Royal request to design icon: The football boot

Published: 2011-08-08 08:14:27
Author: Stephen Ebert

 From one perspective the football boot is purely a tool, but the world’s most famous boot has become a collectable fashion accessory, won design awards, and paved the way for new technologies and textiles for the rest of the fashion world.

Its journey has been filled with groundbreaking innovation, from the use of kangaroo leather, the invention of the screw-in-stud, and the quest to produce the world’s lightest boot. Not just a pair of old shoes, the football boot is now a valuable collectable, and a global business, if the ladies have their favourite Jimmy Choo’s, the men have a vintage pair of 1984 Adidas Copa Mundials.

The beginning at the King’s request

The first were worn by Henry VIII in 1526, with “45 velvet pairs and 1 leather pair for football” requested so he could have a kickabout with his young nobles. However today’s boots are engineered in laboratories changing the original heavy, hulking leathers to thread-bare boots designed to be as light as those of an Olympic sprinter’s.

While Henry VIII’s boots are no longer in existence, the beginnings of widely used football boots can be traced back to the 1800’s. Football was gaining increasing popularity in Britain with matches between local factories and villages becoming a regular fixture.

Players wore steel-toed work boots to play. They were heavy, were made from thick, hard leather and weighed up to 500g. Leather studs, which had to be rounded, were hammered into the bottom for stability.

Right up to the 1900’s, development of the football boot was slow up to the Second World War. However, a number of football boot manufacturers began to appear including Gola, Valsport and Hummel.

A family feud shaped the future. 

In 1925, in Germany, Dassler brothers Adolf and Rudolf formed the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory, and began producing football boots that had replaceable studs for customising the boots according to the weather, or surface of the pitch.

In 1948, The Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory became the company Adidas. However following a number of squabbles Adolf, fell out with his brother, and the Puma company was born.

Puma produced the Puma Atom football boot, leading to interchangeable screw-in studs, the first of its kind, made of plastic or rubber in the 1950’s. A feud erupted between the two companies over who was first with the studs, with Puma to this day claiming ownership of the innovation.

Adidas kitted out the German national football team that won the World Cup final in 1954 against Hungary. But Puma claimed to have produced the studs before then, as early as 1948, and that in 1953, the year before Germany won the World Cup, FC Kaiserslautern players were already wearing Puma’s screw-in studs, with Pumas “Super Atom” boot.

By now football boots were being made from synthetic materials and leather to deliver lighter footwear. A design change meant boots no longer went up to the ankles, increasing freedom of movement.

The era of sponsorship: World Cup to Predator

The 1970’s saw football move to another financial strata, with a new age of sponsorship being ushered in. Brazilian icon Pele, winner of the FIFA World Cup in 1970, became synonymous with the Puma King football boot, as players were paid for wearing one brand. Adidas produced the Copa Mundial – made from kangaroo leather and built for speed. The simple design has become synonymous with football, becoming the symbol of football in the 70’s.