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What is a football made of?

Football
Football transcends boundaries whether it be countries, religions, creeds and sex
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Suprodip Ghosal

Football is the most common sport played across the world. Be it the children in the wealthiest nations or the ones growing up in the streets of a poor 3rd world country, everyone more or less has played it at some point in time or the other. But in spite of this, most common people do not know about the manufacturing of football and the materials which are used in the process.

Here in this article, we take a look at what is football made of and the process in which they're made.

The size, shape and design of footballs have changed over the years. With more and more technology being implemented in ‘The Beautiful Game’, today's footballs are manufactured after months of research on designing and material choices to increase its effectivity on the game. Big centres have been set up by the likes of sports goods giants Adidas, Nike, Puma etc for research and development to constantly keep improving and come out with results to meet the evolving needs of the game.

A beautiful history

Football stitching
Football manufacturing has come a long way

Footballs have come a long way since their initial days of manufacture. Back in those days inflated pig bladders used to be wrapped in leather to create the final product. They used to be tied up with laces and the outcome used to be far more heavier than the balls we see or play with today. It was the self-taught chemist and manufacturing engineer Charles Goodyear who paved the way for modern day balls when started manufacturing them with his patented vulcanised rubber.

Manufacturers use patches of leather shaped in hexagons and pentagons to create the spherical shape.

The most common form of the ball today is known as the buckyball, which has been named after notable architect Richard Buckminster Fuller, It's official shape name is a spherical polyhedron but it is affectionately known as the buckyball.

Dimensions of modern day football

Football manufacturing
A modern day football manufacturing facility

Modern day footballs have a lot of geometry involved in them. There are a total of 32 panels consisting of 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons which gives the ball its required spherical shape. These panels are made of leather or synthetic plastic and is tightly stitched together.

The ball has its dimensions specified by international rules. It should be spherical in shape and should be within 27-28 inches while weighing between 0.392-0.448 kg filled to a pressure of 6.8 kg per sq cm.

The ball also has multiple layers which are made of different materials to ensure overall durability and better gameplay experience for the player. No material which has been used so far in the manufacturing of football is perfect, hence different footballs made of different materials have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Each one also has its own drawbacks and we are looking into them further in the article.

The outer layer

Employees hand-stitch panels of Adidas AG 'Brazuca Replica Glider' soccer balls
Employees hand-stitch panels of Adidas AG 'Brazuca Replica Glider' soccer balls

The synthetic outer layer gives enhanced water resistance adding which results in lesser wear and tear by protecting it from scuffs and scratches while contributing to its appearance. Polyurethane gives best feel for the ball and it is used in top-flight football.

PVC makes it more durable but offers less feel for the ball and it diminishes the overall gameplay experience. PVC also makes the outer covers hard which make it unsuitable for playing. For games in indoor surfaces, footballs get an outer coating with felt, which is used to coat tennis balls and henceforth enhances ball control on smooth surfaces.

The inner lining

There is an inner lining between the outer layer and inner bladder. The material in this layer determines the bounciness of the ball. The footballs which are used in the top-flight leagues or elite competitions have multiple layers of inner linings.

Materials like polyester and cotton are used in this layer. Polyester makes the ball responsive and durable while cotton gives the ball the required softness. Cheaper footballs have less of cotton and more of polyester which makes them harder and difficult to control, but they're durable nonetheless.

The bladder

Bladders
The bladder forms the core part of the ball

The bladder is the most important part of the ball as it holds the air. Butyl is the most common material used for bladder as it is durable and has good air retention ability. It gets easily deformed when kicked which decreases its responsiveness and this is a drawback of using butyl as bladder material.

Professional footballers prefer latex as the material of bladder as it is more responsive than butyl. It has drawbacks which are the plusses for butyl namely it is less durable and also loses air easily.

Foam is used instead of air to fill bladders for balls used in indoor football to reduce bouncing.

Stitching

Football stitching
Pakistani workers stitch footballs at a factory in Sialkot

The next part is stitching. This needs to be done very carefully as it is responsible for holding the panels of the ball together. The most common material used in stitching is polyester due to its durability and non-absorbance. Another material used is Kevlar which has enhanced durability and water resistance.

In the 2010 World Cup, the Adidas Jabulani ball had been made by glueing the panels together by thermal heating, which it made it all the more smooth than normal balls due to the absence of stitches but received fierce criticism from many players and coaches due to its unpredictability on the air.

The valve

The part of the ball where the air passes through while inflating it is known as the valve. It is a needle-like structure which looks like a tiny hole from outside. These are usually made of butyl or rubber. It easily opens when the air pump needle is inserted into the ball. It quickly closes when the pump is removed due to its elastic nature. Silicone valves are also very common as they have better air retention.

The shape, size and weight of the ball come under the purview of international rules and hence there is not much room for innovation by the manufacturers. Manufacturers are trying to make the ball softer while making it durable to enhance gameplay. They're also trying to improve stitching technology so that all forms of balls can be stitched by the machines thereby reducing dependence on human labour.


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Edited by Staff Editor
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