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Why Are Soccer Balls Black And White? All About Its History

Why Are Soccer Balls Black And White? All About Its History

The first consumer color television set was invented in 1954. However, it will take until the 1980s before average consumers would be able to afford them.

Therefore, many of the people that viewed televised matches did so on black and white television. Sadly, viewers had a hard time following the ball.

To solve this problem, it was necessary to change the shape and color of soccer ball. The soccer ball continues to evolve as necessity demands but the thirty-two polyhedral model has become the ubiquitous iconic soccer ball symbol.

But, how did the change in color solve the viewer’s problem? Read on to find out.

FIFA’s definition of soccer ball

Why Are Soccer Balls Black And White?

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the body in charge of football, has a strict expectation of what a soccer ball should be. However, it will interest you to know that there is no mention of design.

According to FIFA, a soccer ball must be a sphere with a circumference of either 68 or 70 centimeters.

Also, the deviation of a soccer ball from sphericity when bloated to 0.8-atmosphere pressure must not be more than 1.5%.

The lack of specification on outward design gives manufacturers room to innovate and experiment with different designs.

When did soccer balls become black and white?

The first-generation soccer balls were products of an inflated pig bladder which was subsequently covered a. That was later replaced by vulcanized rubber pioneered by Charles Goodyear in 1844.

Eventually, the pig bladder was abandoned in preference for plastic—thankfully!

Prior to the arrival of the present-day soccer ball design, we had what was called the Slazenger ball which was introduced for the 1966 World Cup.

The ball was a product of Slazenger, a British manufacturer. Some fondly call it the 18-panel ball. The name was from the long stripes in threes—intersecting at a perpendicular angle—that cover the entire surface of the ball.

However, in some photographs, the ball may appear to have twenty-four panels where the middle stripe is divided into two. Perhaps, this was just a variation of the Slazenger ball.

Another feature of the Slazenger ball was that it bore the color of the leather (brown) used in the manufacture. This was not black and white television-friendly or telegenic.

Why are soccer balls black and white?

The era of black and white soccer ball

A black and white ball was introduced in 1970 by Adidas called ‘Telstar’ (Television Star)—and it solved the telegenic problem presented by its predecessor.

The high contrast black and white color of the new soccer ball made it easier for spectators to watch from their black and white televisions. By this time, the number of televised matches had grown.

The Telstar was the official ball of the 1970 World Cup. Another striking feature of the ball was the shortening of the stripes into hexagons and pentagons. This feature endured three decades of evolution until it was eventually phased out in 2006.

But, Adidas continues to be the official manufacturer of the World Cup ball.

Why are the soccer balls black and white?

Why are soccer balls black and white?

The game-changer of the 1970 Adidas Telstar was the combination of hexagon and pentagon shapes (icosahedron) to make the ball.

In total, there are 12 pentagons and 20 hexagons on the soccer ball. Apparently, this number cannot be arbitrary. It was clearly assembled to achieve a sphere.

In other words, if you try to alter the number of hexagons and pentagons it will be hard to shape it into a perfect sphere—so let’s leave out the complex mathematical equation that led to the Telstar.

Obviously, the introduction of a second color on the soccer ball was visually refreshing. However, the use of a black and white ball goes beyond the aesthetics.

Some of the reasons why soccer balls are black and white are highlighted below.

Why are the soccer balls black and white?

1. Improve the telegenic properties of televised matches

Before the Telestar, soccer balls were frequently whitened. The major problem with this was that it made it hard to follow the ball on black and white television.

By painting the black pentagons and leaving the white hexagons, Adidas was able to achieve a good contrast that greatly improved the black and white viewing experience of televised soccer matches.

2. Improves visibility of the ball for goalkeepers

why are soccer balls black and white?

White reflects colors which often makes objects painted white to glitter. This was a serious problem for the goalkeepers whose job is to stop the ball from entering the net.

The reflection often made it hard for goalkeepers to see the ball properly—especially when games are played on a sunny day. The black contrast was a game-changer for goalkeepers too.

3. Clarity of ball motion

When balls were monochrome, it was hard for viewers on black and white television to see the ball.

For players, it was hard to judge the motion of the ball. The absence of a clear mental picture of the ball’s motion meant it was hard for players to execute certain moves.

4.  Watching a match from every corner of the stands is better

Surprisingly, it was not only the viewers on black and white television that had issues with enjoying the game. Some of the viewers in the stadium also struggled to follow the ball on sunny days—just like the goalkeepers.

The color contrast made it easier to follow the ball and see its motions. This was even worse for the viewers farthest away from the pitch.

soccer match in big stadium

How many black and white spots are on a soccer ball?

While the black and white color of the soccer ball was a huge win for soccer fans, it was also a win for the manufacturers.

The tendency of leather to overstretch in some areas and wrinkle in other places increases as you try to form it into a sphere. This creates inconsistency that will affect the performance of the soccer ball.

WILSON Traditional Soccer Ball - Size 5, Black/White
  • WILSON Traditional Soccer Ball - Size 5, Black/White
  • Synthetic leather cover for increased durability
  • Butyl rubber bladder for excellent air and shape retention

Last update on 2023-11-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

However, the smaller the pieces the less likely this shrinks and stretches will happen.

All the pentagons (shapes with 5 sides) of the soccer ball are painted black while the hexagons (shapes with 6 sides) are painted white. Therefore, there are 12 black spots on the soccer ball and 20 white spots. It is designed in such a way that all the pentagons are surrounded by hexagons.

In other words, each side of the pentagon is bordered by a side of a hexagon.

why are soccer balls black and white

Apparently, the division of the ball into pentagons and hexagons was also useful in achieving even coloring.

Assuming soccer balls were smooth, achieving uniform coloring would have been a tough job.

Manufacturers would have struggled a lot in deciding where to paint white or black—and this will definitely affect the aesthetics.

The evolution of the soccer ball from Telstar

16 years after the 1970 Mexico World Cup, the outer leather of the soccer ball was completely replaced by synthetic material. The reason for this change was because leather absorbs water which made soccer balls soggy under the rain.

While it is possible for water to still enter the synthetic ball through its stitches, it is nothing compared to absorption by leather. All this while, the ball was heavier than what it is today.

The making of a lighter ball

In 1994, the World Cup was hosted by the United States. Four years earlier, the Mundial was hosted by Italy where teams scored fewer goals because of the prevalent defensive mindset.

Since Americans were used to high-scoring games like basketball and rugby there was the fear that a low-scoring tournament would not be attractive to American spectators which would lead to a huge loss of revenue.

FIFA threw the challenge to Adidas and they came up with a new type of soccer ball made from five different materials wrapped in a polystyrene shell. The outcome was a lighter, softer, and more responsive soccer ball.

adidas Tango Rosario Manchester United Soccer Ball White/Black/Black 4
  • Hand stitched for high durability and a good touch
  • Butyl bladder for best air retention
  • FIFA Quality certified, Ball passed FIFA tests on circumference weight, rebound and water absorption

Last update on 2023-11-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Consequently, players could kick the ball harder and farther. While this was good news for the players, it was bad news for the goalkeepers. It worked as they anticipated and the tournament experienced some spectacular goals.

The end of the polyhedral soccer ball design

The polyhedral World Cup ball design continued to exist from 1970 up until 2002—albeit there were modifications in the color. After 1974, the black color of the pentagons was now white while the hexagon had a dark triangular shape.

This design lasted up until France 1998 World Cup. While the design was retained for France 98, blue was introduced. It is not surprising that it was called Tricolore—obviously in reference to its three-color combination (white, black, and blue).

By 2006, the polyhedral design was gone and in its place was a new curved panel design that was bonded to each other rather than sewn.

The advantage of this new design is that it eliminates the weak links produced by sewing through which water could still enter the ball.

In other words, the 2006 World Cup ball called Teamgeist was watertight. To make this ball more spectacular, each match at the 2006 World Cup had its own ball with the match date and stadium printed on them. The manufacturers claimed it was the roundest ball ever.

The new face of soccer balls

From 2006 to 2018, fans have been treated to a new soccer ball design at every World Cup. The 2010 World Cup ball called Jabulani (a Zulu word for ‘celebrate’) was made by bonding eight molded panels together. This new technology improved grip in all conditions.

The manufacturers claimed it was the most accurate ball ever made in terms of roundness.

soccer ball on the pitch

Four years later, Adidas evolved to a six-panel design for Brazuca with the aim of further improving grip, aerodynamics, and stability.

While we wait to see what Adidas will present in 2022, it is interesting to know that the manufacturers now involve players in the testing of balls to prevent a repeat of the 2006 and 2010 criticism of the balls by goalkeepers and players.

In fact, Spain’s goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, compared Jabulani to a beach ball. The Brazuca involved six hundred soccer players in the testing.