There was a time, deep in the depths of football history, when monochrome players took the field with their hair slicked, long-shorts held up with braces, mustaches at the ready for sporting combat. Stood alongside the multicolored, multi-branded football stars of today, they’d hardly be recognizable as players of the same sport.
How did we get so far apart? Here at Highsnobiety we like to know our heritage, so we’ve delved deep into the annals of apparel and come up with a few potted histories of football wear: first up, the humble football boot. Check out a brief history of the boot and learn a thing or two about its evolution below.
We say that our black-and-white footballer was playing the same sport as Messi, Ronaldo and co., but in truth the demands of the game then were quite different. Pitches were heavy, the balls were heavy, tackles were heavy. So, understandably, boots had to be heavy too. They were made of strong leather and would weigh half a kilo, doubling if they were wet, which, given that the sport was only played in Britain, they always were. Often they included steel toe-caps and tacks as cleats – studs up two-footed challenges were still allowed – and these bruisers remained the norm for almost 30 years, as the game slowly expanded beyond it’s European heartland.
What forced a change in footwear was the growth of football in South America. The drier pitches of Uruguay and Argentina prompted a change in design, which was reflected in lighter, more aerodynamic footwear. Again, this was slow in the up-take – Leonidas da Silva, Brazil’s star player at the 1938 World Cup still took to the field in bare feet – but eventually the successes of the South Americans made it clear which was more effective.
The true sea-change, however, took place in 1954, and a now familiar name was at the heart of it. Adi Dassler, founder of adidas, had designed boots specifically for the West German national team to use at the World Cup in Switzerland. These boots were the first with screw-in studs, which could be adapted to the weather. The Germans reached the final but were huge underdogs, faced with a Hungarian team which had defeated them 8-3 earlier in the tournament. On the day of the game it rained torrentially, turning the pitch into a bog. The Germans fitted longer studs into their regular boots and were far more nimble than the Hungarians, who were forced to wear their much heavier wet-weather boots. They pulled off a shock result, winning 3-2, in a game still known as “The Miracle of Bern,” after the host city.
This advancement lead to a surge of new designs in footwear, all aimed at reducing weight and increasing movability. The high-ankled boot was swiftly replaced by a lower cut and technological advances in leather made more durable boots possible. adidas remained the market leader, but other manufacturers were in on the act, with Hummel, Mitre and PUMA all vying for supremacy. Boot sponsorship deals became commonplace, with Pele wearing PUMA to the 1962 World Cup and 75% of players at the 1966 tournament wearing adidas.
adidas cemented their position at the top of the tree in 1979, with the release of the Copa Mundial (World Cup), made from kangaroo leather, with extra leather supports around the heel, and a shorter, 12-stud design to suit the hard Spanish pitches of the 1982 World Cup. It remains the highest-selling boot of all time.
They followed this with the adidas Predator, the first boot to be designed by a professional player. Created by former Liverpool midfielder Craig Johnston, the Predator replaced part of the leather upper with rubber (initially ripped from a ping-pong bat), which greatly aided control of the ball. Rejected at first, Johnston persuaded Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner, former adidas athletes and German legends, to be filmed using the boots in snowy conditions, to demonstrate their greater grip. adidas were convinced, and bought the rights to the boot, which went on to sell millions.
Even the most flamboyant of 1970s and 1980s players would never have been caught in anything other than black, but come the ’90s, there was an explosion of new colors and materials available and players diversified massively. David Beckham’s red/black Predators became a trademark, as did Ronaldo’s silver/yellow/blue Nike Mercurials.
Ronaldo himself became the subject of enormous controversy during the 1998 World Cup as a result of his boot sponsorship deal. Having suffered a fit shortly before the final, he played on anyway, and was largely ineffective in Brazil’s 3-0 defeat. Politicians in Brazil, unable to fathom how their side had lost, demanded an inquest into the relationship between the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF), Nike and the national team, particularly Ronaldo, the star player. The allegations were that Nike, having signed a $175 million endorsement deal with the CBF, had insisted that an unfit Ronaldo play. Ronaldo himself remained philosophical: “We lost,” he said, “because we didn’t win.”
The advancement of Nike, from a brand without any background in football to one of the biggest players in the game within just 10 years, was a huge challenge to the established order. Their acquisition of the sponsorship rights to Brazil in 1996 represented their major debut in soccer and they swiftly became known for some of the most iconic boots of the era – the Mercurial and the Tiempo. The huge marketing drive that culminated in the 1998 World Cup lead to their popularity, capitalizing on their ultra-lightweight design; the Mercurials worn by Ronaldo in the tournament tipped the scales at only 200g. The Tiempo, which had been around since the 1970s but had failed to gain commercial success (although it had been popular amongst players), also became a huge hit.
The modern day footballer is blessed by the range of boots available: every star player has his own line and model of boot, created specifically for them. In this World Cup we have seen the knitted boot, the Primeknit, as worn by Luis Suarez, the Nike Magista, which includes an contiguous upper, and has been seen across the tournament, most notably by Cristiano Ronaldo. Multicolored boots are also prevalent, with Mario Balotelli and many of the PUMA athletes wearing one pink and one blue version of their Tricks.
While it used to be said that to wear multicolored boots you had to be good, it seems now that, to coin a phrase, neon is the new black. What our mustachioed, pomaded footballer of the past would think we can’t be sure, but we’ve come a long way from kilo-heavy cloggers with steel-toes, that’s for sure.
Check out the rest of our World Cup Month features here.