For a long time I didn’t pay much attention to the color of a soccer ball, but then one day I started thinking about why most soccer balls you see are two colors: black and white. In popular culture a soccer ball is always portrayed at black and white and if you asked most people to draw a soccer ball they would probably draw it black and white. So, I decided to find out why a soccer ball is black and white and share what I found out with you.
The reason soccer balls are black and white is to make them easier to see on a black and white television screen. The contrast between the black and white makes it easier for those watching to follow the path of the ball as it moves around the soccer field.
I can already hear you asking yourself why a soccer ball would be designed for a black and white TV screen, and I’m guessing most of you don’t even know anyone who owns a black and white TV anymore. But you need to remember that soccer has been around for a long time. And it was being shown on TV before most people’s TVs were in color.
The Reason for the First Black and White Soccer Ball
The first full soccer game to be broadcast live on TV anywhere in the world was the FA Cup Final between Preston North End and Huddersfield on April 30, 1938, in England. [source] However, there were so few TVs in the country at that time and it’s believed that more people probably watched the game live at the stadium than on TV.
At this time and until well into the 1970s black and white TV sets were more popular than color TV sets as the color ones we’re still too expensive for most people to afford one. This meant that most people watched soccer games on a black and white screen.
A significant problem with this is that on a black and white screen the ball was notoriously hard to follow.
The first soccer balls used were often made of brown leather. They were heavy, hard, and single, uniform color. Although when you were at a soccer game it wasn’t too hard to track where the ball was going, on a grainy, often blurry, black and white TV screen following the movement of the ball was another challenge entirely.
Have a look at this footage of a soccer game from the 1950s. Notice how the ball blends into the background and when it moves at speed it is hard to follow.
For the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico Adidas decided to do something about it.
Introduction of the Telstar Soccer Ball
By this time watching soccer on TV was becoming more popular and it was decided that something needed to change to allow people to be able to track the ball more easily.
In 1970 and at every FIFA World Cup since Adidas has been responsible for creating the official game ball for the tournament. For the 1970 World Cup Adidas created the now-iconic Telstar soccer ball.
The Adidas Telstar soccer ball was specifically designed to be easier to see and follow on a black and white TV screen as the majority of people watching would be watching in black and white.
The contrast between the two colors made it much easier for a person’s eye to pick it up and much harder to lose sight of it. The opposing colors even helped the viewer to recognize the direction the ball was spinning.
The introduction and use of the Telstar ball was revolutionary to soccer. Up until this time, there had only been one design of a soccer ball. It was the talking point of the tournament and the design of the ball became lodged in the minds of millions of people. The fact that a soccer ball was now black and white became the reality for everyone watching.
This assumption is still lodged in the minds of many people today and the belief that a soccer ball should be black and white is still prevalent in popular culture because of the 1970 FIFA World Cup.
The Design of the Black and White Soccer Ball
To explore the details of the black and white soccer ball a little more let me just go over some of the facts about how the ball was designed as you may be surprised about it’s makeup.
The original black and white soccer balls were made up of a series of leather, hand-stitched hexagons, and pentagons where every pentagon was surrounded by a series of hexagons. The pentagons were all painted black and the hexagons were all painted white. [source]
In total there were 32 panels on a black and white soccer ball made up of 12 black pentagons and 20 white hexagons. [source] The reason why a soccer ball was made up of hexagons and pentagon was that that specific combination of shapes created the ideal shape for a soccer ball known as a spherical polyhedron or a truncated icosahedron.
There are a variety of claims about who first came up with this design. Some places claim it was Richard Buckminster Fuller who first invented this design for the ball, some say that it was Eigil Nielson, and other people claim the design goes all the way back to the ancient Greek mathematician and physicist Archimedes.
Maybe it was one of these people, or maybe it was a combination of these designs. Whoever it was, the culmination of all these ideas put together by Adidas in the 1970 FIFA World Cup Telstar ball was what brought it to international awareness and cemented the fact in millions of people’s minds that the black and white soccer ball is how a soccer ball should look.
Modern Day Soccer Balls
Of course since this time the design of soccer balls has evolved and changed multiple times. You will now see balls with multiple colors and patterns on them as the goal of making it possible to see the soccer ball on a black and white screen is does not even play a small part in the thinking of those designing a soccer ball these days.
But for whatever reason, the idea that a soccer ball is made up of black and white spots covering the surface still remains to this day and is what many people have come to expect.
I hope this article has answered any questions you had about the reason behind why a soccer ball is black and white. To get your hands on one of my favorite modern-day soccer balls check out this one here on soccer.com. It has everything you could ask for in a soccer ball. Or if you want to get hold of a modern black and white Telstar ball this one on Amazon is worth having a look at.
To find more information about soccer check out one of my other articles below.