Sunday, December 3, 2017

Football Boots :Fashionable Colour-ways a brief history

Football boots are becoming more of a fashion statement these days as marquee players make them a focal point for TV cameras. Designs and colourways which might previous have not been out of place on the disco dance floor are finding their way to the green blaze and all in the name of selling product. However, it may be worth bearing in mind, the minute you see visible high-end footwear on footballers' feet the more likely the industry has nothing else to offer.

By the 20th century, dark coloured boots were associated with soccer but Hummel changed all that in the 70s with the introduction of white boots for Alan Ball * (England and Arsenal). Took a brave player to wear anything other than black for fear of being picked on by rival fans. “Who's the poofter in the boots?” would ring out from the crowd and woe-betide anyone who dared wear coloured boots and have a poor game.

Two decades later colourfill boots (colourways) became a bi-word for companies like Adidas and Puma who realised soccer moms liked their offspring in visibly fashionable boots. What is good for the amateur must be good for business and endorsed players became fashion doyons. Televised events such as the FIFA World Cups with millions of viewers have made the football pitch the macho catwalk where the models i.e. players, demonstrate the new look and functionality of the footwear range from the companies that pay them thousands of dollars just to be “seen.”

Being top does not always mean being the best and when the great David Backham wore golden boots for his 100th cap for England (against France), his team lost 1-0 and David did not excel in the game.

Now it is the turn of Neymar Jnr (Brazil , and Paris Saint-Germain ) to wow the faithful with shoes and deeds as he sports his new

safari-themed black-and-white-spotted Blue Orbit Nike Mercurial Vapor XI boots.

I wonder if he may have an Alan Ball moment. After the Everton and England great heard a rumour Hummel, were prepared to pay £2,000 to a professional willing to their white boots he took them up on their offer. The boots were uncomfortable and Ball substituted his own adidas boots after painting them white. All went well until during the game it rained and washed away the white paint. Hummel withdrew their £2,000.

Monday, November 20, 2017

World Cup player's superstitions : Routine rather than ritual?

Despite the growth of sports science, data analysis, nutritional wisdom and technical know-how, the dark art of superstition still pollutes the minds of elite athletes. Or does it?

The human brain craves control all events and when a success has been achieved many athletes repeat the same actions in order to recreate the previous successes. To the outsider this may and does appear strange at times especially when bazaar routines are enacted. Critical analysis surrounding odd behaviours seems to favor types. The first might prevent individuals focusing on bad things and therefore serve as a distracter to block out nerves, anxiety and worries e.g. demonstrating the Sign of the Cross. Second, these behaviours help players focus on what is important by forming set routines such as being the first or last player to enter the field of play. Sometimes the lines between ritual (superstitions) and routine are very blurred but generally when something helps performance it is a routine; and if it plays no identifiable part in player preparation then it is probably a superstition. According to Sports Psychologists routines are consistent and purposeful actions which prepare the mind and body for a good performance, whereas superstitions (or magical thinking) amount to compulsive and irrational behavior which ultimately are inconsequential.

To be a top class goal scorer the player needs not only to be able to score when the opportunity presents but even when there is only half a chance. Scoring from the slenderest opportunity places an exclusive band of goal scorers far above the average striker. On a simple goal tally it is obvious more goals are scored in the modern game than was the case in early times. How much of this relates to improved soccer boots remains unknown. Players are however, by nature, very superstitious and will go to extraordinary lengths to maintain their run of luck. Most of their actions defy common logic and some so bazaar as to be noted here.

Whilst most admit to being superstitious and doing silly things, like soaking themselves and their new boots in a bath before allowing boots to dry around their feet, many are as quick as to dismiss these beliefs. When the culmination of coaching, training, skill development and fitness are complete all that is required is for the player, is to go out and play. The surreptitious nature of the game and likelihood of suffering an injury combined with the abject fear of public disgrace particularly when seen by 715.1 million people puts intolerable pressures on the players. According to Morris (1981) these factors contribute to why soccer players are so ritualistic. They are not alone in the sporting fraternity. The power of superstition is all in the mind and for some players the magic rituals take on astonishing intensity. A study by researchers at the University of Cologne, published in Psychological Science in 2010, showed that activating ‘lucky’ superstitions via a common saying or action (such as crossing your fingers) or use of a ‘lucky charm’ improved subjects’ performances in various tests. In one experiment subjects who were handed a golf ball that they were told was ‘lucky’ putted better than those who used a ‘normal’ ball. In another experiment, subjects who were allowed to carry their lucky charm performed better at memory and anagram tests than those without one. The researchers concluded that these performance benefits were produced by changes in “self-efficacy” – a person’s belief in their own ability to complete a task: “Activating a superstition boosts participants’ confidence in mastering upcoming tasks, which in turn improves performance.” A Dutch study of 197 elite athletes, including football players from Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology in 2006 revealed that ritual commitment is greater when uncertainty is higher and the importance of the game is increased. The researchers explained: “Although the enactment of superstitious rituals often does not make sense to observers, it may serve an important tension-regulation function for sportsmen before a match.”

In the main team mates respect each other's rituals and all avoid tempting fate. Ritualistic behaviour starts days before the game. Many well known players will only wear certain shoes and socks, and like a young bride, place a sixpence (lucky coin) in their shoes. In the past some top class players used to personally polish their boots in preparation before the match. This menial task was usually reserved to apprentice players or bootboys. Alcohol, usually spirits, also played a role, and Desmond Morris described one player who insisted on dosing the tips of his boots, one with whisky and the other water. Players will be careful to travel to the stadium observing all taboos as a means of not tempting fate.

The most intense time for ritualism is in the changing rooms. Rigidly observed procedures involve those connected with changing clothes. Lucky shoes, socks, and even laces all form part of the rituals, religiously followed by those seeking the good fortunes of fate. The manner the clothing is put on often become ritualistic. Some players are known to put on socks and boots and nothing else well before the game. They sit quietly psyching themselves up to a peak performance. Putting on the left sock first before the right or the right boot before the left is commonly observed. So too is players lacing and unlacing their boots multiple times before the game. At the 1966 World Cup, Bobby Moore had to be the last man in the changing room to put on his shorts. Some players insist on eating prior to the match. Billy Bremner (former captain of Leeds United and Scotland) was famous for eating a plateful of baked beans before every game. Although frowned upon now, a nip of whisky or their favourite tipple to further concentrate their mind was not uncommon. Other activities include going to the toilet a fixed number of times.

Morris reported the clothing of others could also become a focus to the superstitious. For example some players needed to see their coach wear socks of their lucky colour before they would take to the field. This fetishism extends to the shoes worn by the coach and the author described a ceremoniously fastened of the coach's shoe by one of the players as pre match necessity before the team would leave the dressing rooms. Some players insist on entering the changing rooms in a particular way most of, which involves walking through the boot room. Players will carry lucky charms including a rabbit's foot or lucky heather. The absence of pockets in playing kits and restrictions on wearing jewelery for safety mean the talisman are slipped into the shoe, or in the case of goal keeper such paraphonalia are tossed into the back of the goal.

Players are ritualistic even in the tunnel leading to the pitch. Some players will head or kick the ball a certain number of times or bounce it off the wall before running onto the field. Some players lead with their right foot onto the pitch (Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)others with their left. Kolo Touré ( Ivory Coast) will always insist on being the last man in his team to enter the field. Once on the pitch another set of ritual behaviour might take place. Players like Leighton Baines (England) will take their boots off and put them back on again and some even kiss their boots for luck. Luis Suarez (Uruaguay) ritually kisses the tattoo of his children’s names etched onto his wrist. Whereas Cesc Fabregas (Spain) will kiss the badge on his shirt for luck. In the 1998 World Cup France's Laurent Blanc kissed his teammate Fabien Barthez (goal keeper) for good luck. For luck some strikers refuse to score any goals during the training sessions previous to any important match. Gary Liniker (England) always swapped his jersey for a fresh one at half-time if he had not scored in the first half. He also had a hair cut to stop a goal-less run. Ronaldo too likes to have a fresh hair trim before important games.

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Javier Hernandez (Mexico) drops to his knees in prayer before each World Cup match. Daniele de Rossi (Italy)jumps up and down three times prior to kick-off. Players may roll the chewing gum they have been chewing into a ball and attempt to kick the ball. A successful contact means a good game but when the player misses then bad luck will follow. Iker Casillas (Spain) used to wear his socks inside-out during matches and always touches the crossbar every time his team scores.

Why so many superstitions involve boots remains unclear but such behaviour as preferring the right or left has been known since antiquity. In Roman and Greek times the left side was considered lucky with one exception and that was when entering a home. Only the right foot could cross the threshold if good luck was to prevail. In rich domiciles there were servants whose sole function (excuse the pun) was to direct all visitors to use their right foot first. They were called footmen and position is still with us today. By the Middle Ages the left side was more associated with bad luck. The origins of "By the left quick march" for example refer to a clear indication no mercy will be extended to the enemy. Soccer players may be extending the same charity to their opponents. For most people left sides are weaker. This is partly explained by neonatal compression of the left leg against the mother's spine in the womb. Attendance to the right foot first may be to favour the stronger side. This would be reversed in the case of left-footed players. One other reason to explain the boot ritual may be the misfortune awaiting those who place their right foot in a left shoe. History records this happened to Augustus Caesar.

"Augustus having an oversight
Put on his left shoe for his right
Had like to have been slain that day
By soldiers mutinying for pay."

An old Jewish custom was to put the right shoe on first without tying it, then the left sock. The ritual required taking the right shoe off and putting on the right sock, left shoe on tied and back to the right shoe. This is seen occasionally when players will come onto the field and during pre-match warm ups and are observed taking their boots and putting them on again.

Players prefer to play in boots that are broken in. Not so strange when hidden seams can burst causing painful blisters as well as cuts and abrasions to their feet. In the past some sponsored players removed their design logos from their boots to get an all black appearance. When manufacturers became aware of this they incorporated weaknesses such as hidden seems which would tear easily once the company's logo was removed. Now that colourful boots have become the norm few sponsored players interfere with their major source of additional income.

In 1908 when goal-scoring ace, George Hedley played for Woverhampton Wanderers he scored a goal against Newcastle causing one of his favourite boots to split. Despite being offered a new pair Hedley steadfastly refused and saw the game to completion with one tattered boot. The player had his favourite boots patched up at least 17 times before eventually and somewhat reluctantly parting with them.

Sex before a game remains a great taboo. The team-by-team rules governing players' sexual behavior during competition has been varied at this year’s World Cup. The common belief is abstinence makes the player better yet there is little scientific evidence to support this. Many team coaches have implemented sex bans. Safet Susic (Bonia- Herzegovina gave an interview prior to the completion where her said, “There will be no sex in Brazil. They can find another solution; they can even masturbate if they want. I am not interested what the other coaches do, this is not a holiday trip, and we are there to play football at the World Cup.” Some teams have a complete ban on sexual activity these are: Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile and Mexico (all now exited from competition). The following teams had no embargo on sex during preparations: England, Spain, the United States, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, and Uruguay. All out of the competition Germany (unlimited sex except the night before) and Netherlands are still very much contenders. Some countries have complicated rules including France (sex is permitted but not all night), Brazil (no “acrobatic” sex), Costa Rica (sex was permitted until the second round) and Nigeria (players could sleep with their wives but not girlfriends). The rules for the remaining teams are unknown.

The two most common concerns about pre-game sex are intercourse might make a player tired and weak or it could affect him psychologically. Studies have shown that the former is a myth. Coitus the night before a competition has no affect on strength or endurance. Many coaches and athletes believe abstaining from sex builds up aggression. The ancient Greeks thought men derived strength from their semen and to lose it would leave them weaker. Whist a commonly held belief the opposite has been proven to be true. Studies show testosterone increases after sex. According to Emmanuele A. Jannini of the University of L’Aquila in Italy “After three months without sex, which is not so uncommon for some athletes, testosterone dramatically drops to levels close to the level of a child.” Sex it would appear increases performance by releasing testosterone into the body.

As to whether pre-game coitus adversely affect players’ psychology is harder to test, but experts maintain it can have a positive mental effect. Ian Shrier is a sports medicine specialist at McGill University believes sex may be a relaxing distraction before a big game. Even the great Pele (Brazil) once confessed he never suspended sexual encounters with his wife before a game.


Becker J 1975 Superstition in sport International Journal of Sports Psychology 6:3 148-152.
Morris D 1981 The soccer tribe London: Jonathan Cape, London 193-194.
Shrier I (2000) “Does Sex the Night Before Competition Decrease Performance?” Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. Volume 10 :Issue 4 pp 233-234

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Soccer: Official Olympic Event

At first the World's championship of football was the Olympics with the winners considered the World Champions. After the First World War more and more players turned professional, which meant the better teams, could not complete. Many countries fielded professionals under the guise of being amateurs, which caused much concern at the time. Initially soccer was viewed as a demonstration sport but later accepted as part of the official Olympics. A summary of the men's Olympic Championship winners is given below.

Unofficial Tournaments Demonstration Sport
1896 Denmark
1900 England
1904 Canada
1906 Denmark

World Championship Official Olympic Event
1908 England
1912 England
1916 No Event
1920 Belgium
1924 Uruguay
1928 Uruguay
Professionalism was Spreading rapidly
1932 No event
1936 Italy
Man nations sent under Strength teams
1940 No event
1944 No event
1948 Sweden

World Championship Official Olympic Event
1952 Hungary
1956 Soviet Union
1960 Yugoslavia
1964 Hungary
1972 Poland
1976 East Germany
Open to professional players not involved in the World Cup
1980 Czechoslovakia
1984 France
1988 Soviet Union
Open to Under 23 National World Championship
1992 Spain
1996 France
2000 Cameroon
2004 Argentin
2008 Argentina
2012 Mexico

A brief history of ball games

Ancient civilisations had many ball games requiring great skill. There were many variations of football (i.e. propelled by the head and feet) which were played from China (Tsu Chu)and Japan - Kemari to Mexico. Goals took several forms including bamboo shoots, curtain holes to rings on a wall. William Fitzstephengave an account of a rough football game played on Shrove Tuesday in 1175. In Medieval England, football was more of a tussle across open countryside where team members fought out a no holes contest to kick or carry the ball across a boundary mark. Death and injury were common and from time to time state and church banned these revelries. Despite this the lawless game continued to be popular in Britain from Orkney to England. According to Manley (1992), a Scotsman described in verse a game of street football he witnessed in Lincoln (England) in 1450.

Four and twenty bony boys
Were playing at the ba'
And by it came sweet Sir Hugh
And he played o'er them a'
He kicked the ba' with his right foot
He catched it wi' his knee
And through -and-thro the jews' window
He gard the bony ba' flee.

By the late fifteenth century the Medici family had become great supporters of Calcio Fiorentinoand promoted the game among the nobility. It was during this time that football costume came into use (Manley, 1992). By the 16th century Giovanni Bardi (1580) had published the rules of an Italian game now called giuoco del calcio fiorentino. Both teams consisted of twenty-seven players and the format of the game was similar to other forms found in England.

In all probability smaller side games of football were played according to locally agreed rules. These went largely unrecorded but King Henry VIII (1491 –1547) did pay four shillings to have football boots made in 1525. This was recorded within the Great Wardrobe of 1526 and the shoemaker was Cornelius Johnson. Although they did not survive the king’s boot were thought to be ankle high and made from strong leather making them heavier than the normal shoes of the day.

As a student at Cambridge University in 1600 Oliver Cromwell was an acknowledged football player and the game was played in all the better schools and universities. During the Industrial Revolution the elementary game of football lost popularity because workers had to work long hours. Instead it thrived in public schools and Harrow was thought to be the first to introduce the idea of an eleven-aside game. In Winchester they played without goal posts and instead kicked the ball over the line. Eton College in the nineteenth century produced the earliest known set of rules for football (1815). Public schools in both UK and US played similar types of ball games. The games looked nothing like the football codes of today and were played to individual sets of rules, which reflected the institution. This made it difficult to find fixtures with outer teams. By the middle of the nineteenth century all major English public schools had developed their own rules and a meeting was held in Trinity College, Cambridge to standardise them. Hands were outlawed for carrying the ball but players could use them to stop the ball in mid flight. Goals were scored by kicking the ball between two flag posts and under a piece of string stretched between them. It was deemed a foul play to grab, trip or kick an opponent. When Sheffield accepted the Cambridge Rules in 1855, the first football club was founded in England. Later in 1863, fourteen basic laws of the game were identified when the Football Association (London) was formed. A serious debate broke out concerning the merits of players being allowed to hold opponents and hack them at the same time. The meeting broke up in disagreement. This split forged the foundation for Rugby Union. Ironically the eight rules of the early Association resemble today's rules which govern rugby union. Players then could handle the ball and hitting the ball at any height provided it fell between the goal posts constituted a goal. A try i.e. touching the ball behind the opponent’s goal entitled the player to convert. By 1891 these rules were increased to 17, including the introduction of the penalty kick. In 1937/38 Stanley Rous, Secretary of the Football Association redrafted the rules into their modern form. These were reviewed in 1997.

The origins of the name soccer are thought to have come from an Oxford footballer by the name of Charles Wreford Brown. (1863). He borrowed 'socc' from Association and added 'er' to give the term "socc'er'". This lexiconic bastardisation was common at the time and gave counter speak to the other football code rugby or "rugger". By an ironic coincidence, the Latin word for slipper is soccus and in antiquity the soccus was worn by entertainers, women and effeminate young, men. It described a simple slipper or calceoli and laterally became a sock that fitted loosely so they could be removed quickly. Soccus were commonly dyed yellow from the seed of the pomegranate. Fashion dictates have meant changes to the original soccer boot means we now have a soccer slipper which are worn by the entertainers in bright colours.

Manley D (ed) 1992 The Guinness book of records 1492: The world five hundred years ago Enfield: Guinness Publishing Ltd.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Zeha Berlin

Zeha Berlin is a German company founded in Weida in Thuringia, East Germany in 1897. Carl Hässner founded the Zeha Leather Manufactory and men's and women's footwear which became fashionable among artists and bohemians in the Weimar Republic of the 1920s. After the war a new factory complex was built in Hohenlauben and the company started to produce football boots. The business quickly grew to become the flagship for sport-shoe manufacture in East Germany.

The brand logo was originally four parallel vertical stripes but it when it was judged to be too close to adidas' three parallel stripes protracted negotiations followed and a gentleman's agreement that two of Zeha's four stripes would be angled diagonally.

Despite adidas being the better known brand professional athletes the world over sought the East German shoes out. By 1960, a remarkable 17 million people in the GDR were wearing Zeha sports shoes. In 1972, the company was taken over by the government. Leather was scarce commodity in East Germany and so the company were keen to improve through research, innovation and improvisation and ran until 1993 before it closed.

In 2003 the company was reserected by two designers, Heine and Barré who bought the origin Carl Hässner's design templates and using cutting edge gtechnology and the finest Italian leather recreated the the legendary models of the past. Catching a wave of nostalgia the shoes began to sell and are now highly prized.

More Information
Allen G (2017) Zeha Berlin: The secret history of a sporting giant crushed by the fall of the Berlin wall only to rise again as football hipster heaven Mirror