different sizes.

It seems bizarre now that one team may have an advantage over another, because the ball in their international match may be a size they were used to. This was the case, until FIFA finally decided to introduce a recognised quality programme for the balls. A size five ball is the modern specification for adult football matches.

Many players have grown up with the Buckminster Ball, developed by the American designer Richard Buckminster Fuller. The style comprised 20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal surfaces, stitched together to create an almost perfect sphere.

The usual colour  was replaced for the first time by blue and white for the World Cup in France in 1998. A touch of red was also added to create the "tricolour" of France's national flag: red, white and blue. In 2002, when the World Cup was hosted by Japan and Korea, the first gold-coloured ball was introduced.


21st-century footballs

A revolution in the way footballs was designed began in 2002, when Adidas launched its Teamgeist ball, featuring 14 panels, instead of the usual 32. The seams were moulded together and not stitched - a design which has continued.

When rubber was invented in the mid-1800s, the unpleasant experience of blowing up pigs' bladders was replaced by inflating rubber balls. Today's footballs are made of rubber with leather panels on top. Manufacturers modify the leather panels with a grainy texture to improve the grip.

The journey of the football has progressed from a pig’s bladder through to leather, India rubber and vulcanised rubber. Designs continue to develop, as manufacturers compete to find a design that is light, yet firm.

Coruba provides a full range of high-quality rubber products for industrial, commercial and residential use. Give us a call on 01702 560194 for further help or information.

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