Football boots, called cleats or soccer shoes in North America, are an item of footwear worn when playing football. Those designed for grass pitches have studs on the outsole to aid grip. From simple and humble beginnings football boots have come a long way and today find themselves subject to much research, development, sponsorship and marketing at the heart of a multi-national global industry. Modern “boots” are not truly boots in that they do not cover the ankle, but it is about to change.
1800s: During the 19th century football became extremely popular in Britain. People who played would wear their heavy and hard work boots to play. These were the first ever boots with the steel toe cap at the front, long laces and ankle support. These boots also had metal studs or tacks put in the sole the bottom so the players would have more stability on the pitch. In the later part of the 19th century the first ever football-specific boot was designed, made of thick and heavy leather which ran right to the ankle for increased protection, the first boot weighed 500g and would double in weight when it was wet.
1900-1940: Between 1900-1940 football boots style stayed very basic. They remained so during the inter-war years, despite many famous football boot producers, such as Gola, Hummel and Valsport becoming evermore popular.
1940-1960: After the Second World War, the designs of the football boot changed dramatically and really started to make an impact on the game. The South Americans designed a lighter and more flexible boot. This design was focused on increasing good control and better kicking power rather than a more protective boot. In 1954 Adi Dassler introduced screw-in studs which gave the Mannschaft a tangible advantage during a rain-lashed World Cup that year. That Adolf was the first to come up with screw-in studs is disputed by his older brother, Rudolf Dassler, founder of Puma.
1960s: In the 1960s football boot technology really took a huge step, which saw many football boots designed with a lower cut. These enabled the best players in Europe and South America to move faster and change direction quicker. Mitre, Joma and Asics joined the fray.
1970s: The 1970s and the 1980s saw many great advances and changes in the football boot design. The 1970s saw technological advances produce lighter boots and a variety of colours. In this decade, football boot sponsorship deals really took off. Adidas made huge strides out in front as the market leader. At the end of the decade, in 1979, it cemented its status by releasing what has gone on to become the best selling boot of all time; the iconic and timeless Copa Mundial. During this time period, some of the most common types of natural leather came into production: kangaroo leather, calfskin and full-grain/cow leather.
1980s: Arguably the most popular and dominant boot of the past two decades, the Adidas Predator, was designed by Australian maverick Craig Johnston. Umbro, Lotto and Kelme got in on the act in this decade.
1990-2000s: In the 1990s this saw manufacturers introduce new different types of sole to increase the balance of the player. The Predators saw their eventual release in 1994 and enjoyed instant success. In the first decade of the 21st century laser technology was introduced to produce the first fully customised football boot in 2006.
2010s: In the era of the modern game that sees the tempo of matches becoming faster and players more technically inclined, manufacturers introduce new advances in technology including lighter footwear made from alternative materials.
Different styles for different sports
Depending on the type of surface, kind of sport and even the wearer’s position or role in the game, different cuts of boot and particularly stud arrangements are available. For hard pitches, amateur participants may wear a sneaker shoe or a plastic-stud boot (known as a “moulded sole”); in most sports and positions this is adequate, although on a well-grassed or sodden field, screw-in studs are recommended for more grip; these may be metal, rubber or plastic. When playing on this kind of pitch, some players favor using a boot with screw-in studs in their non-dominant (supporting) foot to provide grip, and a boot with short rubber or plastic studs in the dominant (kicking/passing) foot to provide accuracy. Presently, boot designs are based on the “criteria” of speed, power, touch or control with some boots offering a combination of these. However, these specifications matter little on the player’s actual playing ability and are actually a marketing strategy.
For indoor football, indoor boots are used. These come with rubber soles, meant to maximize grip on the floor. Some are built on the design of firm-ground football boots, and some are specifically designed for the indoor game. For football on turf or artificial grass, some players wear regular firm ground football boots. But wearing regular football boots on turf greatly reduces the life of the boot, so companies such as Nike have developed football boots for artificial grass (AG).
For rugby union, the screw-in stud is preferred, especially in the positions of prop, hooker, and lock, where more grip is required for contested scrums. These screw-in studs have to be of a maximum length of 21mm. These boots are often heavier than appropriate for other types of football. One of the more obvious differences between association football and rugby boots is the formation of the studs. Also, some rugby boots tend to have a high cut around the ankles but this is something we tend to see less and less of, especially at elite level. There are several types of rugby boot, meant for players in different positions.
Screw-in studs have been banned in some Australian rules football leagues since the 1990s due to the frequency of severe injuries to players as a result of contact with the metal. In football, referees must now check all boots prior to kick off to check for damage to studs, to prevent injury. Before this time, preference between the screw-in stud was based primarily on weather conditions.
More recently, moulded soles with specially designed boots known as blades have moulded soles facing in multiple directions, theoretically to maximise grip and minimise ankle injury. Recently, however, “bladed” football boots have faced criticism from some UK sporting bodies for causing potentially serious injuries to players. English football club Manchester United have even banned its players from wearing boots with bladed studs after players like Wayne Rooney and David Beckham suffered repeated metatarsal injuries.
Football markets and brands
Originally, football boots (soccer shoes, or more commonly soccer cleats, in U.S. English) were available only in black, but in more recent years have become available in various colours such as blue, green, red, white, yellow, silver, gold and even pink. Big name companies such as Nike, Adidas, Umbro and the like have made an impact on the market with record sales. Nike’s flagship shoes are the Hypervenoms, Magistas, Tiempos and The Nike Mercurial worn by Cristiano Ronaldo and others. German company Adidas are responsible for the Predator range worn by David Beckham, Gary Neville, and Steven Gerrard, as well as the long-surviving Copa Mundial. The entire German national side wore Adidas boots during the 2006 FIFA World Cup. English firm Umbro produce the Speciali boot endorsed by John Terry and Michael Owen. Sunderland defender John O’Shea wears the Concave football boot – it is a company that claims to manufacture the safest football boot out of the current lot.
In recent times, the most successful companies are Nike and adidas, and their products enjoy great popularity among professional footballers; among Nike’s endorsers are two-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, aforementioned duo Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, striker Ronaldo, Wesley Sneijder, Zlatan Ibrahimović, and other popular players. Adidas, which has been providing football boots with screw-in studs to the German national side since the 1954 FIFA World Cup, have made their impact on the modern market by signing big name players as endorsers: players such as David Beckham, former France captain Zinedine Zidane, Frank Lampard, four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi, David Villa, Steven Gerrard and other successful players. Adidas sells with an image of technology and class in their boots which is key to their success.
Many players use personalisation around the world to improve the look of their boots and to make them easily identifiable in the club dressing room. It is now very common to have football boots fully personalised with either a name, initials, number or club logo. Many retailers offer various options and colours to personalise football boots by using the embroidery machinery.