I wrote this at the time of the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa. The greedy and corrupt people who run the game had introduced a new ball,, ‘The Jubulani’. None of the players wanted to play with it, especially the goalkeepers because it was much lighter than the normal ball they had played with  for several years, and were used to. This one moved around a lot, swerved and got up to all sorts of tricks. But FIFA, the governing body were getting their palms greased, so play with it they did.

Made me cross and it made me think. So…..


It’s all balls


I was watching a World Cup match the other night, Italy v. Paraguay, and the ongoing controversy about the new lightweight ‘Jabulani’ ball, got me thinking about the ‘old days’. And my Gran.

The match was played in a downpour and the commentator was in his element, repeating his mantra about watered pitches, “the players like the ball to skid and zip over the wet surface of the pitch. Makes for a quicker, more skillful game.”.

You know what? These lads don’t know they’re born!

I was born and bred in Walsall in the West Midlands. So what I hear you say? Well, back then, as now, Walsall was the centre of the leather industry. Today Walsall still produces luxury leather goods, handbags, purses etc.under licence for some of the world’s biggest brands. Now as then, they still produce the world’s best saddles. ( Even today Walsall F.C. are nick-named ‘The Saddlers’, a chant that’s a little easier on the ear than a vuvuzela).

And back then, but not now, the worlds best footballs were made in Walsall. Leather footballs. The leading producer was a company called “Jabez Cliff’. If my memory serves me correctly, Brylcreamed centre-forwards would kick off with a Jabez Cliff ball every Saturday at 3 pm.  at all 46 league games back in the 50’s and early 60’s, such was Walsall’s contribution to the beautiful game.

My Gran was a leading light in all of this. Well, sort of. She was an outworker for the Jabez Cliff company. Every Monday morning, a man from the company would deliver hundreds of leather strips and a great ball of waxed twine. Then, though the week, with the help of a wooden contraption that acted as a last, and the biggest needle you have ever seen, she would sew these leather strips together and turn them into footballs, or case balls as they were called then. If I know my Gran, her footballs would have been even rounder than the ‘Jabulani’ ball, but that’s another story.

Back at the factory, a bladder had to be inserted into the leather case, which was then blown with a bicycle pump to a pressure you could only guess from years of experience. It would then be laced up, and the knot tucked away under the lacing. As many a Brylcreamed centre forward with lumps on his forehead will tell you, the knot would sometimes work free.

In those days, playing with a leather football, wet pitches were not what the players of the day wanted to see. Skip and zip across the surface it did not. Roll and stop is what it did. It collected water you see, absorbed it, and after five minutes the thing became a pudding! A very heavy pudding, and heading the thing was like being punched by Mike Tyson in a bad mood. I imagine heading the ‘Jabulani’ would be like being punched by Audley Harrison.

As for ‘bending it like Beckham’ forget it. Deviation in flight was not something that kept goalkeepers awake at night, getting the thing airborne was the trick. As for Rory Delap, he would be out of a job.

Still, whatever ball England had played with the other night, new Jabulani’ ball or old leather  case ball, that shot that beat Robert Green the other night? My Gran would have saved that.

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