Through the Decades - Football Boots
Anyone who owned and played in football boots in the first half of the 20th century will tell you quite how uncomfortable they were. Old style boots were made from leather; they were tough, rigid and heavy, and, not being waterproof, twice as heavy when wet. Not made for kicking or running, or for enhancing performance, the football boots of yesteryear were solely for protecting the foot.
The steady rise in the game's popularity throughout the latter half of the 20th century to today, which sees some 265 million people playing the game around the world, has ensured that football boots have evolved from their humble beginnings. Today, boots are lightweight and designed for comfort and performance. Boots come in different colours, styles and materials, and can be fashioned for different functionality and playing conditions, and can even be custom made to suit individual players.
Today, football boots are an essential part of a player's game, and they can cost around $225 a pair depending on the make and quality. But, how did the simple leather 'boot' become such a crucial part of a footballers kit? How have they developed over the years, what will football boots of the future be like? And why are they called 'boots'? Read on to discover more.
From Humble Beginnings
In olden days, right up to the 19th century when football was just a knock-about game enjoyed by working men in their leisure time, the players played the sport in their working clothes. In their workboots! These boots were made for heavy work; they were thick leather lace-ups with thick leather soles, some had steel toecaps, and all had high sides to cover the wearer's ankles for support and protection. Some were modified by nailing strips of leather on the soles to give them a better grip on the ground when playing. Though never designed to kick a ball, these working men's boots lent their name and style to the football boots of the future.
Over the Years
Up to the middle of the 20th century, the football boot did not really change that much. The boots of this era, while explicitly made to play football, were still relatively ill-fitting, stiff up to the ankle, non-waterproof and lacked the grip needed for players to accelerate or change direction quickly. To improve the comfort and performance of their shoes, players had to undertake a range of time-consuming activities. To get a good fit, players had to soak the boots and wear them wet until they dried to the shape of their feet. To try to soften and waterproof their footwear, players had to rub a mixture of natural wax, oil and grease (known as dubbin) into the leather. To gain some traction on the field, they had to nail leather studs to the soles of their boots; the use of studs was officially approved only in the last years of the 19th century.
The beginning of the late 1940s signalled the start of significant changes to the design of the football boot which, considering the unwieldiness of the original boot, have been crucial to the development of the modern game.
Between the '40s to the '60s boots became lighter (half the weight of conventional 500kg boots) and more flexible, made with mixtures of leather and synthetic materials. One of the major revolutions was the introduction of screw-in rubber and plastic studs by Adidas, which enabled boots to be adapted to ground conditions on the field. Adidas and Puma, formed when the Dassler Brothers dissolved their original company and set up rival businesses in the late '40s, were the biggest manufacturers of the era.
Through the '60s, '70s and '80s technological advances saw significant changes in football boot design - boots were transforming from protective shoes to performance-enhancing equipment. The lower cut ankle appeared, boots became lighter, and new materials such as kangaroo leather were employed - the ultimate goal, speed and versatility. Even coloured boots began to replace the browns and blacks of the original boots. During this period, football boot sponsorship took off meaning brands could reach and influence millions, pouring cash into the race to create the best football boot in history. Other brands, such as Umbro, Mitre and Asics, joined the race during this era.
More advances were made through the '90s into the 21st century. New boots were introduced every season with new colours, new designs and new technology. Boots became lighter still (Nike, new to the market, brought out the Mercurial which was only 200g), soles were more flexible, conventional studs were replaced with blades and wedges. Probably the most defining boot of the period was the Adidas Predator. Designed to improve traction between the boot and the ball, and the boot and the ground, the Predator, used polymer extrusion technology to increase the size of the surface areas on the boot that came into contact with the ball – more control, more power. Other transformations came in the form of 'sticky' boots and 'shark' technology, boots to which mud could not stick, and the laceless boots.
Today’s boots are light, flexible, comfortable and waterproof. They are made from a variety of manmade and natural materials. They are technically advanced and designed to add to a player’s ability. This development has taken decades and is still on-going.
The Boot of the Future
The football boot is under constant development. Manufacturers in this lucrative and competitive market are continually looking at new materials and improved designs. The on-going aim is to produce lighter, more efficient boots based on improving power, speed and control, and, of course, with more outlandish designs and styles to capture the market.
Football boots no longer come under the 'one size fits all' strategy. Boots are now made to suit specific surfaces and conditions, and player positions. One recent development is the custom manufacture of boots to fit the particular requirements of individual players. Using the latest computer and video technology designers can analyse a players performance and technique to create tailor-made boots according to their style of play and needs.
And perhaps the most exciting prospect is the introduction of micro-electronic sensor technology. Using microchips within the boot to measure speed and distance players could be provided with data to measure and analyse their performance.
Following some criticism that new design boots do not protect the player's feet and bones, one of the remaining challenges of boot design is to create safer boots. However, this needs to happen without compromising the developments since the days of using heavy leather, steel toecaps and ankle-high boots.
That's quite a goal!
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Top Pick Boots for 2020
The choice of football boots on the market is fairly immense these days, but with a little help from one of our Qatar based football boot aficionados we’ve put together a list of the top four for 2020.
Don’t forget to check back again, as football boot designs change relatively regularly, we’ll update the list accordingly, and in the lead up to 2022, we’ll predict what our World Cup players are likely to be wearing on their feet.
Adidas Predator 20+
In 2020 Adidas changed the football boot market with the latest Predator including a ‘DEMONSKIN’ upper for the first time. The DEMONSKIN consists of 406 rubber spikes attached to the front and side of the boots allowing players to get more power and more swerve on the ball.
Nike Mercurial Superfly 7
The boot of choice for Cristiano Ronaldo and with the flyknit upper and dynamic fit collar the boot gives a sock-like feel allowing players to have a better sensation of touch on the ball. Lightweight and the boot worn by some of the worlds fastest players.
Puma One 20.1
Puma’s newest boot has been well received, and the EvoKnit upper is one of the best in the game. Puma is known for its bold colourways, and it will be exciting to see how this boot develops.
Adidas X 19+
A laceless speed boot from the German giants that performs as well as it looks. The X 19+ is a stunning lightweight construction that looks incredible on foot. One of the best speed boots on the market and will be one to watch for sure.
These choices have been made by Qatar based Derek Lyon, a football boot collector for over 10 years. A fanatic when it comes to football boots with daily posts on Instagram @DLBootroom.
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