The History and Evolution of Football Boots
Football boots are the single most important equipment in football games. Athletes rely on football boots to make accurate passes and score winning goals, which is why most shoe companies continually develop them for better performance. Football boots have come a long way since they were first introduced back in the 1500’s and it’s worth looking back to how it all started to where it is today.
If you’re an avid soccer fan and you’re interested in learning more about the humble football boot, then you came to the right place. Here we’ll be breaking down the history of the football boot and how it evolved to suit the needs of faster, quicker, and stronger athletes.
Year 1525 – The makings of the first football boots
The roots of the football boot can be tracked back in the year 1526 where King Henry VIII wore the world’s first ever soccer cleats. His personal shoemaker, Cornelius Johnson, created football boots out of a strong leather material that are ankle-high and slightly heavier than ordinary shoes. These boots were sold for 4 shillings (which equates to 185 AUD) in today’s value. One of the main concerns players had was that the boots impacted their mobility due to its weight, which made it quite challenging to run on the field.
Year 1800 – Football’s rise in popularity
300 years later, many Brits saw themselves playing football more than ever. Even though it wasn’t structured and was played mostly as a pastime, the sport still skyrocketed to the point that teams from local factories and villages started competing. The Brits wore leather work boots that have long-laces and steel-toes. For better grip and stability, they hammered metal tacks or studs to the bottom.
The Brits quickly realised that they needed better footwear to play the sport at a much faster pace. Their steel-capped leather boots were just too heavy and they wanted something a bit lighter yet strong enough to withstand the rigors of playing soccer. It was during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that football boots transformed into something that most athletes wear today.
Year 1900 to 1940 – Huge changes
The style of the football boots received major changes during the 1900’s and it’s actually during this period where some of the current football boot manufacturers today were formed such as Gola, Valsport, and Hummel. The Dassler Brothers from Germany (namely Rudolph and Adolf) founded Gebruder Dassler Schuhfabrik in 1924 and revolutionised the soccer cleats. Their football boots had replaceable studs that players can alter depending on the weather conditions for increased traction. From there, other soccer cleat manufacturers took notice and refined the football boot even further.
Year 1940 to 1960 – Lighter football boots were introduced
After the conclusion of the second World War, football boot manufacturers wanted to create soccer cleats that were much lighter. At the time, South American football players wore light, flexible boots that dazzled spectators with their quick feet and agile ball skills. Manufacturers took notice and used lighter, stronger materials that allowed players to move faster and refine their ball skills even further.
Adidas, one of the world’s leading shoe manufacturers, was formed in 1948 after Adolf “Adi” Dassler parted ways with his brother Rudolph who then founded Puma in the same year. Both manufacturers used synthetic and leather materials for their football boots to reduce weight and improve comfortability on the players’ feet.
Year 1960 – Technological developments
Football was booming in the 60’s and new shoe manufacturers started popping up. The advent of technology made its way into football boots which further refined its performance. This is where ankle-high soccer cleats were replaced with low-cut designs (which allowed for better mobility). Football fans witnessed how low-cut football boots allowed players to move much faster, as evidenced by Brazilian soccer legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento (also known as Pelé).
Pelé wore Puma soccer cleats during the 1962 World Cup final which propelled Puma into the spotlight as one of the premier football boot manufacturers. Despite Puma’s success, Adidas was rapidly growing and around 75% of the players at the 1966 World Cup final were wearing Adidas cleats. Later on, brands such as Joma, Mitre, and Asics appeared and made the football boot market even more competitive.
Year 1970 – Sponsorship introduction
Pelé was dominating the sport of football and wore Puma King football boots during the 1970 World Cup final. It was during this time that sponsorships were introduced and players were paid to wear a particular brand in their matches. Most manufacturers continued developing the style, performance, and colourways of their soccer cleats to attract players and reach sponsorship agreements.
Adidas launched the Copa Mundial soccer cleats back in 1979 and became one of the world’s most successful soccer cleat models at the time. These football boots were lauded for its lightness and versatility due to its kangaroo leather construction.
Year 1980 – Former players designing shoes
As the game of soccer evolved, so did the football cleats. Adidas turned to former footballer Craig Johnston to help design the Predator football boots. The Predator football boots were constructed to provide better friction between the player’s foot, the ball, and the ground. This player-to-manufacturer collaboration proved to be widely successful as shoe makers took advantage of a player’s insight to further increase the performance of their soccer cleats.
Kelme, Umbro, and Lotto entered the football boot industry in 1980 where they released their own models of football cleats. During this timeframe, both casual and professional players had a wide array of brands and shoe models to choose from, which intensified the competition even further and forced manufacturers to be more innovative with their products.
Year 1990 – Adidas and Puma dominate soccer cleat sales
Adidas enjoyed a lot of success with their Predator soccer cleat model as it revolutionised style, design, and technology among other football boots. The 90’s was a period of domination for both Adidas and Puma as these two brands were the most popular choice for professional soccer players. While Nike was known for their Air Max models in the late 90’s, they made a groundbreaking release with the Mercurial soccer cleats which were hailed for its lightness and track-spike inspired design.
The Mercurial weighed just 200 grams and befits the name accordingly. Mercurial, by definition, means unpredictable and footballers who wore Mercurial cleats felt much agile and faster around the field, enabling them to stop on a dime and kick like a lightning bolt
Year 2000’s – Big 3 brands
The big 3 brands Adidas, Puma, and Nike headline the soccer cleat market and competition became even more fierce. Some of the most popular models in this era were the Adidas F50, Nike Mercurial Vapor III and the Nike Air Zoom Total 90. This prompted other brands to step up their game in an effort to gain some of the market share. Sticky boots were introduced in 2002 and Kelme released soccer cleats with their TRX-4 “shark technology” back in 2006.
But the most game-changing development in this timeframe was the world’s first fully customised soccer cleat created through laser technology. This meant that professional players can fully customise their football boots according to their specific needs. The end result is optimised performance that translated well into the football field.
Year 2010 to 2019 – Coolest advancements in soccer cleat technology
Football boot innovations were aplenty from 2010 and onwards. Nike announced their Mercurial Vapor Superfly II in 2010 and it featured FlyWire, a strand of material made of Vectran. These strands are thin, light, and strong which gave the shoe upper maximum support at a minimal weight. Nike also turned the football boot world upside down with their release of the Magista in 2014. These cleats jumpstarted the re-emergence of the mid-cut boot and implemented a technology called Dynamic Fit Collar that works just like FlyWire to add support without adding weight.
Adidas released the F50 Adizero MiCoach that has a chip implanted in the sole which tracked your movements while playing. It collects data from your playing style and sends it to the MiCoach website where you can analyse and compare your stats with other MiCoach users. Recently, Adidas launched its premier football boot called the Adidas X which provides athletes with superior glove-like fit. The TechFit technology is made out of a malleable upper that conforms to the player’s feet that feels light, comfortable, and agile.
Originally made for workout gear such as compression shirts and leggings, TechFit has trickled down to soccer cleats that allowed players to wear it straight out of the box and right into a football field without even having to break the shoes in.
From heavy leather boots to super lightweight synthetic fibers, football boots have definitely come a long way. Soccer cleats today are filled with modern technology that provides players not only with increased confidence, but also improved performance in terms of ball control, kick power, and kick accuracy.