A selection of the best footballs through the ages
1. Santiago (1963) & Telstar Elast (Euro 68 and subsequent models)
Ah, the 1962 World Cup. Vavá, Zito, Garrincha and Amarildo. The Brazilians threw off the loss of the injured Pelé and became the second team to defend the Jules Rimet trophy. Rejoice at the sunshine smiles and samba soccer of the glorious dancers in canary yellow. But it wasn't all happy faces and skipping. Aside from the street fight between hosts Chile and former champions Italy (intermittently disrupted by football) there was an equipment malfunction with historical ramifications.
The tournament ball looked fine on first inspection. Produced by the Señor Custodio Zamora company of San Miguel, Santiago, the Crack was an 18-panel, hand-stitched yellow leather affair with a valve and a prestigious 'Campeonato Mundial de Fútbol/ Copa Jules Rimet 1962' stamp. The previous World Cup ball, the Top Star, was selected after Fifa officials tested 100 contenders on a Stockholm playing field. Ominously, the process wasn't as rigorous for Chile '62. Zamora's yellow marvel didn't explode or break bones during the World Cup's early stages but it did occasionally lose colour and shape.
For some matches (including West Germany v Switzerland) the Crack was replaced with the tried and trusted Scandinavian Top Star. The rumour was Europeans didn't trust the local offering. Although unfortunate, this was not the PR disaster it would be if a ball were withdrawn (even temporarily) mid-tournament today. These disputes brought the ball into focus for the first time since the 1930 World Cup final. Then, Argentina used their favoured Tiento ball in the first half and Uruguay insisted on playing with their larger, harder T-Model after the break.
Harnessing the considerable power of a hunch we can assert that someone at adidas recognised the importance (and financial potential) of regulating match balls in the summer of 1962. The Crack's crack-up might have been the catalyst for the German company's venture into football manufacture.
A year later the fittingly-titled Santiago ball bounced out of adidas HQ. It was a lovely warm dark brown, the colour of Sir Roger Moore's voice [thanks to Alan Partridge for that line]. The structure was interlocking octagons, unmistakeably borrowed from the eye-catching yet flawed Crack and refined by the engineering skill of Adi Dassler & co. 'Hand-stitched nylon' and 'official' (in Fifa's preferred language, French) shone in luxurious gold capital letters on its plush cowhide. 'Santiago' and 'adidas' also took pride of place.
Adidas's transformation from early-sixties upstarts to official ball suppliers to Fifa and Uefa wasn't instant. In late 1965 the English FA invited manufacturers from all over the world to present their candidates to be match ball of the 1966 World Cup. The English company Slazenger, better known for its premium cricket equipment, won the contract. Their Challenge 4-Star ball, available in white, orange and lemon, consisted of 25 hand-stitched panels and crossed the line at least five times in the final. The top model cost 150 shillings — at the time about the same as three bottles of Moët & Chandon
Beaten by England on the pitch and in the bidding process, the Germans didn't wallow in self-pity. They won the contract to supply the European Championship and World Cup, which they still hold. Brown, red and orange balls were booted into the museums. Design fuddy-duddies were shown the red card when the black-and-white Telstar Elast, official ball of Euro 68, rolled into town. It was the revolutionary, feather-ruffling 32-panel masterpiece of a mad football genius.
Created for better television visibility and retained (with technological updates) for the 1970 World Cup, Euro 72, 1974 World Cup and Euro 76, the Telstar featured 20 white hexagons and 12 shiny black pentagons. It became a classic, forever associated with Johan Cruyff's rubber-legged brilliance, the muscular goal hobbit Gerd Müller's unprecedented feats and Antonín Panenka's cheekily dinked penalty in the Euro 76 final.
Had the Crack been reliable, adidas might not have started their spherical odyssey. The Santiago was short lived and never used at a major tournament. But it was pivotal. A gateway ball. In football parlance, a through-ball to the strike-partnership of innovation and aesthetics.
2. Emperor's Cup ball (various models 2009 onwards)
Japan, as the tourist brochures say, celebrates her past while embracing the future effortlessly. In one trip visitors experience a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto. They see actors dressed as samurai and study authentic ninja artefacts from the Edo period at the Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura theme park in Sapporo. And of course they marvel at the latest technology in the exhilarating Shinjuku district of Tokyo.
Fittingly, the nation's club cup tournament ball combines state-of-the-art engineering with an exquisitely designed homage to heritage and the natural world. Until 2009 the Emperor's Cup balls were Fifa's flagship product with the Japanese FA's circular logo stamped on. No local flavour. But in 2009 the competition was awarded a bespoke match ball.
The central insignia on this sought-after item (selling for up to £210 on eBay) is one of Japan's national emblems, the sakura cherry blossom. The Japanese celebrate the intense, vibrant blossoming of the sakura with a sociable, relaxed ceremony called hanami dating back to the Nara Period of the eighth century. Marked today with long parties in the park with plenty of food and drink, it is a time of optimism and enthusiasm.
But the flower, which emerges between February and April depending on the region, has a short life and is a reminder of mortality. It appears frequently in Japanese art and poetry and is engrained in the country's psyche. During the Second World War kamikaze bombers painted sakura on their planes. It's an attractive, poignant and, above all, adored representation of Japan. The flower on the 2009 ball was a large, stylised, rich red rendering with blue outline on a pearlescent white background. Its simplicity introduced the concept but felt like a prototype. The more elaborate 2011 version displays a mainly red sakura motif with hints of yellow and more complex background pattern.
The technical specifications of the Emperor's Cup ball still follow Fifa's current highest-level adidas matchball. The 2009 edition featured the 14-panel construction and pimpled surface of the EuroPass, the ball of Euro 2008. The most recent model, used in 2011, was a Jabulani template of 8 panels and grooves of varying sizes.
Like the country it graces, the Emperor's Cup ball blends ground-breaking innovation with a respectful and charismatic tribute to history. This is one flower Japanese children can kick without their mother shouting at them.
3. Kopanya (2009 FIFA Confederations Cup)
Don't worry, this isn't the misunderstood 2010 World Cup ball. And that is the Kopanya's tragedy. Inspired by the indignous Ndebele tribe, this creation for the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa looked better than the maligned Jabulani. The players loved it. But like the regrettable brown shorts Italy wore in the tournament, few remember it.
Any designer will verify that packing multiple colours onto one item while retaining aesthetic appeal is a headache. The unsettling Harlequins rugby shirt is an eyesore. Olympique Marseille's black 2010-11 Champions League shirt was an acceptable attempt, garnished with tasteful kaleidoscopic stitching and a large, vertical Bob Marley-esque red, gold and green stripe running through the badge and beyond. Keen to incorporate the host nation South Africa's six-coloured flag, and motivated by the Ndebele people, adidas immersed themselves in the Rainbow nation.
Ndebele women are famous for their colourful, symmetrical, geometric house painting. All the straight-edged designs feature a black outline and are created without rulers or other apparatus. Originally the colours were natural, muted reds, browns and pinks, but recent generations have added brighter colours. Everything springs from a white background for dramatic effect. The pattern on the Kopanya's propeller shaped panels was an Ndebele geometric mix of red, yellow, blue and green with silver partitions on a shiny white base. The ball looked perfect in photos, on television and in the flesh. The chassis and mechanics were the same as the pimpled 14-panel EuroPass and Champions League Finale 8. Most players at the Confederations Cup were used to the feel of this model from the 2008-09 Champions League; there were no complaints. Kaká, Giuseppe Rossi, Daniel Güiza and Katlego Mphela scored goals of the highest quality.
The Kopanya deserves to be remembered as a bold masterpiece. Meeting all criteria with flying colours, it would have been the ideal World Cup 2010 ball. Alas, after the 2009 Confederations Cup fans bade a sad farewell to the Kopanya and tried to forget Italy's unfortunate brown shorts.
4 +Teamgeist Berlin (2006 World Cup final)
As a libero, Franz Beckenbauer thrived against Johan Cruyff and Bobby Charlton. As coach he led West Germany to two World Cup finals without dislodging a hair in his thinning Kaiser Afro. But he looked less at ease flapping a large golden sheet with three gold-painted muscular men at the Brandenburg Gate in 2006. Underneath that shiny cover was a three-metre high football. Forget last-ditch tackle, this was vast, kitsch and tacky. Amid the gaudiness, Franz was unveiling something new in World Cup history.
The best, most simple advances sometimes take longest. After 76 years and 17 tournaments, someone found a way to recognise the prestige of the final: a one-off ball.
In reality this was the +Teamgeist, the match ball of the 2006 World Cup group stage to semi-finals, sprayed gold. In the postcard German village of Scheinfeld, adidas boffins called Hans, Klaus and Harald spent three years engineering the perfect ball so Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane and Philippe Senderos could light up the tournament. Breaking from the classic 32-panel pentagons and hexagons construction of the previous nine world Cup balls, it had 14 panels. The new form removed the straight lines of older models for a smoother surface and truer flight. The central pieces were six propeller shapes.
To prevent unwanted water-retention, segments were thermally bonded instead of being stitched together. The ball was tested by robot feet and spun in a giant washing machine with a strategically uneven, roughened cylinder. You've probably seen matches which seemed to last years. This industrial washer replicated a year's wear and tear in four hours.
The +Teamgeist responded wonderfully to precision artistes such as Andrea Pirlo, Deco and Juan Román Riquelme. But what seals its place in legend were the visual tweaks for the France-Italy decider (the one-off ball was named the +Teamgeist Berlin). Sports equipment companies are often criticised for cash-ins and PR stunts. But this was a golden opportunity to enhance the World Cup final. And we got to see Herr Beckenbauer transported from his comfort zone into a camp vignette that would make Gianni Versace's eyes water.
5. Gamarada (Sydney Olympics) & Terrestra Silverstream (Euro 2000)
By 1999 ball watchers were blasé. They had seen the first fully synthetic World Cup effort (1986), the first major tournament ball with coloured logos (Euro 96) and France's high-speed trains and cockerels in the graphics of the 1998 World Cup's Tricolore. Some collectors splintered off, developing other pastimes like cookery or starting a family. Then one amazing sentence shattered the apathy: gas-filled micro balloons in a polyurethane matrix.
As Hunter Davies noted in his seminal book Boots, Balls & Haircuts, sports companies have long baffled consumers with jargon-heavy poncery to sell products. And succeeded. "Manufacturers' scientific claims and technological language are reminiscent of what they were saying a hundred years ago, amazing or astounding us with their latest astounding developments," said Davies.
After World Cup 98 adidas probably realised the world and its brother knew modern balls were souped-up with syntactic foam for rapid-rebound characteristics. When their competitors Nike and Puma entered the market, the German giants emphasised their experience and expertise. To retain the über-enthusiasts and remind rival brands who had the biggest balls, the Dassler Company released something contemporary and exotic for the Sydney Olympics and Euro 2000.
The Gamarada (Olympics) and Terrestra Silverstream (Euro 2000) had "ergonomically shaped syntactic foam panels coated in polyurethane". But the next layer was the showstopper. Underneath were compressed, gas-filled micro balloons distributing energy and providing a faster flight path.
The mind fixated on these micro balloons. What kind of gas was it? Did it expire? Who put it in? How big is micro? What if the ball rolled near flames? It was so magnificently outlandish every collector had to have one.
The pros had no problems with these millions of gas cells. Zidane conducted the blue orchestra at Euro 2000 with the Terrestra Silverstream, Nuno Gomes made himself a world star. Jaap Stam gave his semi-final shootout penalty against Italy a bit too much gas.
At the Australian Olympics Samuel Eto'o, Xavi, Andrea Pirlo and the veteran Ivan Zamorano made merry with the Gamarada. Named after the Gadigal word for friendship, the Gamarada had dazzling red, thickened Tango trigons with dashes of cheerful yellow and orange evoking the relentless, outback sunshine.
The Terrestra Silverstream was dedicated to the trade waterways that gave the Netherlands and Belgium, the host nations, their livelihood. A pale grey base with chunky metallic blue and silver trigons, it looked like the Death Star from Star Wars ready for a spangly night out.
Today Nike, Puma, Penalty and Mitre all have magic balls designed using high-level physics and constructed from avant-garde materials. But nothing will ever sound as cool as tiny gas balloons. The Terrestra Silverstream was gone too quickly. After a short stay in the J. League, the Gamarada also vanished.
Beautiful to look at, concocted with frankly silly science and protagonists of two great competitions, we salute these non-identical twins. But we daren't dissect them in fear of gas leaks.
6. Questra (1994 World Cup)
"They'll make the goals bigger"… "The games will be three thirds instead of two halves" … "The referees will dress like Buck Rogers!" During the build-up to the 1994 World Cup in the USA, sensible football fans spouted a lot of alarmist cack. Contrary to the fears of European football snobs, the only new development enriched the experience.
First we must travel back four years to Italia 90. Gazza's tears, Rijkaard's flob and Caniggia's homemade hairband. Emotion yes; penalties definitely; goals? Not really. There was an average of 2.21 goals per match at the 1990 World Cup — the lowest in the competition's history. Whether this was due to cautious tactics or rancid finishing didn't bother Fifa. What did interest the governing body was the success of the next contest in the glittering, unplundered land of Rocky Balboa, Dr Pepper and Elvis Presley.
This required excitement, action and goals. Industry consultants said a sport which can finish 0-0 would never catch the imagination of fans used to watching Michael Jordan score 50,000 points a week or Wayne Gretzky slamming the puck in the net every two seconds. This underestimated the passion many Americans had for football, but resonated with Fifa. Craving pizzazz, the organisers instructed their technical partners adidas to create a ball that would spice things up and wow apathetic viewers. Something responsive and light to fly unpredictably through the air.
After three years of hi-tech jiggery-pokery at their ball development centre in the tiny French town of La Walck and secret trials in youth matches across the globe, adidas unveiled the hallowed orb. Composed of five different materials, the outer shell was pliable but tough polyurethane over a thick layer of foam with high energy redistribution qualities. This meant if you kicked it cleanly and hard, it went like the clappers.
The name of the ground-breaking ball was Questra — a nod to the search for the stars. It paid tribute to the USA's rich history of space exploration. Like the host nation striving for perfection and knowledge of new frontiers through glitzy NASA projects, Fifa was hoping to conquer the States, a new 'planet', in the name of football. Visually the Questra featured the classic Tango trigon, filled with the interstellar imagery of black holes, planets and stars.
It was a huge success. Gheorghe Hagi floated in a long-distance wonder goal for Romania versus Colombia. Wim Jonk launched an unstoppable, swerving shot past Saudi Arabia keeper Mohammed Al Deayea with the outside of his boot. Roberto Baggio, Diego Maradona and Branco also scored with insanely accurate shots. Good players adapt to any ball. That will always be the case.
Combined with the host nation's ranging meteorological conditions, the Questra's flexibility produced unthinkable goals. It swung in the humid Florida air like a Wasim Akram delivery and whizzed ferociously through dry Californian conditions like a comet. The only complaints were from goalkeepers. But, to the joy of serial keeper-baiter Maradona, their gripes garnered scant sympathy.
With comically inaccurate misconceptions discredited, everyone enjoyed World Cup 1994. The all-singing all-dancing Questra played a starring role in the spectacular jamboree. The average went up to 2.71 goals per game, the highest since 1982 and superior to all subsequent tournaments. Even Spain, deploying coach Javier Clemente's heroically defensive 1-4-1-3-1, scored ten goals in five matches. The only party-pooper was the intriguing yet goalless final in Pasadena.
The Questra had a good life and illuminated games outside the States. It was the ball of Milan's net-busting 1994 Champions League final destruction of Johan Cruyff's Barcelona Dream Team in Athens. It graced the 1996 Olympics, Euro 96 and the Spanish league between 1994 and 1996 (with snazzy new graphics for each tournament).
Then the next innovation glided out of its shiny laboratory on to French turf for World Cup 98. Buck Rogers and referees were never linked again.
7. Tango Durlast (1978 World Cup and subsequent models from Tango family)
Zambians in South Korea. The good folk of Székesfehérvár. Ray Wilkins. Anyone over 30 who likes football has a 'Tango moment'. Younger fans know of its legend from photos and YouTube. The explanation for this far reaching impact is simple. Between 1978 and 1989 the Tango and its derivatives were used for every big match, club and country. Every European Cup final between 1978 and 1989 (apart from 1987) featured the ball. The European Championships, the Olympics, Copa America, Intercontinental Cup… you get the idea.
Anyone watching football in that era saw the Tango. Zambia beat Italy 4-0 at the 1988 Olympics with one. Videoton, unfancied Hungarians from Székesfehérvár, tussled for a Tango with Emilio Butragueño's Real Madrid in the two-legged 1985 Uefa Cup final. They even won the second leg 1-0 at the Bernabéu (but went down 3-1 on aggregate).
After a tantalising cameo in the 1978 European Cup final, this design classic entered worldwide consciousness at the 1978 World Cup. Its full name was the Tango Durlast, the first part (by which it became known) a tribute to host country Argentina's famous, lusty dance, the latter the scuff-proof, robust treatment applied to its leather casing.
The logo was a black trigon with a thick outline on each of the 20 hexagons. The simple but enigmatic pattern had no beginning or end, creating the illusion of 12 large circles. An instant success, the motif survived for a decade. The carcass and materials were regularly improved but the trigons were only altered once (filled with Aztec mural-themed symbols by the designer Rebecca Martínez for the Azteca Mexico, ball of the 1986 World Cup).
The Tango River Plate (Euro 80), the wind-tunnel tested Tango España (World Cup 1982), the first non-leather model Tango Mundial (Euro 84) and the Tango Europa (Euro 88) improved weather resistance and durability but still looked as great as the original. Even after the Tango, World Cup balls retained the trigon emblem until 2002 when adidas revealed the Fevernova, the ultimate curate's egg of footballs.
Aston Villa fans link the Tango to their 1982 European Cup win. Italians loved the way it obeyed Bruno Conti at the World Cup in the same year. Trevor Brooking shot with such accuracy he lodged one in the stanchion of the goal in England's 1981 win over Hungary. Marco van Basten secured Holland's first trophy with his outrageous volley in the Euro 88 final with it. Zico's mastery of the cult ball for Flamengo gave Liverpool a lesson in front of a mesmerised Tokyo crowd in the 1981 Intercontinental Cup. The list could go on forever. This piece of equipment will always summon beautiful memories in all four corners of the Earth.
If you're puzzled by Ray Wilkins's Tango moment, it was a delicious, deft, lobbed goal against eventual runners-up Belgium in Turin at Euro 80. Best not to mention when Raymond threw the ball at the referee during England's World Cup 1986 match against Morocco and was sent off.
8. Finale (2001 Champions League onwards)
"How do you brand a football match?" sounds like the question of a dusty old High Court judge among today's instantly recognisable, logo-sodden competitions. But in the early 1990s, Uefa were determined their new brainchild would change football consumption and perception forever. In the summer of 1992 the European Champion Clubs' Cup changed its name. Although there was a league stage after two rounds in 1991-92, the tournament was officially relaunched as the Uefa Champions League in 1992-93.
European football's governing body went to town with an anthem and a logo. The London-based company Design Bridge delivered a new identity to, in their words, "inspire supporters and attract global sponsors." Their enduring masterstroke was creating the black and white star-ball. "The eight leading teams (in the group stage) prompted the idea of the eight-star ball logo. The league has since expanded but this powerful emblem still holds strong," reads Design Bridge's statement. For the first eight years the device appeared on tickets, shirt sleeve patches and TV graphics. But it wasn't until the 2000-01 semi-final first leg between holders Real Madrid and Bayern Munich players actually kicked a star-ball.
That first generation ball debuted at the Bernabéu and was the same structure as the Terrestra Silverstream and Gamarada. The design was beautifully faithful and simple — a series of silver stars over the white background, shining in the floodlights. Titled the Finale, this silver star debutant was also used in Bayern's win in the 2001 final. It became an instant collector's item as shops sold out within weeks. Today the 'Silver' sells for £300.
A version of the Finale has been used in every final since, with evermore intricate designs. From 2006-07 onwards a non-final specific, generic model of the ball has also been used for every group and knock-out game en route to the decider (hitherto clubs used a ball of their choice). There have been disagreeable incarnations. The wretched 2007-08 group stage ball featured stars the colour of a depressed carrot in a sad grey and black rim.
Each city hosting the final is reflected in the ball's appearance. For the 2007 showpiece between Milan and Liverpool in Athens, the stars were blue and white (representing the Greek flag) and furnished with Hellenic patterns. Manchester United defeated Chelsea in Moscow in 2008 with a lavish ball brimming with ornate Russian imagery in gold on predominantly bright red stars.
As if that wasn't special enough, from 2006 until 2011 the winners of the previous year's final used the ball of that triumph exclusively for the next season. Next time you see Gareth Bale's glorious hat-trick for Spurs at Inter in 2010-11 look at the ball. It's the Finale Madrid from the Nerazzurri's José Mourinho-masterminded win six months earlier. Everyone else was playing with the standard version with electric blue stars.
As long as the final is played in cities of rich cultural interest, there will be something fresh about the Finale (we are yet to see a completely green star, for example). As a trademark it is perfection. Anyone viewing a game which includes a ball with stars knows they are watching the Champions League. And that is how to brand a football match, m'lud.