Soccer balls have come a long way since the days of inflated pig's bladders covered in leather patches. The pigs bladders were eventually replaced with vulcanized rubber, but the same clunky leather patches remained. It wasn't until midway through the 20th century that the modern soccer ball as we know it began to take shape. The famous black-and-white markings soon followed.
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A soccer ball has 32 panels, 20 of which are hexagons and 12 of which are pentagons. The name of this shape is the buckyball, and it is named after the architect Richard Buckminster Fuller, who was trying to construct a building with minimum materials when he came across the shape. The official name of the shape is a spherical polyhedron, and it is perfectly spherical, making for a significant improvement on earlier soccer balls.
The soccer ball first got its famous black-and-white markings for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. According to the Adidas website, this ball was called the Telstar and was developed to help people see the ball more clearly while watching on television. Televisions in 1970 were mostly black and white, and a ball without markings could be difficult to identify.
The Telstar became a tradition, with all World Cups until 2006 staying with the Telstar design. Other competitions, such as domestic leagues, also embraced the Telstar design for the same reason: so that viewers watching on black-and-white televisions could easily see the ball. The pattern, which features black pentagons and white hexagons, remains the same.
Today, color televisions are the norm, so there is no longer the need to give a soccer ball its Telstar colors. As the BBC website notes, the 2010 World Cup South Africa official ball was called the Jabulani. It carried original markings, was made of synthetic plastic and was designed with a completely different panel arrangement. The ball was intended to be technologically advanced, but many of the players and coaches complained that the ball was inferior to the Telstar.