Own The Elements: Soleplates
“He could be in here… No! He’s down, he slipped!” It’s the worst thing that can happen in winter football: you’re a few steps away from scoring a winning goal, and you lose your footing. Chance gone, embarrassment factor 100.
Sometimes, it’s not even like you lose your balance, your feet just seem to give way. Why? Because you’re wearing a boot with the wrong type of soleplate for the pitch you’re playing on. One of the most important decisions in football is made before you even step onto the grass, so read on to find out how to choose the right soleplate for the right surface every time.
What is a soleplate?
The soleplate (or sole plate) of a football boot is the long, hard piece of material that sits at the very bottom of the boot. Usually made from plastic, they can either be entirely moulded, studs and all, or have holes with threads for screw-in studs. Note that we’re talking about boots here, not trainers, which have outsoles rather than soleplates.
What are the different types of soleplate?
In basic terms, there are three types of soleplate: firm ground (FG), soft ground (SG), and artificial ground (AG). Almost every football boot fits into one of these categories, and each is designed to provide maximum traction on that specific surface. Sometimes you’ll see artificial ground referred to as artificial grass, and there are all sorts of weird and wonderful names that brands have come up with for plates that sit in between these categories, but looking out for the letters FG, SG, and AG is by far the easiest way to understand a soleplate’s intended surface.
Why are they different?
The key word here is penetration. Usually, the main body of a silo’s soleplate is the same across all versions. It’s just the protrusions – the studs, blades, or whatever it is that sticks out of the bottom – that are different. The question, then, is how far into the ground you want your studs to penetrate; and just as importantly, how far they can penetrate. On firm ground, you want shallow penetration. Enough traction to allow you to accelerate and turn, but not so much that your foot gets stuck solidly in the ground. FG plates therefore tend to feature arrangements of multiple fairly short, fixed studs or blades that distribute your body’s weight over a larger area. Since they’re fixed, the studs or blades on an FG boot are nearly always made from the same or similar plastic as the rest of the soleplate. On soft ground, by contrast, you want deep penetration. The softer the ground, the easier it is to be displaced, which makes it more difficult to get a secure footing. That’s why SG plates usually have longer, pointier studs, and fewer of them. Think about it: more pressure in a smaller area equals greater penetration. Because they’re longer, an SG boot’s studs are often metal, or metal-capped, screw-ins so they don’t snap under the strain. Screw-ins also allow you to change the length of your studs, with a range of lengths and shapes available – it’s worth experimenting with different combinations in different conditions. Artificial ground is something of a special case. In terms of penetration, it’s not really affected by weather conditions – the rubber that makes up the surface remains the same density – so you only ever need light traction. For that reason, AG soleplates feature the shallowest, flattest studs of all, and lots of them, spreading out your weight over a larger area. (Long studs or blades are likely to damage the pitch, so don’t wear an FG or SG boot on artificial ground.) They’re also made of special materials to cope with the additional abrasion produced by an artificial pitch, to stop them wearing away or even melting from the friction.
What's the difference between studs and blades?
The shape. Studs are usually conical, which makes them especially good for rotational movement – a round stud can be turned 360 degrees in the ground with very little effort. Blades are more linear, so while they’re not so good for turning, they excel in creating purchase for forward movement. That’s why agility-focused boots tend to favour studs, and speed-focused boots go for blades and chevrons. On most modern SG and FG soleplates, you’ll either find a mix of studs and blades, or a single type of stud that combines the two principles in a hybrid shape. AG plates, though, are still mainly limited to conical studs – it’s simply the most efficient way to distribute pressure, providing traction without damaging artificial pitches.
Okay, so what type of soleplate should I wear in winter?
The lazy answer here is soft ground. Pitches in winter tend to be wet and muddy, so you need the additional penetration of a soft ground boot’s longer, pointier studs to get enough traction. While that’s true, winter pitches can also be dry, cold, and very, very hard – sometimes even more so than a dusty pitch in the height of summer. If that’s the case, firm ground boots might be the better choice. For natural surfaces, the key is to watch the weather, and, if you can, see what the pitch is like before you play on it. Artificial ground, meanwhile, can get a bit slippery when wet, so you’ll want to stick to a proper AG boot rather than the trainers you might get away with in the summer. In short: if you can, it’s definitely worth having multiple options. That way you can pick and choose match by match, you can change whenever necessary, and you’ll be ready to go all year round.
What about Anti-Clog?
Nike’s Anti-Clog technology is perhaps the most significant innovation of recent years when it comes to playing in winter. Anyone who’s played in muddy conditions will have experienced the performance drain of a clogged-up soleplate. It weighs you down, slows you down, and causes you to slip. The idea of Anti-Clog, then, is to prevent mud from gathering and sticking together on the soleplate in the first place, which it does by creating a layer of lubrication from any water the plate touches (it’s worth pouring a bit on before a game to get it going). With no mud to get in the way, the studs on an Anti-Clog SG-Pro soleplate can do what they’re designed to do: provide traction.
SG-Pro? What's that?
All Anti-Clog soleplates come in an SG-Pro stud configuration, which is Nike’s name for a soleplate that features the long studs you’d normally associate with an SG boot, but also some of the shorter fixed studs or blades of an FG plate. Naturally, the shorter traction only engages when the long studs have already penetrated the ground – basically, when it’s really soft and you need the extra grip. You can also switch out the screw-ins for shorter studs if you’re playing on firmer ground. It’s a good, adaptive solution that a lot of brands have adopted.