Published on February 6, 2013 | by David Drake

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FA 150 – Equipment

During the 150 years of the Football Association (FA) there have been a number of changes and alterations regarding rules, regulations and stadiums, but nothing has seen a greater change than equipment.

One of the greatest appeals of this great game is simplicity and law 6 in the Laws of the Game says: “The basic compulsory equipment of a player shall consist of a jersey or shirt, shorts stockings, shin guards and footwear. A player shall not wear anything that is dangerous to another player. The goalkeeper shall wear colours which will distinguish him from the other players and the referee.”

So what has changed?

Shirts
England World Cup shirt, 1966

England 1966 World Cup Shirt (Flickr: dulllhunk)

Let’s start with the most important form of equipment – jerseys or team strips, which are simply to make distinction between both teams. Many of the first football shirts were made from heavy wool similar to a jumper with thick collar and cuffs almost like a rugby shirt. A common feature was to have a laced up neck. Cotton had become a more popular material because of it cheaper production costs and already a new design had manifested – buttoned up collars.

In 1913 goalkeepers were called to wear a different colour from the rest of the team, and the choice was mainly between green, yellow and white.

It would still be a number of years until synthetics would come on the scene. The 1962 World Cup in Chile was the turning point because of the high altitude and the extreme heat of South America. The material needed to be light-weight, thin and well ventilated – look no further than Lycra.

The disco-obsessed and eccentric 1980s, the decade of colour, saw football shirts and more particularly, goalkeepers’ jerseys, splashed with bright and wild colours, which up to then were just a feeble choice of three.

So much fun was had it seems with these designs that many teams have a different design every season. To name just a few of the alterations many teams have of their kit, are the home and away strip, the alternative kit to prevent colour clashes, along with an influx in recent years of centenary kits, which is often a modern take on the original kits. We have also seen charity kits and even specialist training/warm up kits. 

Boots

Football boots have probably had the most noticeable modifications, especially with the evolution of sport science, which has developed the technology beyond what is plainly a pair of boots.

Football boots from the 1940s

1940s Football boots. (Flickr: Black Country Museums)

Back in the 1920s men would play in hobnail boots, coming straight from the factory floor to the pitch. To provide that extra bit of grip they would nail studs to the soles.

Post-war Britain saw a rise in finer materials: boots by the 1950s would be of a much softer yet still durable leather providing the player with a little more response, and fitted with screw-in studs. Once again the 1970s stepped up the grade with much slicker boots, a finer mix of leather and synthetics.

In the 1990s boots took on a completely new concept with talk of more control and extra power: others wanted the extra assistance they saw when David Beckham was applying spin on the ball and positioning it some 50 or more yards away.

Both Nike and Adidas redesigned football boots to offer these things. Adidas would add grips of rubber for curl and Nike would reposition the laces giving more surface area for a more responsive feel on the ball. 

The ball

It’s not just the football strips and boots which have changed. Footballs themselves have also seen a huge change.

Footballs in the early 1900s were made from very tough leather with the leather panels laced together. The poor quality of the leather meant that in bad weather conditions the ball would retain water, adding a considerable weight. Shortly after the Second World War fine quality materials were scarce, and during the FA Cup final in 1948 the ball burst because of the poor quality leather.

Early 20th century stitched football

Football from the 1900s, with the orignal stitching

For the dedicated headers of the ball, the 1950s could not have come sooner. It was during this period that the laces were replaced with stitched panels and the famous brown ball became white, but the brown ball would continue to be popular into the early 1970s.

Along with the rest of the advances it was down to the emergence of man-made materials, superior technologies and manufacturing techniques. The results were quite controversial as the balls surprisingly became an ounce heavier compared to pre-war balls despite being designed from plastics and similar such materials, but at least they retained virtually no water.

Accessories

Throughout the reign of the FA there has also been an arrival of accessories. Today these are seen as essentials as players can’t walk on the pitch without them. For example goalkeepers up until the mid-70’s would have nothing but bare hands, these days they wear thick padded gloves often with plastic finger splints to prevent keepers’ fingers being forced back under the pressure of the ball.

Shin-pads are now compulsory kit; the first appearance of these were in the 1930’s but very few players sported the idea that originated from cutting down cricket pads. Throughout tough economical time, players, both amateur and pros, were believed to use short socks and even exercise books stuffed down their socks.

With the increase in the use of lyrca, the many proposed health and performance benefits of this material in the form of ‘compression lycra’ we have seen a huge increase in players under garments from tight fitting under shorts and many players sporting long-sleeved tops under their shirts.

However, sadly, football finally succumbed to fashion with some dreadful consequences – neck warmers or better known as snoods. Thankfully, these horrendous and pointless items of clothing were banished from the game recently.

Football equipment over the years has undergone dramatic changes and although the quality of football and players’ ability over the years has increased, it is hard to say whether equipment has really enhanced this.

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