We’ve all dabbled with the match settings on FIFA (or PES if you are that way inclined): changing the stadium, the weather, referee stringency and, at one time or another, you will have changed the ball. Using your God-like omnipotence, this seemingly minor alteration would not have been without just cause. Afterall, specific situations require a certain degree of balls.
The act, or art, of choosing a football is not limited to the virtual world either. In life, there is a ball for every footballing occasion, no matter how prestigious, whether it is for a World Cup final or a simple game of “Headers and Volleys” at the Stade de Garages.
The only trouble is that there is now far too much choice for those who enjoy a bog-standard kick-about. Swooshes, hexagons, stars, and stripes – somewhere, somehow these patterns have been meticulously lasered onto a sphere for you to smash into the back of your mate’s thighs on a cold Sunday morning. These days, footballs can come in all different colours to match your boots and your kit. Like your choice in footwear, the type of ball you choose can say a lot about you as a player. They can be a sign that you are mercurial trickster – I’m thinking mid-noughties Joga Bonito – or a Mitre-loving centre half who is used to seeing the ball somewhere between the eyes (as you can tell, I don’t header it very often). Whatever your style of play, whatever level you can endure, there will be a ball to suit and it will be beautiful in its own special way.
We spend a lot of our time deliberating between fine-looking shirts and football boots, but perhaps a little more thought ought to be given the object without which there would be no game at all. That is why I have decided to rank my top ten footballs of all time – footballs that not only bring back memories but are also used to create new ones in the present, for better or for worse. So, without further ado, here are My Top 10 Golden Balls!
10. “Mitre Ultimax (1995-2000)”
It is the weekend. It is 9am and it is raining. You are probably hungover. But one thing is for sure – you are willing to win this game, not just for your club but for your country. The Mitre Ultimax is an undeniable staple of the Sunday League diet before the sport was tainted by garish colours and patterns that resemble Picasso’s Grande Nature Morte Au Guéridon (look it up – it is bright, and it is messy. Sorry Pablo). The Ultimax was even equipped with visual instructions; the blue and red arrows pointed towards the exact spot necessary for the perfect strike, slap-bang on the nation’s badge – dead central like a proper English penalty. Resembling the colours of the country’s flag, what better ball could be used for representing the Premier League from 1995 to 2000?
9. “Argos Kickmaster Control (£9.99)”
A rogue choice, I know. But the Kickmaster Control, or similar sporting technology, is definitely something we’ve all had a go at once in our careers. Like a Swingball velcroed to your ankle, this contraption was utterly bonkers (not to mention, dangerous). Consider it keepie-uppies for starters. Essentially, a thick plastic football is contained in a net and joined onto your foot by a piece of elastic. You are then free to smash this into your face as many times as you can put up with. I thought this apparatus, purchased from Argos for around a tenner, would provide me with the close-control and juggling skills of Ronaldinho. Sadly, the only professional who was likely to have invested in one of these devices is Owen Hargreaves for one of his “Sign Me Please” training videos on YouTube.
8. “Adidas Finale 10 (2010-2011)”
Deciding upon a favourite Champions League ball can be difficult, mainly because they are pretty similar; until very recently they have been round, white, and with stars on. But it is precisely because of those famous stars that such a ball deserves to make it into this list. Initially introduced in 2000-2001, the adventurously named Adidas Finale 1 was the first ball to don the synonymous Champions League stars. These stars were two-dimensional and light grey, and ultimately, boring. I prefer the classier design from 2010-2011. Again, the title of the Adidas Finale 10 doesn’t exactly deserve a round of applause but my word, what a design! With its deep-sea coloured stars, Adidas finally ventured into the three-dimensional world to add an extra pop to its popular pattern. Sleek and simple, this was a ball fit for Champions only. Reach for the stars as they say.
7. “Adidas Telstar Classic (Mexico, 1970)”
Used in the Mexico World Cup in 1970, the Adidas Telstar Classic is exactly what it claims to be, a classic. Its legacy speaks for itself – if someone asked you right this minute to draw a football, this would be it. However, the Telstar is far from just a football; it is the football. In all of its no-nonsense glory, the Telstar’s black pentagons will live on for eternity in poorly drawn children’s sketches and we have Adidas to thank for that.
6. “Sports Direct Oversized Tennis Ball (N/A)”
Now, my childhood club may have been scraping the barrel in terms of funding with this one but smashing an obtusely large tennis ball around a gym was a truly liberating experience. Found in that large miscellaneous bucket in Sports Direct, this rounded fuzzy felt could bounce for days when applied to indoor football. Seeing that familiar flash of green ping off from all four walls before beating a swollen-kneed keeper was sensational (even if you did have to argue whether it actually went in or whether it had in fact struck the red-paint resembling a crossbar). There is perhaps nothing more pleasing, and simultaneously frightening, than catching a Gerrard-style volley only to hear it crash into the overhead lights with an almighty clang. Long-live indoor 5-aside.
5. “Adidas Fevernova (Japan, 2002)”
Unlike anything seen before or since, the Adidas Fevernova from the Japan World Cup in 2002 looked more like a weapon or a Beyblade than a football. With its red, gold, and silver colourway, the Fevernova was grandiose to say the least. This ball was spellbinding. Once put into motion, the blade-like design of the Fevernova would blur and spin like the sparkling alloys of a vehicle that had ‘officially been pimped’ by Xzibit’s magicians at West Coast Customs. Gold, chic, and certainly unique.
4. “Adidas Tango Durlast (Argentina, 1978)”
The Tango Durlast from the Argentina World Cup in 1978 is another striking example of lasting simplicity. The Tango Durlast was once a game changer and not just in the literal sense. Named after a dramatic and passionate South American dance, the Tango was certainly a saucy number as it was the first ball to venture away from the classic black pentagons of the Telstar with a brand-new and intricate design. For British fans and players, the Tango represented a fancy style of football played in the exotic “elsewhere”. Seeing that retro is the fashion, you can now cop a replica in the likes of John Lewis. The black and white football will thus continue to impress for generations to come.
3. “Corner-Shop Shoot / Supertele Floater (99p)”
The “Poundland PVC” was an undeniable playground classic. On average, this ball spent 95% of the time in the air, dipping over walls, fences, and into bushes. For just 99p, you could re-enact Roberto Carols’ freekick against France in 1997 with the utmost ease. Funny enough, to SHOOT – as its name suggested – was practically impossible if the weather was anything but a fair day in Springtime (the Summer months would simply melt the damn thing). The “Corner-Shop Shoot” also known as the “Tesco 5 Star” (or even Supertele if you were of Italian descent) not only served as a model for the wobbly Adidas Jabulani of the South Africa World Cup in 2010 but it also provided hours of entertainment. There are fewer things greater than hearing that high-pitched POOOOINGGGG when you’ve struck a sweet one and it hits your pal on the nose. But the floater had an archnemesis: the thorn. Some say the floater was never intended for the outside world or at least ought to be confined to the beaches of Italy. Either way, when thorn struck this plastic hero in the Achilles, it made for a cracking plastic hat – almost like a bald-cap.
2. “Nike Total 90 Aerow, Winter Edition (2004-2006)”
You are back on the FIFA settings: heavy snow, what a laugh. But wait… you’ve forgotten to change the ball. It is also white. What happens now? In 2004, Nike put a stop to such a conundrum by releasing its first ever winter ball and what a beauty. The Total 90 Aerow was already a fine football for the Prem and when Nike added the yellow and blue colourway, it got even better. I swear this thing was so bright you could see it in the dark. Not only was the luminous T90 useful in hostile weather conditions, it equally served as a blinding beacon of light, a bright shining ball of hope, when you thought all was lost after your mate had lumped the ball into dense foliage. This ball was such a fan-favourite that it influenced the design of the current Hi-Vis Merlin introduced to the English Premier League in 2019. Back by popular demand, a T90-inspired yellow and blue winter ball will continue to warm our feet and souls as part of the modern game.
1. “Nike Scorpion (The Secret Tournament, 2002)”
*Alexa, play A Little Less Conversation by Elvis Presley (Junkie XL Remix).
‘Hidden from the world, twenty-four of the most elite football players hold a secret tournament with eight teams’ and the world’s most remarkable football…
It is 2002 and a rusty ocean liner is floating out at sea. Eric Cantona stands imposingly on the edge of a pit that looks fresh out of an episode of Robot Wars. Dressed in a luxurious suit, his right hand grips a scorpion-topped cane. In his left, the Frenchman fondles with a smooth chrome trophy – the Nike Scorpion ball.
Microphone hangs down: ‘first goal wins’.
The ball is dropped through the trapdoor like Luke Skywalker in Jabba the Hut’s palace. Ronaldinho, Henry, Carlos, Mendieta, Cannavaro, Nakata, Davids, Totti, Figo, Crespo, Kaka, Ljungberg, Ronaldo and others battle it out to win in the greatest cage outside of WWE. The only rules apparent in this match are that ‘losers go home’ and sleeveless vests are preferable. With more tricks than in a magician’s hat, watching the Nike Secret Tournament advert from 2002 will be the most mesmerising four minutes of your life. Guaranteed.
As a part of this successful advertising campaign, Nike began hosting actual three-aside skills-based tournaments. It was estimated that approximately two million children took part worldwide. Unfortunately, the closest I could get to re-enacting this advert was outside my uncle’s house, using one lamppost and a jumper to make a goal.
When my cousin first showed me his prized mirrored football, frankly, we did not know what to do with it. With the delicate Geo Merlin pattern embossed onto its glamorous chrome exterior, the Scorpion was the sort of thing that ought to be kept in a glass cabinet or placed upon a pedestal in the Museum of Modern Art. To actually kick this thing would be blasphemous. But we did it anyway.
It’s a funny thing being able to see the self-assured look on your face moments before you launch your cousin’s most prized possession, and your all-time favourite football, into the neighbour’s garden.