Skilled in all five techniques of making footballs, Forward Sports is a well-known manufacturer of sporting goods that has provided the official ball for the last two FIFA World Cups
The advent of new media has dramatically changed the way football is seen and, more importantly, understood. The game is now more accessible than ever and the rise of fan-punditry, facilitated by the emergence of social media, has placed even the smallest detail of a football match under the scrutiny of millions of people around the world.
One of the eagerly anticipated moments for fans ahead of a major international competition – be it the World Cup or the European Championship – is the revelation of the official match ball. Since the coming of the 21st century, designs have got bolder and the ball-making methods have advanced significantly, which resulted in the creation of memorable footballs for people to feast their eyes on and hanker after, dreaming of getting hold at least of a ball replica to kick around with their friends on a Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, any newly-revealed ball becomes the subject of lengthy discussions for fans, experts, and, indeed, the players themselves, who analyse the ball’s performance and potential peculiarities that might have an impact on the outcome of a given game. Whilst the debate around the quality of a football is being magnified in present times, mainly because nowadays everyone can put in their two pence, it is by no means new.
In fact, arguments over who would supply the ball broke out before the final of the first-ever World Cup in 1930 in what has become almost an anecdotal, but nonetheless veracious story of the tournament’s early days. The finalists (Uruguay and Argentina) decided to change it at half-time. To mention in passing, when the Uruguayans played with their ball in the second half, they turned the game around to win 4-2 after trailing 1-2 at the break.
With so much importance being attached to the characteristics of the World Cup ball, it is nothing short of impressive that Forward Sports passed all tests with flying colours before, during, and after the event, which was held in Russia in the summer of 2018. The Pakistani company received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the manufacturing excellence it had demonstrated in providing the official match ball, building upon the reputation it had earned four years earlier.
It was in 2014 that Forward Sports first got under the limelight by securing a contract for the manufacturing of over 3000 ‘Brazuca’ balls that were to be used at the World Cup of that year. Having proven its worth once, the business was once again engaged to deliver for the football’s most prestigious event, thus gaining the opportunity to shine at the biggest stage for the second time.
“The football used during the tournament was called Telstar 18, paying homage to the original Telstar from 1970. To achieve its excellent quality, we used state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques and resources, and this has further enhanced the confidence we have in our capabilities,” comments Forward Sports’ Managing Director and CEO, Khawaja Masood Akhtar.
He is also keen to point out that the company is one of the few manufacturers that has the ability to deploy all five, different ball-making methods. “As the name suggests, during the hand-stitched process, we stitch the football panels manually. Conversely, we use sewing machines for the machine-stitched technology,” Masood explains.
“When it comes to harnessing the thermal-bonded technology, we join the panels using adhesives, which we dry in heat moulds. Then, we have also mastered the airless mini manufacturing technique where we first prepare the core of the football, paste panels on the core using adhesives afterwards, and finally, dry the ball in the heat chambers. Last but not least, we can also combine the machine-stitched and thermo-bonded processes in what is known as a hybrid manufacturing technology,” he reviews the range of Forward Sports’ proficiencies.
Emboldened by its expertise, it is no wonder that the company has already declared its aspirations to be the official ball manufacturer for the upcoming World Cup that will take place in Qatar in the winter of 2022. For Masood, however, it is the entire Middle East that represents a major area for future business development.
“More than 425 million people live in the Persian Gulf region, almost half of them being expats. Moreover, the economies of the eight countries are mostly stable, with their per capita income averaging $36,000, and their overall spending on sport is also very good, which makes the region a lucrative place for trading in sporting goods,” he explains.
Far from confining itself to the manufacturing of footballs only, Forward Sports has grown a portfolio that includes various other ball types, such as volleyballs, handballs, and even medicine balls, as well as accessories like shin pads and goalkeeper gloves. Known for its ingenuity, the business’ R&D team works tirelessly to constantly improve productivity.
Masood concludes: “In order to prepare for the potential growth in demand, we have centred our most recent activities around the mechanisation of our manufacturing process. This was one of the main tasks in front of our R&D division in 2018 and we are pleased to report that we have successfully met our targets. Nevertheless, we will continue streamlining our processes and seeking further mechanisation this year, so that we can gain more control over the quality of our products.”
Products: Footballs, volleyballs, sports bags, shin guards, goalkeeper gloves