Soccer balls have come a long way since the days of inflated pigs bladders wrapped in leather. Balls were originally sewn up with laces and were much heavier than the balls of today. Charles Goodyear paved the way for modern football when he started making soccer balls with his patented vulcanized rubber. Using leather as their material, manufacturers eventually discovered that using patches of leather shaped in hexagons and pentagons created the most spherical shape.
One of the great things about soccer is that the amount of equipment you need to play is pretty simple. Put it this way: if you have a ball, then you are good to go. Unfortunately, the soccer ball is almost taken for granted. It does have a long, interesting, and colorful history, with two of those colors being black and white. The soccer ball was regularly bleached white by this point, but Adidas added black pentagons in the design for easier TV viewing (Adidas even designed the official game ball of the 2018 World Cup). A bonus effect? The black pentagons on the ball help soccer players with their foot placement—to help them kick the ball exactly how they wanted!
That bland color was simply the natural color of the leather. Not very telegenic. But as matches increasingly became televised, the telegenic problem was solved in 1970 by Adidas with the advent of a high-contrast black and white design called the Telstar Television Star.
First used in the 1970 World Cup, this design was chosen specifically so spectators watching black-and-white televisions could see the ball, with the black accents on a white background revealing the ball's direction of spin. The pentagons-on-hexagons pattern of 32 panels, called an icosahedron by math geeks, would remain part of the design for many years.
Adidas has revived the design, sort of at least, for the 2018 World Cup with their Telstar 18.
The reason its a black and white soccer ball is to make it easier to see on a black and white television screen. The contrast between black and white makes it easy for onlookers to follow the path of the ball as it moves around the field.
The first full football match to be televised live on TV anywhere in the world was the FA Cup Final between Preston North End and Huddersfield on 30 April 1938, in England.
However, there were too few TVs in the country at the time and it is believed that more people could watch the match live at the stadium than on TV.
At this time and until well into the 1970s black and white TV sets were more popular than color TV sets as the color ones were still too expensive for most people to afford. This meant that most people watched soccer games on a black and white screen.
A significant problem with this is that on a black and white screen the ball was notoriously hard to follow.
The first soccer balls used were often made of brown leather. They were heavy, hard, and single, uniform color. Although when you were at a soccer game it wasn’t too hard to track where the ball was going, on a grainy, often blurry, black and white TV screen following the movement of the ball was another challenge entirely.
Have a look at this footage of a soccer game from the 1950s. Notice how the ball blends into the background and when it moves at speed it is hard to follow.