The FIFA World Cup™ was held in England in 1966 and The Football Association invited the top manufacturers to supply an unmarked ball each, from which the final choice would be made.
Slazenger, a sports manufacturer based in Dewsbury in Yorkshire, was one of the chosen few. It was decided that Malcolm Wainwright, then 32, who had been making balls since he was 15 and was regarded as the firm’s best stitcher, would produce the sample ball. “I made about 20 balls all told,” he said. “They were 24-panel balls, which meant that there were six panels made up of three long strips of leather but the centre panels of these three strips had a further seam at right angles just to give more strength. I was asked to take extra care over them.”
“They checked them for weight but then the manager would also check them over visually. Simply by using his eyes and his experience, he could tell see whether or not the shape was completely round and the seams were perfect. Anyway, he took the best one and sent it down to London.”
The balls were laid out on a table in at FA headquarters in London. None were branded, but merely numbered, and were then examined by experts for circumference, loss of pressure, weight, bounce and so on. Happily for Slazenger, their ball was chosen.
Wainwright and seven others were tasked with stitching the 300 balls needed for the 1966 FIFA World Cup™. Each would have written his name inside the ball. This was normal practice for the stitchers because, before sewing the final seam, each ball went to a specialist for the bladder to be inserted and was then returned to the same man for the final seam to be sewn. An important point given that the stitchers were paid on piece work!
The actual ball used in England’s 4-2 win over Germany FR in the 1966 final disappeared for many years. It should have gone to Geoff Hurst, the only man ever to score a hat-trick in a FIFA World Cup™ final, but it ended up being taken by the West German player Helmut Haller, whose son apparently kicked it about in his back garden for many years. It is now in the National Football Museum in Preston in England and the only way to find out who made the actual ball would be to unpick a seam and take a look at the name inside – a tempting thought!