A LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE ADIDAS TANGO

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Balls.  Lovely, lovely balls.

I don’t really know where to start. 

It’s not like I’ve done this before.

In fact I tend to recoil at the thought of public displays of affection towards the human form, so to do such a thing with an inanimate object seems almost perverse; unholy, if you believe in such things.

But what if this is how I feel? What if this is how I want you all to know how I feel.

To paraphrase John Lydon: “This is not a love letter.” But then, what is it?

When people talk of falling in love with football, they tend to recall a team, a game; a moment in time. They talk of players who captured their imagination, or flowing passing moves that left them slack-jawed in wonderment.

When I talk of falling in love with football, I do so by going beyond the game, the teams and the players – and focussing my amore directly at my object of desire; the ball itself.

My beloved Adidas Tango.

It was 1982. The England v France game had been going on for no more than say, 27 seconds. As I lay there on the floor of my Nan’s house, Panini sticker book open and Frogman Action Man close by. Something on the screen captivated my attention. The sun was bright, the colours vivid, but the thing that stood out most was a small, spherical, black and white object – a football.

My experience of footballs to that point had been restricted to the plastic offerings you got from Woolworths or petrol stations. Occasionally a relative would buy you the old black and white panel effort, modelled on the original Adidas Telstar – but they rarely lasted more than half a dozen wall passes against a rusty, garage door.

The Tango was a monochrome vision of beauty in a sea of dull, greying rectangular panels. Where other balls were designed to stand out against whatever the weather did to the pitches across the world, the Tango designers clearly gave no thought to a muddy six yard box or sun-baked centre circle. Their design, the triads, appeared to be more about eye-catching appeal than functionality. They created an object d’art in the form of a series of circles within a circle – like some kind of puzzle your parents might have had on a coffee table to impress their friends in the ‘80s.

That iconic design rivals any swoosh, golden arch or daft, illuminated, half eaten apple that marketers fall over to show the impact branding has on the world.

The ball even made some of the world’s greatest players look all the more better. Consider for a moment the image that was plastered all over the internet on the 22nd June of Maradona punching a ball in to the English net – consider what that ball was.  Then think about Marco van Basten’s volley in the final of the 1988 European Championship.  What ball do you see rippling the net? And finally, what is the ball in the 1994 Champions League final as AC Milan tore old Barcelona a new one?

I loved that ball so much that I even doctored a Glenn Hoddle Minerva Football poster to try and make the Spurs choice of ball at least resemble the Tango – improving it in my eyes; knocking pounds off it, were it ever to appear on the Antiques Roadshow.

The ball even made it across to this island within the footballing world, with clubs lucky enough to have Adidas as a kit manufacturer securing the Tango as their side’s ball of choice. No Minerva or Mitre for the likes of Manchester United or QPR. Even if their style of football may have been lacking through the bulk of the 1980s, their brand of football at least shone out from the rest.

Alas it never quite made it on to the playing fields of Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School. As I put the laces through yet another, overly inflated Mitre Multiplex; I dreamt of one day going on an exchange trip. Swapping my beans on toast for baguettes and red wine; my rectangular panels for those cultured triads. It never happened. I carried on eating beans on toast; my frozen thighs tattooed by rectangular panels.

But then, as with any global star that stays in the public eye for one performance too many – Adidas ruined it all by trying to update the Tango. From its peak in 1982, the triads took on yet more and more gaudy appearances as the World Cup travelled the globe - Aztec decorations, high velocity rockets, and an attempt on fine Etruscan art panelling. None of which was an improvement on the original.

Eventually the ideas dried up. Adidas moved away from the Tango name and on to Terrestra for Euro 2000 - which was nothing more than a tailor presenting an Emperor with his new clothes. The following year, having last had the official match ball for the 1987 Champions League Final, Adidas came back with the Finale. If the company had lost their way with the Questra, as used in the 1994 World Cup in America, they completely jumped the shark with their glitzy, star design for that ball.

The final nail in Tangos inner bladder came in 2002, when the ball’s design was finally dropped in favour of a completely bespoke look for each new tournament.  Clubs leagues picked up balls by other manufacturers, local tournaments used amended versions of the new World Cup balls – kids coloured their posters in with other, more mundane designs.

I did once see a pink version of the Tango given away for free as part of a marketing drive for the Italian sports newspaper, Gazzetta dello Sport. It was in the main square in Florence, near where the copy of the statue of David resides. It seemed a perfect juxtaposition – two images of beauty, two titans of art – sharing the same space; at the same time.

Never bettered, not even equalled.  

Chris King is a Tottenham Hotspur supporter living in Leeds. He writes about life, family and sometimes sport on his blog www.northernwrites.co.uk and can be found on twitter: @NorthernWrites

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