The Real Purpose of Soccer Ball Being Black and White
Updated: Feb 23, 2022
There was a tense disagreement about which ball to use in the first FIFA World Cup. For the 1930 World Cup final match, Argentina wanted to use their own soccer ball “Tiento”, Uruguay wanted to use their own soccer ball “Tiento”. FIFA intervened and decided to use Argentina's "Tiento" ball in the first half of the match, and Uruguay's "T-pattern" ball in the second half.
Over the decades of football match competitions, soccer has seen many changes in its design. Most, though, were kept in a similar format, consisting of parallel and vertical strips of leather. Telstar ball has entered a period of significant change for home football match watching.
In 1970, the United States was in the midst of the transition to color televisions. Most homes had televisions, but most of them were still black-and-white sets. So the new ball design had high contrast black pentagons alternating with white hexagons.
This pattern made the ball's form and movement clearer both on the court and home screens, and was a major improvement over the uniform organic colors of previous balls. The new look also features the logo of the year, created with dark geometric shapes against a light background. (Designed by Lance Wyman of Mexico 68 Lance)
Developed by Adidas, Telstar is the first World Cup to use the already familiar cut icosahedron for its design, consisting of 12 black pentagonal and 20 white hexagonal panels. It has since become the most recognizable soccer (or: soccer) ball in the world.
Following the success of the designs, the same company designs World Cup balls to this day. They kept changing, but the idea of using alternate tonal patterns is often used to help actors and audiences better follow their movements.
The Buckminsterfullerene (or “Buckyball”) shape, named after this famous architect, is very similar to a soccer ball, although he used large-diameter triangles to create his famous geodesic domes. However, there is no evidence that it was involved in the design.
In fact, the ball was named after an important communications satellite launched in 1962. “Television” and a “star” portmanteau, pictured original Telstar editing the first live transatlantic TV feed (first phone and signals).
Color and shape aren't the only things that distinguish the Telstar and other new balls, either. Made of animal bladder and stomach, many soccer balls have naturally fallen out of use. Other older variants used cork shavings in a leather shell, but hitting a wet leather ball (especially on someone's head) can be dangerous and painful. Innovations in rubber vulcanization in the 1800s gave way to newer models. In recent years, the use of thermal bonding has helped the balls become more spherical and easier to handle.
Today, there are a large number of soccer balls designed for different matches and types of turf (including training, professional, beach, street and indoor variants). The idea of standardizing balls above sports levels found in many other popular games is oddly absent. Still, Telstar remains the most familiar of them all.
This year's World Cup ball, the Telstar 18, is a throwback to the game-changing ball from 1970, at least in name. There are only six textured panels glued in place of the stitched soccer ball. Whether it will become a major model is another question, though the design is also quite decisive. More details might be noticeable, but it's hard to easily project that into a logo or imagine it becoming a catchy icon.