Deutsches Patent- und Markenamt

Football and Technology


History of Football

The basic developments of football as a game and as an item of sports equipment: Where, how and when did they take place?

The following historical outline will investigate these key questions. It will mainly focus on the ball itself and covers the period from around 3000 BC to the end of the 19th century. This time period constitutes, so to speak, the prehistoric time of football. The patent history of football is described in the chapter "The football" illustrated by selected examples.

1. Brief historical characterisation of football

The question about the "first football" remains unanswered, because there is no conclusive evidence of when man deliberately kicked a ball-like object for the first time. However, it has always had its attractions to play a ball with any portion of the body other than hands.

Ball games in which the player controls the ball with the legs, feet and other parts of the body, for example the head, hips or shoulders are classified here under the term "football games". Often the games were a violent competition between two teams. They were played for preparing religious ceremonies or the games themselves were religious rituals.

We have only fragmentary knowledge of those historical football games. This is true for the rules and the equipment, and its historical development, as well as for the football. One glance at history shows that ball games developed at all times and on almost all continents.


1.1 "Ancient Asia"

The Chinese "Tsu'Chu" is currently regarded as the earliest form of the football game, for which there is hard evidence. It was first reported in the year 2697 BC. "Tsu" means to kick the ball with the feet; "Chu" describes the piece of equipment, the leather ball filled with feathers and hair. [1] [2] .

About 1,000 years later, a document described a ball consisting of 8 leather panels sewn together.

The heyday of this game was probably around the beginning of the Common Era. Originally, it was played by soldiers to enhance physical fitness. Around 900 AD it sank into oblivion. It is said that an early air-filled ball had also been developed but how it was produced is lost in the mists of history.

"Kemari", still popular today in Japan, was probably inspired by the Chinese "Tsu'Chu" and has been played since around 300 BC by priests and nobles as a kind of circular football game for 4 to 6 players. [1] [2] .

The game might have been similar to performances that we often see today around quarry ponds or public outdoor pools in Germany, but unlike today's players wearing nothing but bathing trunks, the Kemari players were clad in a dignified fashion with kimonos and elaborate hats. Until today, the deerskin ball "Mari" with a diameter of roughly 25 cm is used. The ball is stuffed with barley grains to give it a spherical shape, and finally sewn together using horse hide[3] .

The first international football game ever had allegedly taken place between Japanese Kemari players and Chinese Tsu'Chu players in the year 50 BC. However, we do not know what ball had been used.


1.2 Pharaonic Egypt

Football games were also known in Ancient Egypt (since about 2500 BC). Archeologists discovered balls made of animal sinew wound into a sphere among burial objects. The material used would have made the ball bounce well. The spheres were wrapped in leather or deerskin. Balls made of wound up linen threads are also known. [2].


1.3 Ancient Greece, Roman Empire and Medieval Europe

In Ancient Greece Episkyros, Phaindra or Sphairomachia ("ball battle") were played. The foremost purpose of this game was also the military physical fitness of the players.

Around 2000 BC, the Greeks or the tribes settling in that region before them used a ball made of linen, or also of hair spun into string, wrapped in a spherical shape and sewn together.

Later balls were made from inflated pig bladders, wrapped tight in pigskin or deerskin. Today this construction is regarded as the first verifiable prototype of the inflated leather football with double casing [2]: a delicate air bubble basically defines the shape and is protected during the mostly very rough game by a casing of robust material.

They also knew how to make balls from chopped up natural sponges, wrapped in string and cloth. It is noteworthy that that technique for making a ball was patented in Germany in 1912 (DE-PS 273 871).

The Romans later adapted the game for their legions. They called it "Harpastum" and played it with balls similar to those of the Greeks . The balls had a diameter of roughly 20 cm.

On their conquering campaigns through Europe the Romans spread the probably rugby-like game throughout their empire, on the British Isles, in Gallia and Germania, among others. It is said to be the forerunner of local football versions in England, France, (la cho(u)le, la so(u)le) and Germany (Easter ball, bride ball). Gradually, football games aimed not so much at maintaining the physical fitness of soldiers but they became popular entertainment.

The balls used for playing the variants of Harpastum hardly deserve the name. As regards ball technology those playing devices seem to be a backward step as those structures were hardly sphere-like, but consisted of leather bags with thick seams .

There are some rather unflattering stories about the objects that were used as footballs in Medieval England, but this is not the place to make comments. Air-filled balls, as documented in an English school book of 1519, appear to have been a common ball type on the British isle, although some balls were stuffed with peas or beans, according to a poem by Alexander Barclay from 1508 [6] . In the "Comedy of Errors" (1592 -93) Shakespeare gave a hint on how a type of football was made. At least one of the characters of the play complains that "like a foot-ball you doe spurne me thus: You spurne me hence, and he will spurne me hither, If I last in this service, you must case me in leather".

The range of suitable materials for a ball has not been essentially extended from the Chinese beginnings to early modern times .

There is written evidence of the Italian "calcio storico" game, dating back to 1460. However, that game was no innovative contribution since it was also played with an air-filled leather ball the size of today's handball or football. It should be mentioned that two teams tried to force the ball over the boundary line of the opponent team by "non-criminal" means .


Relevant patent documents
Publication numberYearTitleBrief description
DE-PS 273 871   1912   Spielball und Verfahren zur Herstellung desselben   Ball with a sponge core, wrapped in a string net with a casing hardened by a glue and glycerine mixture to be covered with leather  


1.4 America

Football (soccer) also plays an important role in America. Ball games like "Pok-A-Tok" have been played since about 3000 BC . However, there is no evidence to confirm this date. The earliest playing courts, which have been preserved over the ages, date back to 1600 BC according to archaeologists. Pok-A-Tok is believed to be similar to "Tlachtli", a game played with a 10 -15 cm rubber ball at the time of the Spanish conquest in Mesoamerica.

The game was of great ritual importance and the players were held in high esteem. Which team was sacrificed to the gods has always been a matter of dispute: was it the winning team owing to their divine play or the losing team owing to their proved incompetence? Anyhow, it was rather difficult to avoid painful injuries with the massive ball.

In North America, the indigenous people played a type of beach football called "Pasuckuakohowog" around 1600 AD . However, it is not clear what ball they used for their games with up to 500 players per team and a pitch that was one mile long and goals that were half a mile wide.

The Inuit people played a similar type of football on ice called "Asqaqtuk". A pretty heavy ball, filled with grass, caribou hair and moss, was used. Allegedly the goals were about ten miles apart [2].


1.5 Intermediate conclusion : A patent for the football?

The historical references provide a wide range of instructions for making a football. The use and processing of different materials, several sizes and structural principles are known.

Consequently, there can be no patent for the "first football", since the essential technical developments had already taken place hundreds or thousands of years before. This means that patent applications can as a rule focus only on technical improvements of the football.



The above historical overview uses the following references on the Internet: