Friday, June 09, 2006

Ankle boots to soccer slippers

In the early years of football clothing was restrictive and worn for protection from the elements as much as decency. Hence British football was slow and not considered a spectator sport. Despite this the game’s popularity grew and clubs began to spring up across the UK. Players wore long laced boots, similar to engineer's boots and with a strengthened toecap in iron hard leather. In 1880 boots began to incorporate a strap, narrow on the inside of the foot, which crossed over the bottom two or three rows of eyelet's, winding to the outside of the foot. This gave greater protection to the toes as players used the dorsum of the foot to kick the ball. Today, players use the side of their foot to strike the ball, and then the toe was used to catch the ball and give it lift. To increase ground grip the soles incorporated metal tacks but Rule 13* prevented these in official matches. They were replaced in 1890 with new plugs made from layers of leather, the idea came from hockey boots. Studs (sometimes referred to as cleats) were positioned to avoid isolated pressure points and unnecessary irritation of the foot. In the area of the hindfoot they were located towards the outside of the sole to avoid buckling. The common formation was six studs, two distal and proximal to the metatarsal heads and two on the posterior aspect of the heel. By 1900 the soccer boot was a recognised entity. Boots became an essential part of the sport and by the beginning of the twentieth century, teams appear to wear the same boots. In 1922, Adi Dassler (co-founder of adidas) developed screw in studs which allowed players to select studs appropriate to the weather conditions. Whilst there was some variation in the arrangement of stud patterns on the sole of the boot, most professionals preferred the 4:2 or 4:3 ratio.

Most authorities agree major changes to football boots took place after the Second World War when many international fixtures took place. Improved air travel and popular transcontinental travel brought the soccer players from colder climates of Europe into contact with their counter parts in the Mediterranean and South America. Players in warmer countries wore less clothing with flexible soled boots more suited to the pitch conditions. The Latin game was played faster and provided opportunity for athleticism rarely seen in the traditional European matches. Media coverage meant more spectators appreciated the novel Latin styles and adaptation of their skills caused a revolution in play and clothing. The ankle boot lowered to become a soccer shoe freeing players to demonstrate athletic leaps and volleys. The new focus for design was aimed at kicking and controlling the ball on the ground and alternative methods of providing ankle stability were necessary. This often took the form of ankle bandaging (ankle vigours). With the introduction of artificial playing surfaces the need for long studs became redundant. Deep penetration was neither good for the surface nor advantageous to the player. Many poor performances and injuries had been reported so boot designers devised studs which gave maximal stability as the leg was anchored to the floor as well easy release when the foot needed to move quickly over the ground. The new soccer shoe had bristle (or cleat) soles and gradually these have been incorporated into the traditional soccer boot design.

*Rule 13#: No player shall be allowed to wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on the soles or heels of his boots.

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