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Development of the boot





“No player may wear projecting nails or iron plates on the heels or soles of his shoes or boots”

 Written in 1845, this was the first law relating to rugby boots. The above was quite important as ‘hacking’, the kicking in the shins or lower legs was all part of the early game. This rule however, did not stop the enterprising boys of Rugby School from sending their boots to the cobblers to have the front ends ‘sharpened’.

Early boots tended to be what players wore for every day life or leisure. University students and professional gentlemen would wear walking boots while a collier would wear the same boots to play rugby as he would down the mine. The one difference being bars nailed across the soles to aid traction in the mud. Victorian entrepreneur's saw an opening and by the end of the 19th century a proliferation of sports equipment manufacturers and outfitters had emerged, Bryan's, Gamages, Watson's and Lillywhites were the names adorning the pages of publications advertising their wares. The boots being sold at this time showed little difference to the walking and working boots previously worn. They were high cut and sturdy, the major improvement being leather studs replacing the bars, giving greater traction on a muddy paddock. 

The next 8 decades saw little 'improvement' in the 'rugby boot'. In the 1960s a high ankle was still favourable but the quality of the leather had improved and the leather studs had been replaced by steel, then aluminium. 


boots3.jpg (26406 bytes) boots1.jpg (25734 bytes) boots2.jpg (7930 bytes) This type of boot was worn around the turn of the century, The leather studs are nailed in individually.  (WRM-0131)
 Neath Sports
000_0156.JPG (200176 bytes) 000_0158.JPG (239108 bytes) A pair of boots, circa 1900s. These boots are almost identical to those worn by Dickie Owen in the Wales v New Zealand 1905 match. The leather studs have a surround. (WRM-107)
boots4.jpg (18989 bytes) 93.jpg (62106 bytes) A pair of boots made by Manfield & sons, circa 1960s, with screw in metal studs. The giant sports manufacturer Adidas are credited with producing the first screw in studs during the 1950s.  (WRM-0130)


 AD 1526

The earliest recorded ‘football’ boots were listed in the wardrobe of King Henry VIII. They were made by his shoemaker Cornelius Johnson at a cost of 4 shillings.

 AD 1526





The rugby boot has through the years been developed in tandem with its soccer counterpart. Soccer being a predominantly kicking game needed more than just ‘traction’ in its footwear. It needed a product that could transfer energy efficiently from the player to the ball. The 1960s and early 1970s saw a revolution in sports footwear with the introduction of synthetic materials and modern manufacturing processes. Boots could now be mass produced cheaply bringing down the cost of the product. The slipper style boot, introduced by the South Americans became popular with soccer players and rugby backs switching to this to this style found that wearing the lighter shoe meant they could ‘squeeze’ that extra yard of pace when needed. Goal kickers found the shape suitable for the 'around the corner' style and the half backs also benefited from the new shape with their line kicking. Heavy and cumbersome was definitely out, light and supple was in and these have become the buzzwords for the sports footwear industry over the last couple of decades. The majority of research and development of the boot during this period has been made with this in mind and the football boot industry is now a multi-million pound one with players being paid huge sums to endorse a product.

53.jpg (448323 bytes) 54.jpg (414639 bytes) The Ultimate Encyclopedia's view of boots & balls, includes a nice shot of a pair of Colin Meads' boots from the 1960s. (WRM-Library)

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1970s Patrick boots, size 8 wgt 330g each. Worn by the World Rugby Museum's own Dai Richards during the late 1970s. (WRM-0637)


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Late 1990s boots worn by Toutai Kefu, the Australian No8. The boots are a size 12 Mizuno Rivaldo with a moulded plastic sole. Weight 400g each.

Rodger Siaosi Toutai Kefu, born 8/4/74, first cap v South Africa 1997. (WRM-0636)


henson-transp.jpg (61517 bytes) henson-sole-transp2.jpg (100136 bytes) henson-sole-transp.jpg (129848 bytes)  

A pair of Nike Mecurial Vapour boots worn by Gavin Henson. The boots are size 10 and weigh 250grams each. To the left of these boots is a paperweight containing a piece of grass from the area of the Millennium Stadium from which Gavin Henson launched his winning penalty goal in the Wales v England match on 5th February 2005. Underneath the boots is the official programme for the Wales v Ireland Grand Slam decider with a photo of Gavin making that kick on the front cover. These boots have kindly been loaned by Gavin Henson (WRM-0638)
52.jpg (634839 bytes) 51.jpg (698429 bytes) Although the boots have become progressively lighter over the years it’s not all joy and happiness for today’s players. Because of the lighter weight there is less protection and less protection means a greater risk of injury ! Pictured here is an article on this very subject in Rugby World magazine by Dr J Williams. (WRM-0623)  


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