Here at TOKAY we are really into cleats. As we get closer and closer to releasing our own; join us for a look back at the fascinating history of cleats.
PART 1 – Cordwainers and Cobblers (from the first mention of football boots to the early 20th century)
PART 2 – Rise of the Brands (cleats of the early 20th century)
PART 3 – Post War Innovation (cleat development from the 1940’s onwards)
PART 4 – Rules, Regulations, and Industry
PART 1 – CORDWAINERS AND COBBLERS
The first record of cleats (or boots) came in 1526 with the order of “football boots” for none other than King Henry VIII’s Great Wardrobe. They were made by the king’s cordwainer (shoemaker) Cornelius Johnson for the sum of 4 shillings, roughly £ 100 / $ 200 in today’s money.
Football at the time was a very violent sport, potentially involving hundreds of players per team. Many monarchs had attempted to ban it previously, and Henry VIII himself followed suit in 1540. Football remained a popular game however, and by the early 1800’s it was gradually evolving into the sports of soccer and rugby as we would recognize them today (although the cleats…. not so much).
In the 1800’s rugby and soccer players would usually wear their work boots or walking boots. They came to above the ankles and tended to include a steel capped toe. Such boots were not designed for running or kicking as they were very rigid and heavy, and they were often enhanced with metal plates or nails to increase grip on terrain. Such enhancements were also commonly used for “hacking-over,” a practice of violently kicking the shins and legs of opponents.
In rugby, shoes began to be regulated in 1845 with the first codification of the rules. These rules limited cleat materials to leather, rubber and plastic thereby eliminating metal plates and nails. Players would however still get their cleats sharpened for hacking purposes. The practice of hacking was finally banned in 1871 when the Rugby Football Union was formed. By the late 19th century, specific rugby boots were in circulation. Very similar to their walking boot predecessors with their above ankle height, they were improved with 6 leather studs for grip: four under the forefoot, two under the heel.
turn of the century rugby boots with individually nailed leather studs
These early cleats were arduous to maintain, needing to be washed and dried after games. Newspapers were often stuffed into boots, to draw out the moisture while allowing the shoes to retain their shape. A practice many players today still employ after a particularly wet outing, or would if only they received a newspaper. Despite this deficiency, rugby boots did not change much until the 1950’s.
Rules regulating soccer cleats were first introduced by the Football Association (of England) upon its founding in 1863. The rule in question, number 13, banned all boots with “projecting nails, iron plates or gutta percha on the soles.” Despite this ban, 1886 saw the first introduction of studs into the sport, such as the Ellis patent boot studs pictured in an advertisement below predating their adoption in sports.
Ellis’s Patent Boot Studs advertisement
The Football Association did not officially permit this practice until 1891, at which point they limited both bars and studs to a projection of half an inch (1.25 cm) and required that fastenings were driven flush with the sole. Bars were also required to be at least half an inch wide and extend the full width of the shoe while studs were furthermore required “to be round in plan, not less than half an inch in diameter, and in no case conical or pointed.”
Soccer specific boots were first designed at the end of the 19th century. Made of thick leather, these boots came to over the ankle and weighed 500 grams each (and double that when weighed down by water after a wet game).
William Shillcock advertisement for Football Boots ca. 1905
While leather studs became the norm in soccer, cleats with bars were in circulation until at least the middle of the 20th century. Such studs and bars were nailed onto the sole but could break off. As illustrated by the pair of shoes from the 1920’s, cleats would be endlessly mended instead of replaced. Because studs were nailed in place, replacements would often need to be in a slightly different position and holes left by old nails were a common feature of well worn cleats. Nailed studs were therefore seldom changed, only if a replacement stud was required. The impracticality of this method led to the search for more easily replaceable studs.
soccer cleats from the 1920’s (left) and 1930’s (right)
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“Development of the Boot.” Rugby Relics, World Rugby Museum.
Ellis advertisement. Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, April 26th 1884.
“Everything You Need to Know about Rugby Boots.” Investec Rugby Academy, 21 Oct. 2016.
Fleenor, David. “Short History of the Soccer Cleat.” Soccer365, World Soccer Shop, 20 May 2014.
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