Which football boots?

This is a subject I have sat on both of sides of the fence and continue to take a keen interest in.

Like most young boys brought up in the North East of England I was born kicking a football. I always remember my first pair of ‘boots’ were made by Clarks and gave me blisters but my mam said 'I would wear them in'. My second pair were Arrow and were extra special for two reasons, the first I scored a hat-trick in them playing for my under 11 team when I was 7 after coming on at half time and secondly I wore them at Sunderland AFC's old home Roker Park when I was a mascot. My dad always said he would paint them gold and although they are still in the garage they have not managed to be painted just yet. Once they were worn out I became a convert to Puma King and up until I went up to a size 6 they were all I wore as they were the best junior boots around at the time.

Once into size 6 I had the choice of all the adult boots and it became a big decision as to the boots I selected and why.

Of course the hardness of surface dictated if it was studs or ‘mouldies’ but then which factors were important beyond the stud make up?

Well to me for a long time the main factors were focused on weight - light but not so light that when I got tackled it hurt, flexible so that I could almost bend it in half and tight so that my toes pretty much touched the end of the boot so I could get the best ‘feel’ for the ball. Of course there was always the opinions of my peers to take into account and if a boot were not amongst the top of the range you would expect a bit of stick.  These were the initial factors in the decision process and then it would come down to how I played in them, how the ball felt and how my touch was.

There was not a consideration into would I get injured in them in fact my big toe nails were almost constantly bruised through the football season or between falling off and regrowth. Even if a boot gave me regular heel blisters but I liked them and I perceived I played well in them then I would do anything possible to accommodate them - coat the heel in vaseline, plasters, padding, even hammering the heel counter to prevent the blister recurring.

This process evolved to when I entered the professional ranks and the boots I wore were basically those that were provided free. As a youth team player at the time Adidas sponsored the 'scholarship' scheme and we all got free Adidas boots, tracksuits etc. So we wore Adidas until they were worn out and then the club stepped in and provided us with our boots but then it was a limited choice. My criteria for liking a boot remained the same but occasionally it was a case of making do with the best of the options available. For example I hated the studs we used to get from Adidas (World Cups) so I would turn my moulded boots (Copa Mundials or Predators) into Studs for soft ground with thanks from the cobbler and used a pair of moulded boots I already had for hard ground.

So the selection process evolved slightly as I progressed through the age groups and the ranks for various reasons and I often wonder what thought process others go through to select their boots.

Is there a difference between age groups, sexes, ability levels etc. and now as a practitioner I cant rely on my own experience and assume others playing football have the same thought processes I did.

So to the research, considering the popularity of football the research into the footwear worn is limited. The first 'boots' worn were in fact work boots, gradually these were adapted with added metal studs for traction and soon the first football boot was manufactured. This weighed over 500g and if it should rain this would be close to 1kg with the boot extending above the ankle. This did not really change from the inception of football in the late 1800's to the 1954 World Cup when Adi Dassler produced a boot for the German national team weighing 380g. The next change was the loss of the ankle extension to resemble more like the boot we see today (Hennig and Sterzing 2010). The modern boot weighs as little as 190g with the lightweight characteristic of a boot being almost the norm now in a football boot. Players are faster, fitter and stronger than ever before but what makes a player decide what boot to wear?

Sponsorship? Of course, as far back as Alan Ball in 1970’s who was paid to wear a white pair of Hummel boots but wasn’t happy with the quality so painted a pair of Adidas boots he was happier with. He isn’t the only one to wear another brands boot made to look like another, Alan Smith, Steve McManaman to name a few. With the multi coloured boots and cameras in every part of the ground and eagle eyes like those at footboots.com that would be hard to get away with in todays game and so if your being paid a certain amount to wear a certain brand you wear that brand.

Hennig (2006) sent out questionnaires to 250 football players in 1998 and a further 142 in 2006 to determine what characteristics were most important when selecting boots. The top answers each time were comfort, traction and stability with low weight and feel for the ball featuring highly. Protection from injury received a low ranking. Althoff and Hennig (2013) sent out a further questionnaire this time to 105 male and 200 female football players with injury prevention again being of very low importance and comfort, ball sensing, traction and stability being of most importance. 

These findings echo that of Geil (2002) when looking at fencing footwear. Despite providing a shoe which reduced pressure at the foot during fencing movements the fencers preferred the fencing shoe which showed higher pressures as they performed their movements better.

Even the Adidas Predator sold its sole to the lightweight revolution


These small sample studies both show that comfort and performance features are key factors when selecting footwear within football and fencing, whilst injury prevention is of low importance. Would the findings be similar in other sports, performance over injury prevention? I would hypothesis yes however I do not have the data to say for certain. 

Injury prevention is of low priority and it seems that the ability to perform at the highest level possible is worth the sacrifice of increased injury risk. Like I did I come across sports people who wear footwear which appear to tight and ill fitting but the performer has a better 'feel', comfort and performance with this shoe and so will wear it and deal with the consequences.

As a result the priorities of football boot manufacturers (and there advertising) are aimed at comfort, traction, stability, feel and most often performance as apposed to injury prevention (quite the opposite to the injury prevention rhetoric from running footwear). Fortunately some of the features to meet these criteria do assist with injury prevention. For example improved traction assists with injury prevention associated with balance issues, most modern boots are quite stable around the heel that reduces load on structures that work to stabilise the rearfoot. However with lightweight boots that improve 'feel' the boot may lose some protective properties so in theory may increase injuries such as fractures from direct trauma. However injury data over the last 12+ years does not appear to support this theory, Hawkins et.al, (2oo1) studied injuries within English football clubs and found an incidence of 5% of injuries to the foot between 1997-1999. Waldén et.al, (2005) studied injuries to teams involved in the Uefa champions league and found injuries to the foot to account for 5.5% of all injuries during the 2001/02 season Hagglund et.al, (2009) audited injuries during the 2006-2008 seasons in European championships of varying age groups and both male and female. They found an injury rate to the foot of 4% of all injuries.

So has the lightweight revolution of the last decade or so brought increased foot injuries? It would appear not. So what to wear?

I think that like the advice I give for running trainers wear as lightweight a boot as you feel happy with, that you feel most comfortable in and can get the best ‘feel’ for the ball. Then test the traction and stability and if the boot ticks all of these boxes, go for it.


Over the years I think footwear boots have evolved immensely, from predominantly black to the colourways of today (although black boots are making a comeback). Despite the players having limited regard for injury prevention compare a boot of today to 15-20 years ago and the stable heel counter, firmer midsole and deeper heel cups will be apparent. All features that I believe assist in preventing certain injuries. So if the players don’t want to consider injury prevention at least the brands are, perhaps with a nudge from the clubs to protect their multimillion-pound superstars.




Althoff, K. and Hennig, E.M., 2013. Performance differences between female and male soccer players – recommendations for shoe design, Proceedings of the eleventh biomechanics symposium (Natal, Brazil)


Geil, M.D., 2002. The role of footwear on kinematics and plantar foot pressure in fencing, Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 18, pp.155-162


Hagglund, M. Waldén, M. and Ekstrand, J., 2009. UEFA injury study – An injury audit of European Championships 2006-2008, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43, pp.483-489


Hawkins, R.D. Hulse, M.A. Wilkinson, C. Hodson, A. and Gibson, M., 2001. The association football medical research programme: An audit of injuries in professional football, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 35, pp.43-47


Hennig, E.M., 2006.  Biomechanische  Methoden  zur Evaluation  und  Optimierung  von  Fußballschuhen, Orthopa die Schuhtechnik, 6, pp.20-24


Hennig, E.M. and Sterzing, T., 2010. The influence of soccer shoe design on playing performance: A series of biomechanical studies, Footwear Science, 2(1), pp.3-11


Waldén, M. Hagglund, M. and Ekstrand, J., 2005. UEFA Champions League study: A prospective study of injuries in professional football during the 2001-2002 season, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39, pp.542-546

Kevin Bruce