If you’re into soccer, probably the most important piece of kit you own, aside from your boots, is your soccer ball. Knowing how a soccer ball is made will help you understand better how to and why it responds the way it does. And the more you know your soccer ball, the better your own performance out on the pitch will be.
Soccer Ball Elements
A soccer ball is a hollow sphere, the outer section of which is composed of three distinct layers. From the inside out these are: the bladder, the lining, the cover. The fourth element vital to the construction of a soccer ball is its stitching.
The bladder is that part of a soccer ball which holds the pressurised air necessary for forcing the ball into its spherical shape, giving it its hardness and contributing to its response when kicked.
The material used to construct the bladder affects the ability of the ball to retain air and the ball’s feel in play.
There are two main types of soccer ball bladder – those made from latex and those made from butyl.
Latex bladders provide superior contact response and bounce, but lose air quite quickly. A latex bladder will need re-inflating about once a week. Butyl bladders also offer great contact response (though generally a shade harder than latex) with the added advantage that they retain air a lot longer.
The lining of a soccer ball is made up of several (often four) layers of laminated polyester or cotton. The structure these bonded layers create gives the ball it’s strength and allows it to maintain its shape over time.
The Outer Cover
Natural leather, with its tendency to absorb water, has largely been replaced by synthetic leather as the material of choice for the outer cover of soccer balls.
The outer cover material is sewn together in a combination of hexagonal and pentagonal panels. A typical ball will have 32 of these panels – 20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal. Balls with fewer panels provide a cover with less stability and are a little more prone to curving in flight.
Soccer Ball Stitching
Outer cover panels are held together by stitching – generally a 5-ply twisted polyester thread is used. Mid-priced balls tend to be machine stitched, while more expensive balls are hand stitched. Hand stitching gives tighter, more robust seams. In cheaper balls panels are sometimes glued together.
When Football World Cup fever strikes and you’re next out on the pitch, spare a thought for how soccer balls are made – a lot goes into constructing that thing you’re kicking around.
If you’d like to see how FIFA World Cup match ball is made, check out this video.