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The forgotten story of … how the white ball was dismissed as an unwanted fad | Simon Burnton

The white ball was widely disliked during trials in 1927 and one manufacturer declared it ‘practically impossible to make’. It would take another 24 years for the Football League to give it the go-ahead

In 1939 the Football League made the wearing of numbers on the backs of shirts mandatory, and in 1951 it officially allowed footballs, previously a shade of mud brown that given the state of many pitches at the time must have been extremely unhelpful, to be white. These novelties stand as two steps on football’s long journey to modernity though superficially they have little in common, separated as they were by 12 years and a world war. In fact, however, they were introduced in a single pioneering week during the pre-season of 1927, a time of wild experimentation which appears to have gone forgotten or unnoticed in the game’s many histories and timelines.

Herbert Chapman, who had already won two leagues titles and an FA Cup with Huddersfield Town and was in due course to repeat that feat at Arsenal, has been credited with playing a decisive role in both. In fact he seems to have been supportive but only tangentially involved, with credit for player numbers more rationally belonging with Chelsea’s manager, David Calderhead, his chairman, Claude Kirby, and later with Everton’s William Cuff, and for the white ball with a certain Mr EL Roberts of Kingsland, Shrewsbury.

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