If you ask anyone of any age to draw a soccer ball, there’s a good chance they’ll sketch out the classic black and white ball.
Interestingly enough, I’ve actually used the black and white ball very rarely in my decades of playing and coaching soccer.
So, where did the iconic black and white ball come from? And where did it go?
Today we’ll take a deep dive into soccer history and address this question by examining:
- Soccer ball history
- The reason behind the black and white soccer ball
- Modern soccer ball design
Keep reading to find out the answer to this interesting soccer trivia question!
Why are Soccer Balls Black and White?
In the past, soccer balls were in fact black and white. But why?
The main reason was to help them show up on black and white TV!
Soccer has been around for decades, and it was shown on TV all the way back when TVs only displayed in black and white. In fact, in 1938 the FA Cup Final between Huddersfield and Preston North End was the first full live soccer game broadcast on TV.
Color is not as good of a differentiator on these TVs. For example, purple and blue would look very similar.
However, black and white offer the best contrast, making these the ideal colors to use on a soccer ball displayed on black and white TV. The black and white design made it easier for people to see the ball as it moved on the field when watching on a TV without color.
How Many Black and White Spots Are On A Soccer Ball?
The “classic” black and white soccer ball have 32 total panels. Of the 32 panels, 12 are black and 20 white.
Of course, there are now black and white soccer balls that don’t leverage this classic design. For example, a black and white Select soccer ball has 32 panels, but the actual black design does not rely on the full panels. Instead, it is an overlay that’s independent of the panels.
Why Do Soccer Balls Have Hexagons and Pentagons?
Another feature of the classic soccer ball is the hexagon and pentagons that make up its design. These shapes were not always used to craft soccer balls.
The first rubber match soccer ball was used in 1855. Before then, soccer was often played with balls crafted from other materials like feather-stuffed leather or inflated pig bladders.
Essentially, soccer balls went through hundreds of years of design iterations. Over time, people figured out that the combination of pentagons and hexagons fit together in a way that made the best, longest-lasting sphere.
The hexagon and pentagon ball design is called a “buckyball” and is still one of the most common ones used today.
When Did Soccer Balls Become White?
Even though the first live game took place all the way back in 1938, soccer balls hadn’t yet gotten their white and black spots.
Take a look at a clip of this Moscow soccer match from the 50s. It still features the older soccer ball design, a uniform-colored leather ball. As you can see, the ball is often hard to see and easily blends in with the ground.
So when did soccer balls (footballs) become white?
Some sources estimate we had white balls by the 60s, but the classic black and white soccer ball definitely appeared by 1970.
By the 1970s, soccer matches became more commonly televised. This is why soccer balls started to be made white (and black) for the 1970 World Cup.
Who Designed the Black and White Soccer Ball?
Adidas created the first black and white soccer ball with 12 black pentagons and 20 white hexagon designs. It was easier for both players and viewers to see, quickly becoming the icon of soccer.
The name of the original Telstar came from its status as ‘the star of television’. The first ball to be decorated with black panels, the pattern was designed to stand out on black-and-white TVs, and changed football design forever.FIFA.com
Adidas Telstar 1970 Soccer Ball
The black and white soccer ball Adidas first created was for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. It was called the Adidas Telstar.
The 1970 Adidas Telestar was crafted from leather. Its color was not the only big innovation of this ball. The 32 panels made the ball the roundest one available at the time.
The first Telestar was such a hit that Adidas continued to create World Cup Balls. They still label modern World Cup Balls as part of the “Telstar” line.
Are All Soccer Balls Black and White?
Even though black and white soccer balls were a huge advancement for their time (and now a classic soccer symbol), not all soccer balls are black and white.
Now, soccer balls come in a wide variety of designs and patterns.
Many (but not all) soccer balls still leverage the 32-panel design, but they may have a wide array of colors and patterns.
However, many soccer balls still do have a white base color. Any decorative colors tend to be either black or very bright.
They have continued to change, but the basic idea of using alternating tone patterns is often used to help players and onlookers alike keep better track of the action.99 Percent Visible
Ultimately, soccer balls are still designed to be as visible as possible to players, referees, and spectators. Since we have color TVs now, the balls do not need to be black and white to be visible to TV viewers!
When Was the Black-and-White Soccer Ball Used?
While we still use black and white soccer balls, it is less common than it was in the 1970s.
Taking a look at this Adidas World Cup soccer ball timeline, the white and black soccer ball was used from about 1970 until 1994.
However, the classic hexagon pattern of black and white sections seems to have only been used through the early 70s. Already by the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, we see a slightly different design (though still black and white).
Did Footballs Use To Be White?
If soccer balls used to be white for a better view on black and white TVs, what about American footballs? Did footballs use to be white as well?
Yes! A white American football also existed in the past.
The white football was used in the Chicago Cardinals vs Providence Steam Roller Game on Nov 6, 1929, for better visibility at night. Teams continued to use white football through the 1950s. But by 1956 (before the black and white soccer ball came into use) the black football phased out of the NFL.
Why did the white football fall out of favor? For one, fields adopted high-watt floodlights. Furthermore, players complained about its slip and the difficulty of distinguishing it from white uniforms.
Black and White Soccer Ball Size 5
The black and white soccer ball is not as common as it once was, but you can still get your hands on one.
Whether you like the iconic look for playing or just decoration, there are still some size 5 black and white soccer balls.
Some modern twists on the black and white design to check out include:
- Adidas MLS NFS League Ball
- Wilson Traditional Soccer Ball
- Nike Strike Ball
- Baden Traditional Classic Series
- Nike Flight Soccer Ball
- Voit 100
- Select Royale Soccer Ball
Why Do Soccer Balls Look The Way They Do?
Modern soccer balls come in many different variations, but you can almost always identify a soccer ball when you see one.
Throughout the hundreds of years of soccer, the balls have become increasingly more efficient for the sport.
Here are some of the top qualities for modern soccer balls that shape their appearance:
- Material. Soccer balls must be made from leather or approved synthetic.
- Shape. The ball must have a spherical shape.
- Size. A Size 5 soccer ball must be between 27 and 28 inches in circumference.
- Weatherproof. Soccer balls must be weather and rain-resistant.
- Durable. They must be able to withstand being struck repeatedly.
- Weight. The ball must weigh between 14 and 16 ounces.
- Surface. There are now balls uniquely designed for different playing surfaces.
- Visibility. Players and fans should be able to easily see the ball, even in low light.
The black and white soccer ball is one of the most recognizable images of the game, but we did not always have it.
Over hundreds of years, soccer balls improved thanks to several innovations. The classic black and white, hexagon and pentagon ball we all recognize today first sprang up in the 1970 World Cup.
The reason for the coloring was to ensure viewers could see the ball on black and white TV, and it also helped players track the ball on the field.
As for the pentagon/hexagon design, it ensured the roundest shape possible at the time.
Since its invention of the 1970 World Cup Telstar, Adidas has created every World Cup ball, cementing its place as a leading soccer brand.
Now, you can still find a black and white soccer ball, but you can also opt for balls with different colors and patterns.
Ultimately, the black and white soccer ball may no longer be the standard ball, but it lives on as a universally recognizable symbol of the sport.