Five hundred years ago, the only soccer shoe fit for a King was a clumsy leather boot. For four shillings King Henry VIII wore a pair made by Cornelius Johnson in 1525 with pride.
The soccer shoe has come a long way to say the least. Work boots are now high performance footwear that allows a soccer athlete to push his or her skills to limit. Designs today are not so much to protect players from injury as it is about maximizing their strategy. And as playing surfaces changed, in came soccer turf shoes. Makers designed lightweight shoes that allowed an athlete to kick with the side of the foot and lift the ball with the toe. And as long as designers throw in a little color and pizzazz, a player's look is complete. From cleats to lacing technology, makers accommodate the changing industry for the success of soccer athletes around the world, male and female alike.
The soccer shoe has undergone dramatic change to meet the growing demands of an ever-popular sport. Improved comfort, resiliency, grip, and even lacing and eyelet technology for a flatter, more comfortable fitting, are testament to how far the boot has come. Today soccer shoes allow more freedom to move, to score, and to entertain the spectator than ever before.
Traceable history of the soccer shoe dates to the 1800s. Football gained a stronghold in industrial Britain when heavy, steel-toed work boots doubled as football shoes. Players hammered metal tacks into the soles of them for traction. Rules drawn up by the Football Association in 1863 said little of the shoe, prohibiting only the use of projecting nails, iron plates, or "gutta percha" (plastic made from tree resin) jutting out the soles or sides of boots. Eventually, football laws did away with the boot and replaced it with the slipper-shoe, called "soccus" and for once players' feet began to look alike. Rounded studs or "cleats" could be inserted into soles for grip. The boots weighed about 500g and featured ankle-high, heavy, protective leather. Problem was, the six-studded boot became twice as heavy when wet.
Soccer shoes entered a new century taking on a life its own. 1901 was met with the legendary Shurekik Boota with fluted toecap made from the skin of russet calf. In 1925, makers began to include removable studs to the boot design. But it wasn't until post World War II that manufacturers dramatically changed the shoe itself. As soccer went more international, more makers abroad got into the action - mainly in Europe, South America and the Mediterranean. The world of soccer was closing in. And as athletes traveled, designs changed to suit the climes and conditions. Up until then, such field names as Gola, Valsport, and Hummel, as well as others in Germany, had dominated the industry. And as the spotlight shone on South American players, their feet did not go unnoticed. Soccer shoes were becoming lightweight and resilient, allowing better flexibility and performance.
One of the best-selling soccer shoe brands today, Adidas (Adolf Dassler), was a child of the 1950s. Since then, the industry would not be the same. Rivals, notably Adolf's own brother, Rudolf - founder of Puma - would compete with Adidas for a better-performing shoe. Puma's new screw-in plastic and rubber studs, and synthetic materials combined to make the over-the-ankle football boot more lightweight and versatile than ever.
The next decade birthed new trends from leading makers, as well as from such newer companies as Mitre, Jona, and Asics, with the lower-cut design allowing soccer athletes to experiment with faster, fancier footing. In 1970, the Puma King soccer shoe spotlighted at that year's World Cup Finals was made famous by Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, better known as Pele, a national hero in Brazil. Newer, colorful designs and styles marked a decade of technological innovation. And what better way to advertise a hot new soccer shoe than to pay a famous athlete such as Pele to wear it on the playing field. By the late 70s Adidas dominated the industry with its new Copa Mundial made from Kangaroo leather which became the world's top-selling soccer boot.
It wasn't long before the world saw even more European soccer shoe companies competing for better technology, lighter-weight designs and more stylish looks. Such as English company Umbro, Italy's Lotto soccer shoes, and Spain's new Kelme soccer shoes. But perhaps the most remarkable advancement in the industry is credited to Craig Johnston, designer of the Predator football boot, launched by Adidas in the 1990s. Greater surface contact between shoe and ball, and shoe and ground for optimal performance, were notable achievements. Around the mid-90s, Predator featured designs allowing more flexibility in the sole, and a new bladed stud design covering the sole for improved stability. Newer designs, such as the foam-free mid-sole bootie featuring Puma Cell Technology, competed fiercely with Adidas for the leading edge. Rival companies as Mizuno soccer shoes, Puma, Uhlsport, Reebok and now most notably Nike, making famous the lightweight Mercurial soccer boot, made strides in the industry.
The new millennium saw still greater achievements. Smaller companies are proving that world class soccer shoes don't always come from the big names. Most recently there is what is called the "sticky boot" by Nomis, based on wet control technology, optimizing ball grip and control under wet conditions. And there's Kelme's "shark" technology, or shoes made from shark skin, believed to be 7 to 11 times stronger than leather. Zhero Gravity features the laceless soccer boot, and laser technology by Prior 2 Lever customizes the boot to the demands of an individual athlete.
All this has combined to create superior, more numerous choices for serious soccer athletes now, and in the future. Manufactures will undoubtedly continue to research sensor technology and newer designs for a lighter, better-performing soccer shoe. Today's designs are no longer at odds between whether to provide better protection, better performance, or just more style. Whether it's about kids soccer shoes, men and womens soccer shoes, or whether the game is recreation or pro, there wouldn't be soccer without the shoe.