Jul
19
2007
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Association football

Association football 1880
Diameter 22,6 cm
Weight 425

Given its rather crucial role in the game, and the number of debates that took place concerning the laws of the game in general, it seems odd that no standards were laid down as to the size and weight of footballs until 1872, nine years after the formation of the Football Association.
Finaly, at the behest of the Harrow Chequers club, agreements was reached for a size of not less than 27 inches and not more than 28 inches in circumference for balls used in FA Cup ties. Even then the rule was not enforced for other games until 1883, and there was no mention of weight until six years later, when balls for internationals were set at 12-15 ouces. Only in 1905 was the use of leather stipulated, after sundry, but failed attempts to create an all-rubber ball.
The first mass produced ball that met the standarts for this period – which saw the formation of the Football League in 1888 and the rapid expansion of the professional game – was the 7 or 8 panel ‘button end’ ball. Not how discreet the lacing had become, compared, for example with the Harrow ball, following complaints about injuries to players.
Button end balls, costing around 10s each, were made by a number of manufacturers, including John Wisden, Lillywhites and William Sykes. But the company we know most about was that of William Shillcock of Birmingham. By 1905 Shillcock alone was selling 40-50,000 balls a year, around the globe.
‘The great point is to get your leather stretched properly’, wrote Shillcock in 1905, although he refused to reveal his methods. He also recomended cowhide as the best material.
To replace the button end ball, in the 1890s Shillcock brought out the 10 panel ‘McGregor ball’, named after William McGregor, the Scotthish founder of the Football League whose draper’s shop was round the corner from Shillcock’s.
The age of football sponsorship had arrived.