With more than 3.5 billion fans around the globe, soccer is the most popular sport in the world. This is no recent development, however. Humans have been playing some form of soccer for centuries.

One of the most important components of any soccer match is — of course — the ball! When most people think of a soccer ball, the image of a black and white ball comes to mind. But did you know the soccer ball has been through some major changes over the years?

The earliest soccer balls were unconventional at best. Entire villages would gather for soccer matches, using animal skulls and inflated animal bladders as balls. Unlike modern-day soccer balls, these items were irregularly shaped, making them unpredictable when kicked.

As various improvements were made to soccer balls over the next few centuries, the ball as we know it today began to slowly emerge. By the 1900s, soccer balls were being made with tanned leather. Prototypes of these balls looked a bit like a strange hybrid of modern-day volleyballs and footballs.

Along with the new styles of balls came new problems. Balls relying on tightly tied laces to seal air inside leaked badly. Players would have to stop to re-inflate the ball multiple times during a game.

Leather balls were good for kicking, but due to their tendency to absorb water, could become very heavy. This posed a serious threat of injury if a player hit the ball with his head.

World War II brought a temporary solution to the problem. By using synthetic paints to coat the leather, balls absorbed less water from the grassy fields.

A much lighter, safer synthetic ball would be introduced in the 1960s, but it was not until the 1980s that synthetic balls completely replaced leather balls. Synthetic soccer balls are still used today. In addition to resisting water absorption, they also offer more consistent flight and bounce.

So where did the signature black-and-white pattern come from?  Until the mid-1900s, soccer balls were either brown or white. In the 1950s the first orange ball was put into play, with the hopes of making it easier for players and spectators to see the ball in the snow. Soccer fans would have to wait until the 1970 World Cup to see the first black-and-white ball roll onto the field.

The ball that changed the look of soccer forever? The “Telstar.” The 1970 World Cup in Mexico was the first televised World Cup ever. The Telstar took its name from a combination of the words “television” and “star.”

But there was one little problem. A white ball viewed on a black-and-white TV wasn’t easy to see. Game officials needed to come up with a way to make the ball easily viewable to those watching at home. Their simple solution? Paint black pentagons on the white ball.

To this day, the Telstar remains the most common design for soccer balls.

 

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  1. I never knew how old soccer was until now. I would never have guessed that soccer ball was first made out of tan leather. I play soccer too but not with tan leather.

    • We think it’s really neat that you play soccer, Hungry Chipmunks! Advances in sports technology have made it easier and less-expensive to produce soccer balls, so lots of kids (and adults) can play! We bet you are an AWESOME player! :-)

  2. I LOVE soccer! I’ve been playing for almost 7 years! I play all positions, but defense and midfield are my favorites! Next year, when I’m in 7th grade, I’m gonna try out for the middle school team!

    • Gooooooo, Jamie! We bet you are an AWESOME soccer player! Defense and midfield are very important positions! Good luck when you try out for your middle school team! We believe in you and know you will do GREAT! :-)

  3. I really like this article! I liked how you described that people have been playing soccer for more than a century. I had no idea that the first soccer balls were made out of animal bones and flattened animal bladders, and were not completely round like modern soccer balls. I love soccer and it is really interesting to know more about the history.

    • We’re glad you got a KICK out of learning some new things by visiting this Wonder of the Day® about soccer, Annamarie! Thank you so much for your awesome comment! :-)

  4. Hey, Wonderoplis,
    remember me? Sunshine????????? Yeah, I am a good teammate, but now I play outside mid……soccer is my life! Thanks for writing about the topic! :)

    • It’s so good to hear from you, Sunshine! We hope your school year is going well and that you are learning lots of new things! We are happy to hear that you are still playing soccer and enjoying it! Outside midfielder is an important position…we bet you are AWESOME at it! :-)

    • That’s really AWESOME, Lily! Soccer is a great sport to play. It teaches us teamwork! It’s also a WONDERful way to get exercise and have lots and lots of FUN! Thank you for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day® about soccer! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know what position you play, Rahul! We bet you score great goals and help your teammates out with assists on offense! We’re glad you learned some new things about a sport you love to play by exploring this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing your knowledge of soccer balls with everyone in Wonderopolis, Baller 19! We appreciate your comment! :-)

  5. THIS GUYS IS AMAZING. Too bad he couldn’t play for the Aussies though, he would have been great. Wish he was. I think that right now there is a young kid getting born who would end up with the same skills as him…WOW!

    • That’s super interesting to think about, Hayden! Thanks so much for visiting this Wonder and leaving us a cool comment to let us know what you’re thinking about soccer! :-)

    • Hi there, Buckley! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today! You CAN have skills like that (or skills for another sport or activity you enjoy) if you practice and have the determination to make yourself the best you can be! We know you can do it…we believe in you! :-)

  6. This is a misguided blog; soccer was invented in 1862 by clubs rebelling against what was then a game more like rugby, which was called Rugby football; new rules were introduced by rebelling clubs in England to form Association Football, the oldest game resembling modern soccer was probably played in the US between 1820 and 1890.
    Most Older games may have resembled Aussie Rules or Gaelic Football, Aussie Rules having been codefied some 3 years earlier than association football.

    • Hi there, Barry, we are so appreciative of your comment. We like that you’ve added important information to our Wonder about soccer– thanks for sharing you thoughts with us! We hope you have a WONDERful day, Barry! :)

    • We’re glad you enjoyed our Wonder, Joe! We hope you have a SUPER day and you’ll continue to Wonder about other great topics, too! :)

    • HOORAY, we’re glad you shared your comment about our soccer Wonder, Jordan! Thanks for telling us about your favorite sport- we’re glad you WONDERed with us! :)

    • We bet there are still lots of soccer fans in Canada, Deeej, but you’re right… Canada sure does LOVE hockey! You have some great teams! We Wonder what position you play in soccer? :)

    • Alright, that’s AWESOME Katie! Do you have a favorite position to play on your soccer team? Some of us here at Wonderopolis like to be the goalie, while others would rather be a forward. We love sports of all kinds, including soccer! Or, as some folks in Europe call it– football! :)

  7. Hello I would like if you guys did a wonder about best soccer players such as Neymar, Cristiano ronaldo, Messi, reus and many others.

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Have you ever wondered…

  • When did people start playing soccer?
  • What came before the modern-day soccer ball?
  • Why is a typical soccer ball black and white?

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Try It Out

Has all this soccer ball talk got you thinking about getting outside? If so, grab some inflated balloons (or beach balls or even real soccer balls) and head outside to practice “headers.”

Create a family challenge to see who can keep his or her balloon (or beach ball or soccer ball) in the air the longest. No hands allowed, but a foot shot occasionally is permitted.

After you’ve perfected your soccer technique, sneak a peek at some of history’s most famous soccer balls.

 

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