Take a moment to envision the famous figure of King Henry VIII known for his six marriages and numerous unorthodox decisions (pardon the pun), wearing the very first custom-made pair of soccer shoes. In 1526, the very same year the Tudor ruler started courting his soon-to-be second wife Anne Boleyn although already married to Catherine, he also made another historic decision – to have his soccer shoes made.
The game of football as we know it today does stem from England, and the king’s single capricious demand may have very well been the catalyst for the footwear we use today. The game itself, however, is over 3,000 years in the making, dating back to the old Mesoamerican cultures, so it took us a substantial amount of time to get to the level of superior engineering that today’s football players enjoy. Here’s a brief, but thorough glance at how this quite literally game-changing footwear has come into existence.
The shoes’ royal debut
The active king was not just a womanizer and a rule-changing monarch, but also one deeply vested in his royal appearance. He regularly participated in various physical activities, his later jousting accident proving just how persistent he was in his pursuits, but he also had such a zest for his own looks that he regularly ordered clothing and footwear to be made for him specifically.
It’s no wonder then that among his 17,000 garments and possessions (yes, you’ve read that number correctly), his soccer shoes were on the list found upon his death. His shoemaker Cornelius Johnson made them for the not so humble price of four shillings, the equivalent of today’s £100. They were heavy, ankle-high shoes made of sturdy leather and had nothing resembling modern-day studs or supportive soles, but they did serve their purpose.
The 19th-century rules in the making
Almost 300 years later, and the world of football is about to change to benefit its passionate players, finally introducing some of the very first boots made to resemble work boots, this time with steel toe caps for added protection. In the early stages of the century, no uniform rules existed to regulate the footwear of the players, since most enjoyed the game as a leisure activity in the Britain’s rural regions.
Knowing Britain’s gloomy weather, you can imagine the numerous injuries and issues the players experienced due to the lack of proper support. This is also the time when they first began hammering studs into their soles for added friction and prevention of potential injuries – although their steel toe caps still found their way to cause some damage, and the makeshift studs turned out to be quite dangerous during slips and falls. To resolve these issues, the very first Football Association was founded 1863 in response to the many injuries faced by English players. Among their 13 rules, one clearly forbade the use of any studs and nails in their footwear.
Branded beginnings in the early 20th century
With war on the horizon and conflict afflicting any significant further development of the sport, football shoes remained of roughly the same design as in the previous years. Regulation of the boots and shoes worn by players was growing, but the design itself didn’t vary drastically from the original notion of heavy leather boots.
However, one major breakthrough did occur in this period, and that is the slow emergence of football sports brands that would design and create the first official shoes for the game. Some names that exist to this very day had their humble beginnings then, including Valsport in 1920 in Padova, and Gola, originally known as Bozeat, from the village of the same name in England, in 1905. This is also when brothers Adolf and Rudolf founded the famous Gebruder Dassler Schuhfabrik in 1924, the predecessor of Adidas and Puma.
Post-war design changes
As the aftermath of the two World Wars began to subside, more production and design improvement opportunities began to emerge. This is the era when we see the first prototype of the modern day’s light-weight and agile soccer shoes as they were finally produced with the players’ safety and performance in mind. The conflict between the Dassler brothers led to the dissolution of their successful factory, but into the creation of the today’s most favored soccer boots designed to withstand any weather and protect the player, Adidas and Puma.
Combining leather and various synthetic materials enabled the makers to create a lighter version of the original footwear, better suited for support and refined mobility. As the century rushed towards the ‘60s and the ‘70s, the fierce rivalry between the brothers has led to staggering levels of innovation in both of their designs. As a result, some of the sport’s greatest names would wear their shoes: Pelé would celebrate Puma in the 1962 World Cup final and later once again in 1970, while over 75% of the 1966 World Cup final players wore Adidas.
The 21st century innovations
Both brands, alongside Nike, Asics, and Joma as the most successful of the bunch, have continued producing innovative, cutting-edge soccer boots that would help the players rise to the challenge of the game and ensure their fame for decades to come. Today, the legacy of the two brothers has maintained the two brands on the throne of the industry, while advancing tech and design has given them the means to continuously raise the bar for other brands striving to match their eminence.
Today, brands use laser technology to create custom shoe design for any player that wants them. By using a specialized fiber five times stronger than steel and yet almost weightless called Vectran, Nike constructed an impeccably durable shoe loved by Ronaldo. Adidas, on the other hand, implemented a chip in their 2011 Adizero MiCoach shoe to record the player’s performance.
Only time will tell how far technology and imagination will take the sport beyond its current reach, although it may seem as if though there couldn’t possibly be more after laser-tech and chips. We have come a long way since the shoes’ humble, although imperial beginnings, and yet each World Cup has us baffled by the immense progress made by these and other brands that have allowed for our favorite players to transform the game to its very core.
I’m a fitness and health blogger at Ripped.me, and a great fan of the gym and a healthy diet. I follow all the trends in fitness, gym and healthy life, and l love to share my knowledge in this field through useful and informative articles.