France’s M’bappe lost the cup but won hearts and the coveted Golden Boot. Football boots, like the game, are quite ancient. Some boots, dating back to Roman times, unearthed in an archeological excavation in England in 2016 resembled the modern football boot, though the first records are of those made for England’s King Henry VIII in 1526, not for playing but for his wardrobe!
By the mid-19th century, workers were playing in their hard, leather work boots with steel-capped toes and makeshift studs, all of which were dangerous. By late 19th century, a Football Association was formed in England and it put together rules; the 13th being, “No player shall wear projecting nails, iron plates or gutta-percha on the soles or heels of his boots.”
Football had become a successful export to mainland Europe, South America and the colonies. Men’s football became the most popular game in the 1928 Olympics and the FIFA World Cup debuted in 1930. And the boots too began to get attention. The first official boots were not too different from working boots. In the 1920s, German brothers Adolf and Rudolf Dassler (who later setup Adidas and Puma) created lighter models with a shorter barrel, similar to what is worn today.
As football picked up post World War II, lighter boots with less protection made their mark in South America and Southern Europe where pitches were less muddy and harder. By the 1950s, rubber or plastic screw-in studs, interchangeable depending on the weather and pitch conditions, emerged. By the 1970s, boots became even lighter and colours were introduced: white followed by red and neon were used. In the 1994 World Cup, all football boots were exclusively in black. This event also introduced the idea of footballers being paid to wear branded boots. Soon, colour made its grand entry. In the 2000s, the soles became even more flexible and arrival of laser technology meant full-boot customisation.
The 2010s saw the arrival of bladed studs in square, triangular or chevron shapes. In the 2010 World Cup, one of the boots weighed only 165gm. Now, boots have gone high-tech, with microchips and tracking devices implanted to show how much ground has been covered and how fast the wearer is walking. Manufacturers are even 3D-printing boots. In the latest World Cup, boots had all sorts of features —patterning, off-center lacing, air cushion, new stud pattern, secure fit — all of which were claimed to lead to improved performance. Not to forget first every 100% vegan shoes.
There was a time when people did play barefoot.
In 1936, India’s Mohammed Salim played barefoot for the Celtics in Glasgow, wowing the crowds and the coach.
In the 1948 Olympics, India lost to France 2-1, eight players preferred to go without shoes.