Recently retired Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes recently described the soccer ball as, "along with boots, the most important product in football". The 73-year-old is not the only one to herald the humble ball; the German language itself does so, too, with the term 'Spielgerät', commonly used in reference to the ball, translating as 'game equipment'.
Given its significance, the history of the soccer ball has too often been overlooked. With that in mind, allow bundesliga.com to trumpet the fascinating backstory of the famous leather sphere in Germany and in Europe.
The first football match on German soil took place in Braunschweig (home of now third-tier club Eintracht Braunschweig) in October 1874 (as is often the case with these things, though, the date is disputed).
A pair of local teachers, Konrad Koch and August Hermann, provided a ball ordered from England to their pupils to play with, although there was one problem: the ball in question was egg-shaped and in fact a rugby ball.
Whether it was at the behest of Koch or another member of the local community is unknown, but a Braunschweig-based company, Dolffs & Helle, began manufacturing soccer balls for the German market around the same time, as the game was exploding in popularity.
These were crude instruments, made of leather wrapped around a pig's bladder. While an improvement on the rugby ball, these soccer balls remained problematic.
In order to prevent the air escaping from the animal organs inside the leather, a specially laced seal had to be stitched onto the balls. This created a bump on the otherwise smooth surface that – as can be imagined – led to several flesh wounds when players attempted to challenge for headers.
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There were a few changes down the years, most notably that the cowhide used for the soccer ball was tanned not greased – leading to a yellowish colour in the mid-1950s – with three leather strips stitched on, rather than a uniform leather covering, leading to slightly triangular-shaped balls.
Remarkably, though, the leather soccer ball was used for almost a century, despite the fact that it became heavier in rainy or wet conditions, the knock-on effect being that the quality of the game decreased. Germany managed to win the FIFA World Cup in 1954 with a leather ball, which was also in use upon the foundation of the Bundesliga in 1963.
The first real revolution in soccer ball history came at the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, won by Brazil. As the manufacturer of the official ball for the tournament, Adidas developed a soccer ball based on shapes from Ancient Greek arithmetic: the Telstar ball was formed of 12 black pentagons and 20 white hexagons, stitched together in a perfect circle. The colours were chosen so as to be immediately recognisable on black-and-white televisions of the era.
It took until 1986 for the soccer ball to break free from its leather casing, though. At that year's FIFA World Cup, also in Mexico, Adidas presented the Azteca, the first plastic football. The synthetic material – originally tried in the 1960s – represented a significant improvement because the soccer ball no longer took on water in wet conditions, increasing the quality of proceedings for players and spectators alike.
Meanwhile, since the Bundesliga's inception in 1963, clubs had been permitted to use their own soccer balls for matches, with the home team's sponsor usually the supplier. This led to a slightly inefficient process whereby the away team had to be provided with multiple replicas at least two weeks before a match in order to become accustomed to the ball.
The top flight did use the same soccer ball – supplied by Derbystar – for all 306 matches during the 1979/80 campaign, but otherwise every season until 2010/11 clubs were permitted to use balls provided by their own sponsors, with Borussia Mönchengladbach using Derbystar, and Cologne and Bayer Leverkusen turning to Jako.
Adidas introduced the Teamgeist (team spirit) ball for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, but it took four more years – until after the 2010 World Cup – for the Bundesliga to implement a uniform soccer ball.
A variant of the TORFABRIK – based on the Jabulani ball used the South Africa World Cup that summer – had been trialled in the top flight since December 2009, leading to complaints from some opposing countries at the tournament that Germany had an advantage. In typical fashion, Thomas Müller noted that such complaints came from teams "who didn't manage to win their first games".
Müller, along with his Bayern namesake Gerd, was the face of the presentation of the TORFABRIK ball, an event at which DFL President Reinhard Rauball said that the introduction of a standardised ball marked "another major step along the road towards [the Bundesliga's] professionalisation".
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Since 2010 Adidas has been the top flight's exclusive soccer ball supplier, with the TORFABRIK now recognised globally due to its association with the Bundesliga.
Derbystar will supply the top flight's soccer ball from the 2018/19 season onwards, however, with Heynckes particularly pleased with the return of an old friend.
"Derbystar always stood for outstanding quality in my day," he said. "All of my major triumphs with Gladbach came when using the Derbystar ball."