The black soccer cleat, or black football boot if you are so inclined, is the classic in soccer footwear. The black soccer cleat has become an iconic part of a soccer player’s look and style.
OK, admittedly, the classic black soccer cleat has expanded its horizons to include whites, blues, greens and every other color in the rainbow, but it is the black soccer cleat that was the inspiration for them all.
But where did this iconic part of the ‘beautiful game’ come from? And what changes has the soccer cleat gone through over the years?
England is the birthplace of the sport and so it is only fitting that the soccer cleat has its origins in England.
The first recorded pair of soccer cleats was for a very unlikely player, King Henry VIII. It is surprising that between marriage ceremonies, time on the hunt, time drinking and jousting that Henry VIII could find time for a match and we don’t really know if he did play a match but he did order a pair of soccer boots from the Great Wardrobe in 1526.
The boots were made of leather, hand-stitched by the royal cordwainer, Cornelius Johnson, and cost King Henry the royal sum of four shillings. There is not much more known about Henry’s passion for soccer and somewhat surprising he would take up the pastime as it was certainly not a gentleman’s sport. At the time, the game that would today be considered soccer had few rules and many fouls.
As the game grew in popularity in England over the next 300+ years and more workers took up the game it is not surprising that the football boot was just that; a factory worker’s leather boot (high top) with long laces. To get a playing advantage, the worker’s boot evolved to include nails in the bottom to help with traction and no doubt serve as warning to other players trying to steal the ball away.
Related Article: Short History of Reversible Soccer Jerseys
This resulted in the English Football Association’s implementation of Rule #13 in 1863, which stated “no one wearing projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta-percha on the soles of his boots is allowed to play.” (Gutta-percha is a hard latex-like substance made from tree sap; it was used in early golf balls.)
Leather studs began to make an appearance in the late 1880s. The Football Association incorporated the wearing of studs into the rulebook in 1891. The rule stated that any studs must be “made of leather and not project more than half an inch, their fastenings must be driven in flush with leather.”
These early soccer cleats have evolved into the soccer cleats we all know today.
The biggest changes to the classic black soccer cleat have been most noticeable since the 1920’s. And while there were other companies that made soccer cleats, the industry would be changed forever in 1924 when Adolf and Rudolf Dassler started the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory in Herzogenaurach, Germany.
The company’s first boot was geared toward bobsledders but Adolf, known as ‘Adi’, had a love and passion for all sports and quickly developed a soccer cleat that had 6 or 7 replaceable, nailed studs, which could be changed according to the weather conditions of play.
The soccer cleats of the early twentieth century where more of a protective piece of equipment rather than a performance enhancing item. The game changed in the 1940’s and 50’s, however, as the game took on a global nature and with it the design of the soccer cleat.
The flair and footwork of ‘Jogo Bonito,’ the beautiful game, from South America took the world by storm bringing with it a need for a lighter more foot fitting soccer cleat that allowed for better touch on the ball. It must be remembered that most of these South American players grew up playing barefoot and so were not accustomed to such a clunky burdensome boot still in use in Europe.
These changes dramatically affected the design of the boot but a family feud between the Dassler’s in 1948 changed the business landscape. The argument resulted in the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory being closed but in the process created two new companies, one led by each brother.
Adi established adidas (the name coming from a combination of his first and last names) while Rudolf headed across town to form Puma. The competition on the field was probably not as fierce as the competition between the two brothers. But for those wondering how 2 of the biggest soccer shoe companies ended up in Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, Germany, there you have it.
In the early 1950’s both brothers claim to have developed the first soccer cleat with replaceable and interchangeable studs. But it was Adi who made the greatest impression with this new feature at the 1954 World Cup final.
After losing to Hungary in the group stage 8-3, West Germany was the huge underdog when the two sides meet in the World Cup final. The weather would play in their favor as a drizzle turned to a downpour before the match and seeing potential problems with footing Adi Dassler was prepared and replaced the West German black soccer cleats with longer studs than the standard length to help with traction.
The rest is history as West Germany went on to win 3-2 and hoist the Jules Rimet trophy in what has become known as the ‘Miracle at Bern.’
The push to develop a lighter, more flexible, more controlling black soccer cleat has been ongoing but adidas has been the major player ever since that World Cup final and Adi’s vision and preparation which helped West Germany win their first world title.
At the 1966 World Cup, 75% of the players were wearing adidas soccer cleats but Puma was holding their own with Brazil’s Pele wearing their brand and other brands starting to make soccer cleats, such as Mitre.
The 1970’s saw cleat makers start to push more to market their soccer cleats through professional endorsements. Pele, who had worn Puma soccer cleats for years, helped Brazil to the 1970 World Cup title wearing the recently introduced Puma King.
Hummel was one such company but they took the next step deciding to break away from the traditional black cleat. The German company signed Everton’s Alan Ball and Derby County’s Alan Hinton to wear new white soccer cleats.
The new color made a statement but did not catch on at the time.
adidas made a lasting mark as well in 1979 when they introduced the Copa Mundial, the best selling soccer cleat of all time, made with an upper support of Kangaroo leather.
The Copa Mundial, Puma King and other soccer cleats could not provide the answers for all conditions with the advent of artificial grass. This new playing surface brought with it a need for a new type of outsole. Traditional cleats would not bite into the turf so a new design, incorporating many small rubbers cleats, was developed to better grip the harder surface.
Italian company Diadora started to make soccer cleats in 1977.
The 1980’s saw football boots being made for the first time by English company Umbro, Italy’s Lotto and Spain’s Kelme.
The focus for years had been on a lighter soccer cleat with more flexible sole but the push for an even better black soccer cleat was made in the 1980’s when former player Craig Johnston started looking for ways for the boot to provide better control to the player and increase the ‘sweet spot.’ The boot he was working on was finally released in the 1990’s and known as the adidas Predator.
The biggest change since the Dassler Brothers started making soccer cleats happened in the 1990’s when Nike joined the game. The Oregon based company started with a focus on running shoes but decided to expand into soccer and wasted no time making a statement.
They released the Nike Tiempo ahead of the 1994 World Cup and had signed many of the winning Brazilian team along with other big name players, like runner’s up Italy’s Paolo Maldini, to wear the new cleat and represent the swoosh.
Changes were on the horizon and they were coming fast. A white cleat reappeared this time with AC Milan’s Marco Simone pulling on a pair in the 1995 European Cup final against Ajax. And if white was not shocking enough, the Sunday Times reported in November of 1996 that Attila Sekerlioglu of St Johnstone pulled on some ‘notorious yellow boots.’
The crazy colors were shockingly noticeable but the other and bigger change in soccer cleats during the 1990’s was the advancement in technology and push to create a better cleat.
They introduced the Nike Mercurial soccer cleat in 1998. The swoosh’s first all synthetic cleat weighed in at 200g and changed the way the cleat was designed.
The two biggest changes to occur with the soccer cleat evolution in the last twenty years are the introduction of new style of studs on the cleats and race for a lighter soccer cleat.
Bladed cleats began to replace the traditional stud in the late 1990’s. These were designed to offer the wearer more stability when turning or pivoting. Manufacturers claimed that bladed soccer cleats are more efficient at gripping the turf. In addition to blades, recent years have also seen cleats in other shapes including triangles. Many shoes today use a combination of cleat designs on their outsoles.
Though stud designs and patterns have definitely played a huge role in player performance, another reason for advancement in soccer cleats is reduced weight. New materials used in outsole construction have reduced weights significantly. While early shoes used layers of heavy, stiff leather, some of today’s highest-end offerings feature outsoles of material such as super strong and extremely lightweight carbon fiber. The oldest boots, the one with the bar-type cleats that dates to the 1920s, weighed over 20 ounces. The cutting-edge cleats from the top brands are around 6 ounces. Traction and performance are definitely increased but the lighter weight also plays a huge role in reduced player fatigue.
These developments have advanced to the point where most brands have specialty silos – control, speed, power, comfort, perfect product for their specific game.
The push to create an even better black soccer cleat continues with each company looking for a competitive edge and to think that it all started back when Henry VIII wanted a specialty pair of boots! It will definitely be interesting to see what the future holds for the soccer cleat!
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