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The History of the World Cup’s Match Balls

A tribute to the innovations behind the balls and the moments that defined it.

Once every 4 years, groups of men from all over the world come together to chase 1 ball and kick it away when they receive it. And millions, or dare we say billions, of people put their hearts on their sleeves in an outpouring of emotion into this spectacle. Years from now, when our robot overlords study their records, they’re going to ponder about this major event in human history that may short some circuits. What is this “emotion” that grips these lesser life forms? What algorithms were installed with VAR? Did Diana Ross prophesize the Final of World Cup 1994?

And finally, what made these balls so special that made everyone want to chase it and then kick it away? In a bid to curry favour with our future mechanical masters, we take a look at the centrepiece of the World Cup – the humble match ball.

World Cup Pre-1970

Back in the day, football was played by “real men”. Real men who sported mullets, macho moustaches and played the game hard. Or so they say. One thing we know for sure was that the early football was hand sewn and made from tough leather. It soaked up water in the rain and weighed a ton, so much so that it was found to be the cause of dementia in former pros due to the force of heading the ball. The 1966 World Cup was the last tournament where the football looked and felt like basketballs with new innovations being produced in the near future.

A replica of the match ball from World Cup 1966.
A replica of the match ball from 1966. Image: National Football Museum
Alan Ball at 1966 World Cup
Alan Ball at the 1966 World Cup. Image: Daily Mail

Mexico 1970 – A Telstar is Born

The OG match ball. Adidas took over the reigns of producing the World Cup match ball in 1970 and have not looked back ever since. The “Telstar” was actually named after a satellite that beamed the live feed of the World Cup to the black and white televisions at home. The design of the ball, 12 black and 20 white panels, were designed for maximum visibility on the television screens. It also resembled said satellite in tribute to its muse. The look has been so iconic that this pattern is now the archetypal face of what a football should look like.

The 32 panel design was also meant to make the ball more spherical, something the big brands have been working towards with every new iteration of a match ball. That philosophy seems to have been born with the Telstar.

Telstar 1970 - World Cup
The OG Telstar

Iconic moment of Mexico ’70

Brazil took the tournament by storm, winning their third World Cup in style. However, one of the great moments was in their match against England when Gordon Banks pulled off an astounding save to deny Pele one of the goals of the competition.

Germany 1974 – The Telstar and the Chile

The Telstar was so good that Adidas made almost no tweaks for Germany 1974 with a slightly more durable plastic coat on the surface of the ball the only highlight. They also introduced the “Chile”, an all-white version of the Telstar.

The Telstar -1974
The Telstar -1974

Iconic moment of Germany ’74

It was a tense final between neighbouring rivals – West Germany and Holland. The Dutch were the favourites with their sexy brand of Total Football. With the first attack, legend Johan Cryuff shimmied through the German midfield from the centre circle, into the penalty box and won a penalty. Alas it was not enough to win them the Final but Cryuff showed what he could do with a simple dip of his shoulder.

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[…] had some controversy in recent World Cups regarding the balls by Adidas. The Jabulani and Fevernova were criticized for being too light and […]

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