As you kick a soccer ball you might wonder what it is actually made of. Are these balls made out of leather or of something else? If someone else is used, then what material could it be?
There have been different materials used through the years, with leather definitely being one of them, which is why a lot of people think that they are still made out of leather. However, in this modern age, there are other materials that are commonly used. To fully understand this subject we need to go back in time and start at the beginning of this sport.
The History of Soccer Balls
Games similar to soccer have been played around the world for centuries. In some cultures, this involved kicking a leather object around. This was usually a ball-shaped object that had been filled with light material such as cork.
In other places, an inflated bladder, cloth, or even animal head was used. Some sources even mention human heads being used in this kind of game.
When the game of soccer’s first official rules were drawn up there was little mention of how the ball had to be made or what it should be made of. In the early days of organized matches and tournaments, they were made of a rubber bladder surrounded by a leather casing, which was usually stitched up by hand.
These early balls were extremely heavy and tended to get even heavier in rainy weather. Many players suffered serious injuries, especially when it came to heading the ball when it was soaking wet. Others suffered health problems in later life due to the repeated impact of such a heavy ball on their heads.
Another problem was that they needed to be re-inflated regularly, with matches having to be stopped sometimes to carry out this task. A more practical approach was needed as the popularity of the sport spread over the planet.
There were attempts to produce balls completely from rubber but they were found to bounce too high. So we carried on using leather balls for soccer for many years. It wasn’t ideal; there was simply no better alternative at the time.
The Rise of Synthetic Leather
By the 1960s, it was possible to produce soccer balls using synthetic leather. They were lighter and more durable than the leather equivalent but not everyone was convinced that this was the right way forward. Soccer players carried on using real leather even when other sports had begun to adopt synthetic materials.
By the 1970s, new processes allowed leather soccer balls to be coated so that they absorbed less water. Yet, the move towards using materials would eventually see real leather replaced altogether. It wouldn’t be until the 1980s that soccer truly moved over to synthetic leather balls.
The benefits of moving over to synthetic materials are now obvious, so there is no real debate about moving back to real leather or switching to some other type of material. Current balls are safe, light, and predictable in terms of how they react in different situations.
The Current Situation
These days, soccer balls are made of entirely synthetic materials, with no real leather used in the process. The different parts of a ball are as follows:
- The outer cover is made from PVC or PU. This is a tough, hard-wearing substance that doesn’t absorb water and is also soft to the touch.
- The inner lining is made from cotton and polyester, with multiple layers used on professional balls to ensure a soft touch and a consistent bounce.
- The bladder is where the air is held. This part is most commonly made from butyl, although latex is often used in more expensive, professional models where a higher level of performance is needed.
- The stitching that holds the ball together may be done with polyester or kevlar thread.
- Finally, the valve through which it can be inflated is most typically made from butyl, with silicone being a higher-end option.
Soccer balls have evolved greatly from the early days when a variety of weird and wonderful objects were kicked around by players. These days, the use of synthetic leather gives us a safe, reliable ball that is suitable in any type of weather condition.
Real leather was the most common material for a long time, before the numerous advantages of synthetic materials meant that it became easier to make balls that are lighter, don’t absorb water, and are highly durable.