Craig Johnston’s Predator has driven much of the sudden wave of innovation in football boots, because it is an idea that looked crazy, but which works.
The first wave of Predators was launched in 1994, and early testing found the boot would give 23% more swerve and 7% more velocity than a traditionally shaped model. When David Beckham glanced up from the half-way line on the first day of the 1996-97 season and saw Wimbledon keeper Neil Sullivan just a bit off his line, it was Beckham’s Predators that were the last thing to strike the ball before it curved precisely through the air, over Sullivan and into the back of the Selhurst Park net.
So how does the science work? It was all down to getting more of the player’s striking force on the ball. A foot and thereby a football boot is naturally convex, and so is a ball. No matter how hard a player strikes the ball, there is a lot of wasted energy because the point of contact is quite small. The solution on the Predator is a series of upward facing rubber wedges on the front of the boot that greatly increase the contact area.
Then there was the choice of rubber rather than leather. Johnston felt rubber would create more friction between boot and ball, allowing the player a greater curl on shots and passes.
So the original ads for the boot said that it was 100% legal, 0% fair. They didn’t, of course, say that the underlying bits of physics were also 100% straightforward because the product had to carry a hefty £100-plus price tag. Similarly, having had the idea, Johnston had to change quite a few minds about how to approach its production. His own development had been much based on trial and error, and this had taken him down interesting routes.
He came across a plastic rubber compound fused at high temperature which offered a hard, flexible and shock absorbent material. As this material would account for much of the boot’s upper, some form of moulding rather than the traditional last approach would be more appropriate. To those who make football boots, artisans who justifiably consider themselves master craftsman, this was heresy. A compromise was reached where some kangaroo leather was used in the boot.
Predators have sold heavily throughout the world, with several million pairs now waiting to put the fear of God into keepers. The new version, the Accelerator, combines the Traxion sole, and was designed to mirror the contours of the human foot to provide greater stability.