History of Ultimate Cleats: Part 4

Here at TOKAY we are really into cleats. 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 5 – The First Cleats for Ultimate


At this point in the development of cleats we have seen the transformation of heavy leather workboots into increasingly lightweight, synthetic and sport specific pieces of performance footwear. Things, namely cleats, were about to get colorful.


Initially cleats came in one of two colors: black or brown. But Ultimate would not be Ultimate without a little bit (or way too much) color. The introduction of alternative colors to cleats in the 1970’s can therefore be seen as an exceptionally important development in the history of Ultimate cleats. The first alternative color? A lack of color.

Hummel’s Exciting White Cleats
credit: footy boots

In 1970 Alan Ball took to the fields in a pair of white soccer cleats. The white cleats were part of a bid by German brand Hummel to stand out as they tried to gain a stronger share of the UK market. Ironically, for the match in which Ball was to debut Hummel’s white cleats, Hummel was unable to provide Ball with the type of cleats he needed. Therefore Ball could instead be seen wearing his own adidas cleats painted white with Hummel’s chevrons. Despite this deception, the publicity stunt was a success.  The game’s commentator made frequent mention of Ball’s atypically colored cleats and numerous close-up shots were provided for the television audience. Hummel’s UK sales doubled the following day, and soon thereafter Hummel provided Alan Ball with genuine white Hummel cleats. Following Hummel’s success, atypical colors slowly found their way onto cleats and finally truly caught on in the mid-90’s as yellow and gold boots made an entrance.

In addition to launching (the lack of) color in cleats, Alan Ball was also one of the first players to be used by a manufacturer to promote their brand. For the first time in soccer’s history, individual players were being sponsored by manufacturers, a move that became more commonplace in the 90’s. 

White cleats were worn at least a year earlier in American Football, with Joe Namath of the New York Jets winning the 1969 Super Bowl while wearing white Riddell cleats. However the NFL rulebook has otherwise been incredibly limiting where the color of player’s cleats are concerned. All cleat colors are limited to base, secondary and tertiary colors determined by the team; and teams have mostly only had two choices where base color is concerned: white or black. This rule was relaxed last year, finally allowing players to also choose cleats in their team’s primary or secondary uniform color. The league now even allows players to wear any cleats they want pre-game; a freedom heavily curtailed by caveats:

  • the cleats may not express political views;
  • say anything offensive,
  • or display a logo not belonging to the league’s three sanctioned brands.

Despite the relative color and design freedom offered by the NFL for both pre-game and in-game cleats, the uniform rules remain restrictive and players are routinely fined for breaking the rules.

Other Rules

the colorful cleats of soccer / ultimate

Soccer currently has no rules regarding cleat color and even appears to have only one rule regarding footwear full-stop: that cleats worn should not be dangerous. Given the vagueness of this rule, leagues have to contend with the pre-game checking by referees of players’ cleats. The boundaries of what is and is not allowed are frequently discussed on internet forums and the conclusion is often to simply ask the league in which the cleats will be worn.

Some leagues do not permit metal studs while others have no such policy. Despite what the league may allow, final say rests with the referee who should do a pregame check to ensure that all cleats are safe. Many will only check that no part has become sharp and therefore dangerous to other players, the sharpening of studs being a not uncommon side-effect of players wearing their cleats on concrete surfaces.

Ultimate Rules

Ultimate takes a similar stance to soccer with regards to footwear, with limited rules. But while soccer relies on a referee to decide whether a particular pair of cleats may be worn, Ultimate provides a few more details and empowers players to make that decision themselves. At least within the WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2017 Appendix, footwear even seems optional….  Or maybe the line that players “may wear shoes or boots” (WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2017 Appendix v2.1 Appendix C11.1) only gives a choice between shoes or boots. But despite being a footwear company specifically for Ultimate, we prefer the interpretation in which footwear is optional.

Footwear Rules: WFDF  Rules of Ultimate 2017 Appendix v2.1
This document is an additional set of rules to be used during WFDF events on grass, like the World Ultimate Club Championships happening this summer. These rules therefore do not necessarily apply to non-WFDF events.

Within the aforementioned Appendix C, the rules concerning (potentially optional) footwear go so far as to specify that studs and ridges may not protrude more than 20mm or have sharp edges. Wonderfully it is specified in Appendix C that “shoes do not need to be matching in any way.” Bring on the rainbow!

Footwear Rules: WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2017 Official Annotations
The Official Annotations serve as a complimentary document to the Rules of Ultimate 2017. The Official Annotations document exists in order to help players correctly interpret the Rules document.

Unlike the Appendix discussed above, The WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2017 and the Official Annotations will apply to all games you play that use the WFDF rule set. While no direct mention of footwear is made in the Rules document itself, the Official Annotations do have some useful guidelines to help players determine if their footwear is appropriate. The Official Annotations specify that “[f]ully metallic studs, long studs, and studs with sharp edges are not allowed on footwear.” Presumably long studs are those over 20mm as specified in the Appendix.

Footwear Rules: USAU 11th Edition Rules

Even shorter and to the point are the footwear rules of USAU. In IV.C we read: “Cleats with dangerous parts; such as metallic baseball cleats, track spikes, or worn or broken studs with sharp edges; are not allowed.”

Looking for Sharp Edges

Game Advisor at WU24 2018
crop of original picture by Juliette Sanseigne for FOCUS Ultimate

Something all three of these rule sets aim for is player safety. And while the specifics differ a little bit, they all have the same general message: if your shoes or cleats are dangerous to anyone, you’re not wearing them.

All of these three rule sets also place the responsibility for ensuring their footwear rules are followed on the players themselves. The only mention of footwear in the USAU Observer manual and WFDF Game Advisor manual comes in the form of dress code requirements for the officials themselves which are strikingly similar. Both Observers and Game Advisors must wear cleats (turf shoes are cleats). Black of black-based are recommended and for Observers they are required for showcase games.

Footwear Rules: the AUDL addendum

The rule set that comes closest to soccer in terms of equipment checks is the AUDL, but even here the officials are not required to inspect cleats to ensure player safety, they simply may check if they so choose. In line with USAU’s rules, the AUDL specifically calls out baseball cleats and track spikes as footwear that “has the potential to cause injury to an opponent” (3.3 Inspection). They add in golf shoes too, for good measure.

Let’s Talk About Studs, Baby

In both soccer and Ultimate, the limited rules concerning footwear are in place to protect player safety. And while Ultimate’s player safety discussions will often center on dangerous plays rather than footwear, player safety discussions in soccer cleats do often focus on shoes and studs in particular. Our research yielded two primary topics of concern although they are quite interconnected: stud material and stud shape.

As mentioned previously, studs will often sharpen over time due to improper use of cleats, like wearing them on concrete surfaces. But this process can also happen to certain cheaper plastics simply from use on sandier grounds with a few rocks in the soil. High quality sole materials are therefore important to avoid dangerous wear and tear to your studs.

From Studs to Blades to Studs Again
the adidas Predator in 1994, 1996 and 2012
credit: soccer.com

In 1996 laminar blades were first introduced to cleats, specifically to the third generation of adidas’ Predator cleats: the Predator Touch. These cleats featured Johnston’s new “Traxion” sole, a hybrid plate that combined traditional studs and blades together. But despite being the man behind bladed studs and hybrid boots, Johnston is also one of the most outspoken voices of concern regarding the safety (or lack thereof) of blades and hybrid cleats.

In the limelight of professional soccer there have been a score of incidents where bladed studs caused considerable cuts to opponents. These incidents require stitches and time on the bench for recovery, but there have also been near misses with potentially more serious consequences. In 2012 Wayne Rooney needed 10 stitches after a collision with an opposing player’s cleats. According to doctors had the cut been only a millimeter deeper it would have punctured Rooney’s femoral artery which could have been fatal.

As early as 2005, bladed cleats were banned at Manchester United by Sir Alex Ferguson. He did so as a precautionary measure for despite fears that bladed cleats might be dangerous, FIFA insisted they were safe. Johnston and likeminded people argue that with a handful of serious incidents at the professional level, there are countless others at the amateur and youth levels that go unreported.

In addition to the sharpness on impact, there are also concerns that hybrid soles and bladed studs might be behind an increase in foot, ankle and knee injuries in soccer players. The concept behind the original introduction of blades was to enable players to turn at higher speed in tight spaces. And while effective, it is now argued that with the high forces at play in athletes’ bodies, it is the weaker parts like the knee ligaments and metatarsals that end up giving out under the pressure as the cleats themselves hold their ground.

Physio Michael McLaughlan, who conducted research into the dangers of blades and has experienced close up the damage they can do,  argues that the danger of blades is especially severe on artificial turf:

The biggest danger is blades getting caught in the turf, which is like a carpet. When you try and rotate to change direction, your foot stays planted. Your medial ligaments will go first and then the serious bit, the cruciate, will go.”

Some soccer enthusiasts are pushing FIFA to go the way of the Rugby arguing for similarly more specific requirements for player footwear. But while World Rugby does indeed have in-depth regulations concerning the safety aspects of footwear used in the sport, a document they update and change as deemed necessary, blades are not banned in Rugby either. Nor are blades banned in American Football. Both American Football and Rugby have minimum dimension requirements for studs. Provided blades satisfy these dimensions, there currently appears to be no concern in these sporting communities about the use of bladed studs, neither for the harm they could cause the wearer themselves or the injuries they could cause to other players. In fact, especially the Rugby community is far more concerned about the undersized studs common in soccer cleats creeping into their sport.

The Industry

Now granted, Ultimate and Soccer are inherently different and Ultimate has approximately 99% less kicking (we see you, kick spikers). But with countless Ultimate players wearing soccer shoes, concerns over player safety as related to footwear are concerns that the Ultimate community should share. Afterall, accidents happen.

Soccer giants adidas and Nike have both indicated a willingness to cooperate with regulations, but unfortunately there are none. Just those two companies together account for roughly 70% of soccer footwear, so their willingness to change would have an incredible impact. Despite many potentially career ending accidents, FIFA has not budged on their earlier assertions that bladed studs are safe. Nike has indicated that there remains a demand, and that they will continue to supply a range of “traction solutions.” Adidas is also aware of the issue, but was not as forthcoming about its plans.

We’ve now discussed cleat rules at length, including the rules governing cleats used to play Ultimate. So next time, it is time to introduce some Ultimate cleats!

PART 5 coming soon …


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The Evolution of Football Shoes.FootballHistory.org.
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Aarons, Ed. “Exclusive: PFA Calls for Action over ‘Dangerous’ Hybrid Boots That Caused Injury to Wayne Rooney.The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 26 Sept. 2013
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Felipe. “Adidas History of Football Boots.” Footy Boots, 4 Oct. 2011
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Miller, Nick. “Has a Referee Ever Changed His Mind about a Red Card (Redux)?The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Apr. 2014.
Paterson, Colin. “‘Players Wearing Boots with Blades on Plastic Pitches Is a Recipe for Disaster’: Physio’s Warning in Wake of Martyn Waghorn Injury.Daily Record, 24 Feb. 2016,
Sayid, Ruki. “Man U Blade Ban.Mirror, 4 Feb. 2012.
Seitz, Markus, and Klaus Wollny. “Soles.Football and Technology, Deutsches Patent- Und Markenamt. 22 Feb. 2013.
Thomas, Jeanna. “NFL Allowing Players to Wear Custom Cleats without Fines, Finally.SBNation.com, SBNation.com, 16 Aug. 2017
Weiss, Sabrina Rojas. “Super Bowl Trivia: The Cleats.Footwear News, 29 Jan. 2015.
Welty, Matt. “The NFL’s Cleat Policy Is Garbage.Complex, Complex, 2 Dec. 2016.
WFDF Ultimate Rules Sub-Committee, et al. “WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2017 – APPENDIX v2.1.World Flying Disc Federation, 1 Mar. 2017.
WFDF Ultimate Rules Committee. “WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2017 – Official Annotations.World Flying Disc Federation, 1 Jan. 2017.


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