Give us back our Orange Ball!

Stuart Fuller, from the Blog The Ball is Round tries to find out where the orange ball has gone.

In the first week of February I ended up through a variety of reasons in Barrow-in-Furness.  Of course it was timed to co-incide with a game, more specifically Barrow AFC’s game with Luton Town.  After weeks of poor weather it was with deep joy that I woke up to bright sunshine and cloudless skies.  On the way down from Penrith I tuned into the Merseyside derby on the radio where the commentators kept referring to a “Sea Fret”, which according to Wikipedia, is a mist found on or near the coast. No such problem at Holker Street as we had to squint to make out the ball at the far end.

Half time came, and like a few hundred other fans headed up to the Crossbar for a beer.  Fifteen minutes later we re-emerged into a different world.  The sea fret had headed north and had completely engulfed the pitch, making visibility poor to say the least.  Thirty minutes later Luton scored.  Or so we later heard on the radio as we simply could not see a thing from the far end.  But not once had the referee decided to ask for the “yellow ball”.  Playing on with a white ball in these circumstances was madness, but as long as he was happy he carried on.  Later in the evening I turned on the TV to watch Match of the Day and there was a yellow ball being used at Wigan, and one at Burnley – both games being played in the sunshine we had earlier in the day.

So what are the rules?  I am sure there used to be a ruling saying that all games from 1st November to 1st March had to use the “visibility” balls.  Yes I can remember games at Upton Park around Christmas where the white ball has been used this season.  With the harsh winter we have just experienced many games have been played on a blanket of snow where even a yellow ball is hard to see, but I have yet to see the use of the old fashion orange ball except on one occasion, and that was bizarrely a FA Cup 2nd qualifying round game in August at Brimsdown Rovers.  And wasn’t an orange ball used in the 1973 FA Cup Final on a glorious May day when Sunderland beat Leeds United? What about 1966?  Our finest footballling moment in this country was achieved using the orange ball at Wembley was it not?

In fact it wasn’t until 1951 that a white ball was introduced into the English game.  Previous to this the heavy leather balls were simply kept in their natural colours, meaning that no two were identical in terms of shade.  The white ball was ironically brought in to improve visibility.  In 1998, Mitre did some tests with a number of league clubs and found out that using a yellow fluorescent ball allowed players to see it a whole 3 milliseconds before a normal white one.

According to FIFA, under the laws of the game, Law 2 relates to the ball and it does not specify that it has to be a specific colour as long as it does not carry and endorsements that are not sanctioned by FIFA or a constituent governing body i.e. The FA or Football League.

So who decides what colour ball is going to be used?  And have there ever been games when a blue ball or even a crazy pink one has been used?  This season we have seen the Premier League use the new yellow and blue ball aka The Nike Total 90 Hi-Vis ball but a comprehensive search of the FA site unearths nothing on the conditions where a non-white ball has to be used, meaning that a club could in theory play with any colour ball as long as it had the correct endorsements on.  Mitre, the official supplier to the Football League actually produce a “Snow Ball”, an orange, yellow and red concoction (for just £64.99) but I have yet to see this being used in a game.

Malcolm Clarke, Chairman of the Football Supporters Federation recently lamented the demise of the orange ball, and how its re-introduction could have meant some games could have been played during the last few months of snow.

The controversy does not end in real life though.  Apparently fans of the game FIFA10 are up in arms that there is no coloured ball option when the weather conditions are snowy.  Here is a quote from one such unhappy gamer:-

“Disappointing EA… your tagline ‘If it’s in the game, it’s in the game’ should have you sued for false advertising. I’ve only ever seen a professional game played once with a white ball in snow. and it ended up on a Nick Hancock video. your software should receive the same humiliation.”

Subbuteo had it right though, bringing in the three pack of orange balls long before they even developed the fancy black and white ones in the early 1970’s.

So please can someone tell us what the rules are? Can we play with a pink and blue spots ball or will FIFA come down and give us a slap on the wrists?

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