Shin pads. If you’ve played any type of popular sport, it’s very likely that you’ve worn a variant of the shin pad. Most have had to endure the shame of being shunned from football training because they didn’t have a pair of shin pads handy, and on the majority of occasions it’s seldom disputed about why they’re necessary – proving they’ve evolved into a fundamental part of the modern game. It’s rarely questioned how they became so important, and what their origins truly are, so I set upon a nerdy quest to answer such questions myself, discovering the sporadic tidbit along my way, to suffice my anorak hunger.
The supposed earliest inspiration for the shin pad was a ‘greave’ used by the Romans and Greeks in battle. Its purpose, presumably, was to shield the tibia from any damage, but these objects were rudimentary compared to their modern counterparts. Who was responsible for transferring this over to football, though? Well, it was none other than one Sam Weller Widdowson, Nottingham Forest’s captain and chairman for a short period; in 1874, fellow players mocked him for placing shortened cricket pads in his socks during games, for he was also a cricketer for Nottinghamshire, and his idea, no matter how successful it could have personally been for him, never seemed to catch on. This was until 1881, where the FA introduced the pads into the Laws of the Game – Widdowson then capitalised on this by selling his pads through Daft’s Catalogues, and his product couldn’t be rivalled. The Forest captain is not only recognised in history for his role in shin pads, but he refereed the first ever game in which nets for goals were used – thank me when you become pub quiz champions. It took FIFA a while to catch up with England, as it wasn’t until 1990 when they eventually made shin pads compulsory; how proud are you now, English nationalists?
It’s a blindingly obvious remark to make, but shin pads are unequivocally effective at what they do; what made me curious, though, is just how effective is ‘unequivocally effective’? An unspecified Edinburgh hospital report stated that, between 1988 and 1990, 24.4% of the tibia fractures it had to treat were suffered by footballers, which is staggering, and made more staggering by the fact that a hospital in Leeds, from 1990 to 1994, reported that footballers were victims of 17.6% of all tibia fractures – even though the statistics are from different hospitals, it’s no coincidence at all that the percentage dropped after FIFA submitted pads into the rule book. To prove another point, a Glaswegian study highlighted that 9.8% of all tibia fractures from 1997 to 2000 were experienced by footballers, meaning that the technology ameliorated beyond their official establishment and that was fifteen years ago from now, so imagine the potentially astonishing progress made now.
In 2013, a one year study of an anonymous European league showed that of the 256 injuries agonised by 124 players, 88% were, as you would predict, injuries of the lower extremity, which is a category of the leg, foot, ankle and such. Of these, 4% were traumatic leg injuries, which, if you infer from the title, is damage of a bone-break stature, and all the players who had these impairments were not wearing shin protection at the time of injury – that’s how effective shin pads are.
To conclude specifically on these statistics, it has been proved in research conducted in 2000 that the average shin pad is capable of reducing strain on the leg, when impacted, by 45%, and force on the tibia in particular by 11%, in comparison to a bare, vulnerable leg. If that’s not encouragement enough to wear shin pads, then I don’t know what is.
Before FIFA labelled shin pads as necessary, in the middle/late 20th century, players had contrasting views on them. It was the norm to adopt the low-socks attire, shin pads loose or nowhere near you, as most players disliked how the protection negatively affected their performance, for the pads were heavy and incapacitated the ability to dribble freely – Pele and George Best were two famous antagonists of them, which, for the former, is ironic, considering that prior to the World Cup in Brazil he was promoting a range of ‘Pele-approved’ guards. Teófilo Cubillas, voted as Peru’s best ever player, claimed that he ‘never felt comfortable with shin pads’ because he ‘would not feel the same control of the ball’. Some may recall Charlie George’s famous goal and celebration against Liverpool in the 1971 FA Cup, where he had not a shin pad on him, for he had removed them because his legs had become tired and heavy weights would have rendered him useless in the game’s dying moments. On the other hand, when the Nigerian national team of 1950 toured Britain, they did not wear boots, yet they did wear shin pads – you’ve got to admire their priorities.
Nigeria’s 1950 team wearing shin pads rather than boots
As aforementioned, shin pads have enhanced since then. You can buy what Best would have yearned for, for just a meagre fifteen pounds in a local Sports Direct. Nowadays, players appreciate their shin pads. Anichebe worshipped them when he declared that his £12 pair saved his career from a horrendous tackle by Kevin Nolan, capable of ‘snapping his leg in two’, in 2009; apparently Anichebe had ‘never felt as much pain’ in his life prior to that, so that’s saying something.
A couple of decades ago, as I’ve hinted at, players would have pleaded for the bereavement of a shin pad on their leg, whereas Eden Hazard asked Mourinho for a custom pair that covered the whole radius of his leg because he was so frustrated with the niggling fouls he so often received; in fact, most of today’s players have designed shin pads, with their names on them or images of family – players just love adding personality and individuality to their equipment, their boots being another example.
Despite these stories of praise for Widdowson’s invention, some don’t always look after their guards as well as they should do. Podolski lost his when Arsenal lost 2-0 to Borussia Dortmund in 2014, prolonging his substitution until eventually he had to give up his search and borrow Özil’s sweaty pair. It would have been great if he spent the rest of the game looking for them. Tadic also is a notorious forgetter, as he neglected his shirt and pair of guards for his substitution versus United, a cameo performance in which he scored the winner. Lastly, even though it’s a film, Santiago Muñez of the Goal series didn’t have a pair on him for a local match, so he opted for makeshift cardboard, and when entry to the pitch was authorised a superb performance ensued – God forbid that he got two-footed by a time-travelling Flamini, because then Arsenal would have fictionally won the Champions’ League in the next film in the trilogy, deeming the Frenchman a malevolent hero in Arsenal’s fictional history.
Your only duty now is to fervently revere Sam Weller Widdowson’s name whenever a horror injury is avoided thanks to the wonderful necessity that are shin pads.
Written by @BooleanStrategy