Long gone are the days when football boots had steel toecaps, were ankle high and doubled in weight in the rain
Modern football boots are now more likely to contain a microchip, fit like a glove and are comparable in weight to a mobile phone.
Weight is one of the big marketing features associated with a new football boot and brands now compete for the title of ‘lightest football boot on the planet’.
So we’ve delved into the history books to chronicle the evolution of the light football boot…
The adizero prime, weighs under 150g, similar to an iPhone 4!
It was the late 1800’s when work boots began being replaced by thick leather boots that had leather studs nailed in them.
This advert, appropriately branded ‘Concrete’ football boots from 1911 shows the type of footwear which was being marketed around this era. Weight certainly wasn’t a major consideration.
Concrete Football and Rugby Boot Advert
The first real progress in lightweight boots was taking place in South America and it took until the 1950 World Cup in Brazil for it to begin spreading globally.
The official poster for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil
Stanley Matthews, at the World Cup with England, went to the Maracana to watch Brazil beat Mexico. His autobiography shares his thoughts on the footwear of the Brazilians;
“Their boots were shaped to hug the foot, light and far less cumbersome than the traditional English boot. I realised that with a pair of these lightweight, streamlined boots I could be even quicker”.
Stanley Matthews bought a pair of the Brazilian football boots, took them back to England and asked the Co-Op boot factory if they could make a pair of similar boots just for him.
It heralded the beginning of mass marketed lightweight football boots.
Left: The Stanley Matthews football boots from the early 1950’s
Right: Circa 1957, the Manfiled Hotspur, which has the lightness and the flexibility of the boots worn by the continentals…
Lightweight football boots began taking over from the ankle boot style and in the 1960’s boots became even more ‘slipper like’.
If only Slazenger knew what was coming when they made this ad!
Following after Stanley Matthews, the 1960’s and 1970’s witnessed lightweight and comfortable boots being launched and player endorsements becoming more important.
Left: Pele endorsing the Barrats football boot, though he was more commonly associated with Puma football boots
Right: George Best and the Stylo Matchmakers
As you can see, the macho, tough boots of the first part of the 1900’s were very much a thing of the past.
Luxurious, soft, light football boots were firmly established.
Nike entered the football boot market in 1971 and their first football boot was a lightweight, sleek design.
The first Nike football boot – 1971
But it was during the 1998 World Cup that Nike really started to hammer home the idea that lighter football boots made players faster and more skilful on the pitch.
Back then, Nike’s line of speed boots were known as the Nike Air Mercurials, they were placed on the feet of Brazilian superstar Ronaldo, in a (then) outlandish colourway of Silver/Blue/Yellow.
Nike dominated the ‘lightweight’ scene for years with the Mercurial range, with little to no competition from other brands. adidas successfully launched the F50, but they were seen as modern and futuristic football boots, focused more on intuitive design than weight reduction.
Then competition really started to ‘hot up’.
Ahead of the 2006 World Cup, Nike had all of their key players in the newly released Mercurial Vapor III, which was the first football boot to drop below the 200g mark, tipping the scales at 196g per boot.
Thanks to the use of the Teijin synthetic microfibre leather, Nike had gone a full 8 years (encompassing 3 World Cups) developing the World’s lightest football boots with little in the way of challenge.
However, during 2005, Puma entered the fray with the Puma v1.06 – using a microfibre canvas and a Carbon Fibre sole, the v1.06 was able to contest Nike in the lightweight football boots category and finally give the American brand some competition.
The next 18 months saw the whole speed market being blown wide open, as December 2007 & January 2008 release of the all carbon-fibre Mercurial Vapor SL – released at 190g, the Mercurial Vapor SL and the the new Mercurial Vapor IV at 230g.
Puma also wanted in on the action, releasing the Puma v1.08, again featuring a Micro-Fibre upper, but this time with split two-piece Carbon Fibre outsole, which dropped it’s weight down to 215g.
The battle between Nike and Puma remained at something of an uneasy deadlock through 2008, due to Nike’s lightest football boot being priced out of most people’s range, and Puma not having the marketing power of Nike to sell more v1.08’s.
That was up until the end of January 2009, when Nike announced the Mercurial Vapor Superfly.
Based around the Flywire technology of Nike’s running shoes at the 2008 Beijing Olympic games, the Flywire in the Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly was designed to act like the cables in a suspension bridge and work in tandem with the lacing system to pull the whole boot to the bottom of the players foot.
Nike founder Bill Bowerman believed the ultimate running shoe would be to put nails through athletes feet (nice!), and with Flywire technology, Nike’s engineers believed this was the closest they have come yet to achieving Bowerman’s vision, by pulling the ‘plate’ extremely close to the foot.
Coupled with a Carbon Fibre soleplate and hollowed-out injection moulded studs, this put the Superfly as the lightest boot in the world at 185g, and was given it’s debut by Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the UEFA Champions League.
The ping pong match between Nike and Puma continued when Puma came straight from left field with a lightweight boot of their own – the Puma v1.815 Ferrari.
Out of nowhere, Puma had pulled the rug from under Nike (and just about everyone else!) with a boot that would tip the scales at 165g. The use of the micro-canvas upper from the v1.06 & v1.08 gave the Puma v1.815 Ferrari an edge over it’s competitors, as it’s upper was noticeably lighter than the Teijin synthetics of it’s Nike competitors.
It was adidas who finally broke Puma’s unsteady grip on the title of ‘Lightest Football Boots in the World’ with the launch of the adidas F50 adiZero, just in time for the 2010 World Cup.
Tying the Puma v1.815 Ferrari at 165g, the adidas F50 adiZero was crowned as the lightest football boots in the world as it was a full production boot, that was available to the public to buy on general release – whereas the Puma Ferrari was strictly limited to 815 pairs, making them a special edition.
Following it’s launch the adidas F50 adiZero had a spectacular World Cup. Being taken up by all three of the joint top scorers in the tournament; David Villa, Diego Forlan and Tomas Muller it went on to be the top scoring boot of the competition by a country mile.
But even then, after over a year of having one single boot reigning supreme, the adiZero only held the title for a mere 3 months. As on Monday July 12th – the day after the World Cup Final – Puma hit back with the Puma v1.10 SL which beat the adiZero again by 15g, giving the v1.10 SL an astonishing overall weight of 150g per boot.
The Puma v1.10 SL was revealed to be hugely impressive – as not only was it lighter than the adidas F50 adiZero, but it also did so while retaining a portion of ultra-strong Carbon Fibre in the sole.
Since then, we’ve seen little to top the adiZero Prime’s 145g effort – Nike’s GS and Puma’s Ducati evoSPEED have come close, but opted to stay at around the 150g mark.
Even adidas themselves seem content with the current adiZero’s 160g weight point being the ‘right weight’, rather than ‘lightweight’.
Is this the lightest we’ll ever see a football boot go? Or will someone try to top that astonishing figure?
Let us know in the comments!
The Nike Mercurial was the boot you reference as the boots of 1998. There was not an “Air” Mercurial until 2001 and that was a take down from the Match Mercurial with a mixed outsole.
Also, that Mercurial was out before the World Cup. Ronaldo and many others were wearing in the fall of 1997 and the winter of 1998 in straight black and white with a touch of red.
The Nike Match Mercurial was an awesome boot much forgotten in the ‘History of Speed’.