Nov
19
How TV gave us the classic soccer ball


If I asked you to imagine a soccer ball, what
would it look like? This is starting to look a little bit like Mr. Potato Head. This is like asking a bro to draw his favorite drag queens. I’m kinda guessing at this point. The most iconic ball, the one with black and
white panels stitched together? It’s known as the Telstar. And it got its start because of broadcast television. The 1966 World Cup was a turning point in
soccer history. The games that year were held in England,
home to the BBC which, aside from the US, had the biggest television operation at the
time. The television broadcast became a huge part
of the World Cup. And, as The Times reported, four hundred million
fans were watching across five continents. But notice the ball. If you’re having a hard time following it,
it’s not just you. The ball used in the 1966 World Cup was reddish-brown. And its solid color made it hard to spot on
TV. Like the soccer balls that came before it,
this one was made of rectangular strips. It actually looked more like a modern volleyball. But by the 1970 World Cup, the soccer ball
had changed. Compared to the ball used four years prior,
the black and white checkered design made the ball stand out and made it easier to follow
for viewers at home. And that was especially true on black and
white TV sets, which most people had at the time. Players on the field had reason to celebrate
too. The 32 panels of the Telstar brought it closer
to an actual sphere, giving the ball a more predictable path through the air and on the
ground. A version of the black and white Telstar design
stuck around for over two decades before being replaced with other models. But by then the Telstar had become the archetype
of soccer balls, synonymous with the sport. And if you catch the World Cup this year,
you might recognize a familiar pattern. The ball being used in Russia is called the
Telstar 18, a nod back to the iconic Telstar. It uses just six propellor-shaped pieces,
making the ball even more spherical. But that black and white design is back — and,
almost five decades later it’s still what people think of when they think of soccer.