1. Adidas Telstar
Surely the most iconic football there has ever been or ever will be. Ask someone to draw a football and the chances are they'll draw a circle with some black patches on it. If they do, they're essentially drawing an Adidas Telstar.
Before the late-1960's, footballs were usually either all white or all brown. Come the 1970 World Cup, the entire planet was shown a third way – a ball with 20 white hexagonal and 12 black pentagonal patches. The contrast between black and white was not just cosmetic; it was specifically used by Adidas to ensure maximum visibility for the worldwide TV audience, most of whom were watching on a black-and-white set.
Named after the telecommunications satellite of the same name, I see the Adidas Telstar as perfection in design. I cannot actually think of any way to make a football look better. Somehow the shape and colour of the patches provides the ideal visual balance. The movement of those black pentagons as the ball rotates adds an eye-catching element of excitement during game play, but why, I just don't know.
The Telstar spawned similar successors in the Telstar Durlast and the all-white Telstar Chile for the 1974 World Cup, but this was and remains the high point in football design – in my opinion, at least.
2. Adidas Tango River Plate
The natural successor to the Telstar was the Adidas Tango, originally known as the Adidas ‘Durlast’ but rebranded for the 1978 World Cup. The extra ‘River Plate’ embellishment left no-one in any doubt that this was the official ball being used over in Argentina that year.
Let’s face it – nothing was ever going to quite match the mastery of design provided by the Telstar, but the Tango did at least provide something more modern. Instead of being restricted to the solid colours of the hexagons and pentagons, Adidas figured you could create white circles on the ball by designing black ‘triads’ instead. The effect was terrific and distinctive; much more in keeping with the 1980’s that were about to arrive than the early-1970s that brought us the Telstar.
Such was the absolute versatility of the design, the Tango appeared in modified form right the way through to the late-90’s as the Azteca (1986), the Etrusco Unico (1990), the Questra (1994) and the Tricolore (1998). It also, as if you didn’t already know, provided the inspiration for the Tango 12 – official ball of Euro 2012.
A true test of a classic design is whether it looks as good now as it did many years ago when first launched, and to my mind it truly does. It also stands the test of time by virtue of the fact that it lends itself well to modern-day football logos because of its uncomplicated nature. A great ball to see in action and second only to the Telstar in the all-time greats list.
3. ‘Official Football League Ball’
In researching this piece, I’ve managed to solve a football mystery that’s been lingering in my mind for some time. Back in the late-70s, a new football appeared on the English domestic scene, designed in such a way that you couldn’t fail to notice it. The ball stood out like a sore thumb for the brief period it was used and became synonymous with the period when I became a fully-fledged football fanatic.
The ball in question was white with a series of red patches running around the circumference. This helped it create a mesmeric optical illusion during every match because instead of the uniform rotation of black patches moving around the ball, you now had a thick coloured band spinning around in random directions. I loved it for that.
A friend of mine at the time owned a replica of the ball. It was made by Stuart Surridge and accompanied him, his brother and myself over to the local park for our regular weekend kick-abouts. It was a lovely ball to play with and the closer association of Stuart Surridge with Cricket was a trivial one that was thankfully lost on me as an 8-year-old.
From then until only a few years ago, I assumed that this ‘red stripe ball’ was an exclusive Stuart Surridge product, but Googling those words never brought much in the way of confirmation. To add further confusion, I also stumbled upon one or two archive pictures clearly showing the ball labelled with the Mitre logo. So who were the makers of this ball, and what was its name?
The answer can be found on that perennial source of wisdom, the Twohundredpercent blogsite. Back in 2007, Ian King wrote a similar piece on great football design (proof that there’s nothing new under the sun) and in it he said:
“But who made it? Well, I put a little bit too much effort into researching this last night… The answer is… everybody, it would seem. The ball was designed by the Football League, and made between 1979 and 1982 by Mitre, Minerva and Surridge Sports.”
As you can see from Ian’s splendid article, the Surridge version was called ‘UFO’, but as for Mitre and Minerva’s version, that remains a mystery. So much for the conventional marketing plan, but at least the Official Football League Ball lives on in the footage from countless games including the League Cup Finals from 1979 to 1981 and Justin Fashanu’s classic goal in the BBC’s 1980 ‘Goal of the Season’ competition from Match of the Day.
4. Mitre Delta 1000
Another five years went by until the Football League next had an ‘official ball,’ but in 1986 it arrived in the form of the Mitre Delta 1000. A white ball with red ‘V’ shapes dotted here and there across it, this ball became the de facto piece of kit not only for league games in England but also Cup games and England internationals – the first time such an arrangement had come to pass.
I actually owned this ball back in the day, and very good it was too. In all fairness, the disparate red V’s weren’t that visible when the ball was moving as the pattern was too slight. In that sense, the ball was inferior to bolder designs like the Telstar, but certainly when the ball was static – say, when nestling in the back of your opponent’s goal net – it looked rather nice indeed.
As you’d perhaps expect, the Delta 1000 gave rise to consecutive spin-offs such as the Ultimax and Calcio but the basic model was also available with black and blue markings to compliment the original red. I had a blue one too after my red Delta had faded and become misshapen, and it, too, looked fabulous.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that this was THE ball back in the late 80’s. It was everywhere – on Match of the Day, at your local park where the kids were playing with it, not to mention in every sports shop on the High Street. Admittedly this was an era before Nike came along to dominate the football market so the Delta 1000 didn’t have as much competition, but there was something indefinable about this ball that made it completely desirable in those pre-Premier League days. I owned two and was glad to have done so.
Bringing things almost completely up to date now, here’s my favourite ball from recent times.
Nike had been the official supplier of Premier League balls from 2000/01 but it was only in 2004/05 that the Total90 Aerow first saw the light of day. Where the ‘Official Football League Ball’ (see 3. above) made virtue of a single coloured band around its circumference, this Nike model used a series of narrower bands to provide eye-catching appeal.
Upon introduction, those coloured bands were a summer blue colour, but in 2005/06 they became royal blue to provide a subtle distinction for that season’s official balls. Not only that, there was also the now familiar yellow version of the ball to be used for the winter months when visibility wasn’t so good. Again, the royal blue hoops provided contrast.
By the mid-Noughties of course, we were well into the era of marketing waffle where a ball wasn’t simply introduced without fanfare but rather launched on an emphatic tidal wave of PR drivel. Anyone taking the time to filter out the useful information from such nonsense, however, was rewarded with some genuinely useful facts about the Total90 Aerow. This ball was made using compressed foam to make it spring more easily off the boot when struck. It also had a tough webbing layer inside to ensure it kept its shape and durability. Stuff like that.
In this day and age, of course, you’d come to expect that sort of detail, but surely the key priorities when assessing a football are (a) how good it looks and (b) how well it plays. In both cases, this pearl of a design from Nike gets a tick in the box, and like the 'Official Football League Ball' of 1979, those concentric hoops add a certain extra visual appeal when the ball is moving.
A fine football in the grand tradition, and one which has implicit modernity and simplicity at its heart.