The Evolution of Football Boots
January 03, 2018
It’s incredible to think that in the early days of football and prior to 1891, football boots did not exist. Instead, players wore work boots which made technical elements such as touch, control and turning almost impossible.
They also featured steel toe caps, which could cause untold damage to players on the wrong end of a poorly-timed tackle. In the 126 years since, we’ve seen the emergence and rapid evolution of the football boot.
We’ll explore this in the article below, while looking at some of the most iconic boots.
The early days – From work boots to football boots and beyond
It was in 1891 that the first football boots or shoes were designed, with these rudimentary pieces of footwear incorporating small bars and studs on the soles. These primitive boots remained in existence until the Second World War. The 1930s saw the emergence of iconic brands such as Gola and some minor modifications in terms of diversity and comfort.
When the war ended in 1945, players and developers developed a far greater interest in sport. This triggered a rapid evolution in the design of football boots, as footwear became far lighter and responsive to individual movements. Suddenly, protecting the player’s feet was no longer a key design objective, as developers were far more interested in creating superior agility, touch and performance. The new generation of boots also came up lower on the leg, in a bid to improve player movement and optimise speed.
Then Adidas entered the fray in the 1950s, as they launched their very own football boot with interchangeable, screw-in studs. These were typically rubber or plastic, and could be used to help players adapt their movements in various conditions. This was a ground-breaking innovation and one that ushered in the age of multipurpose football boots that could be used in any circumstances.
The modern age – The age of aerodynamic boots
These innovations created the trends that define modern-day boots, although further technological advances have made the footwear unrecognisable from its predecessors. This came to a head in 1994, when Adidas reaffirmed its reputation as a market leader by launching its iconic Predator boot. This came after other brands have experimented with various coloured boots, opening the boundaries of design and the helping developers to realise the importance of style.
The Predator range initially used rubber strips on the top of the boot, increasing the amount of power and spin that could be generated when striking a ball. This single-minded focus on performance appealed to amateurs and professionals alike and it’s fair to say that the range became an overnight, global sensation.
A decade later saw this idea evolved further with Nike’s similarly iconic Total 90 boots, which included a revolutionary and engineered ‘sweet spot’ on the instep of both shoes. This innovation lent itself to superior ball striking ability, while it also helped players to achieve better control and optimise their weight of pass. This is why the period of time around the turn of the century represented the golden period for boot design, even though we’re now in an age of smart tech and measuring performance metrics.
Interestingly, Everton striker Wayne Rooney paid homage to these boots recently, wearing an old pair of Total 90 boots (which have now been discontinued) in a recent Premier League game with Brighton. He scored too, which suggests that there may be some magic left in those older boots.
The future of football boots
Rooney’s gesture was unique, as most top players have boots specifically prescribed and made for them in the modern age. Make no mistake however, today’s boots have built heavily on the innovations from 20 years ago, particularly those implemented by Adidas and Nike.
The main difference today is the use of smart technology and sensors, which enables players to collate data from their boots and access key performance metrics. This represents the next step in football boot design, as wearable tech becomes increasingly sophisticated. We can expect wearable tech to soon emerge as a mainstream tool for players and managers alike.