Where Soccer Gets Made

Omar Waraich in Roads & Kingdoms:

PakistanSoccerWhen the British ruled India, they had a habit of establishing garrisons in towns across the subcontinent. One of these was located in the ancient town of Sialkot, which now lies in Pakistan’s Punjab province, just shy of the Indian border. To amuse themselves, British soldiers stationed there would, of course, play cricket. But they played football, too, on the many stretches of carefully watered and manicured grass that can still be found across Sialkot’s cantonment area.

According to a local legend, at around the turn of the twentieth century, the British officers managed to puncture their ball during a casual kick-about. Seeking a quick and cheap mend, they enlisted the services of a local Sialkoti cobbler, who readily agreed to try and restore the unusual object to its original full-roundedness. The
attempt proved successful, and the cobbler became a regular source for repairs.

Over time, the cobbler carefully studied the architecture of the ball. Using local leather and practiced knit-work, the enterprising cobbler made several attempts to create a replica. Eventually pleased with the results, he developed a football of his own. When the colonial football enthusiasts next paid a visit, as the local Sialkotis tell the story with relish, he floated a revision to the terms of their deal.

“Instead of getting me to just repair balls,” the cobbler is supposed to have offered, “why don’t you buy them from me as well?” Satisfied with the locally produced alternatives to the footballs they would order from England, the Brits readily agreed. There began the now bustling Sialkoti trade of manufacturing and exporting some of the finest footballs in the world.

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(And check out Roads & Kingdoms' series on the global appeal of soccer ahead of the World Cup)