With the European Championship in France now well underway, we thought it would be only appropriate to dedicate this week’s Material Monday to a substance that will undoubtedly be gracing the pitches of all twelve host cities over the next month. No, it’s not the latest fabric technology from adidas, Nike, or any of the other global sportswear manufacturers displaying their wares at this year’s tournament; nor is it the synthetic grass that keeps modern playing surfaces flat, true and lush. It is altogether something more humble than that; a relatively recent, but strikingly simple addition to a game that’s not exactly renowned for embracing change. It is, of course, the vanishing spray.
First used in professional football in 2001 at the domestic Brazilian Championship, this shaving-foam-like substance is retained by referees in an aerosol can, and deployed as a means of marking the requisite ten yards between an attacking team’s free kick and the defensive wall, usually in positions where the free kick could result in a scoring opportunity. After drawing a small arc around the front of the ball, the referee paces ten yards forward before drawing a straight line marking the position of the wall. Around a minute after the lines are drawn, the substance dissolves and the marks disappear.
So what is in the mysterious can? Each producer has their own safely guarded recipe, of course, but it is widely accepted that the primary ingredients of vanishing spray are water, butane gas and surfactant, plus a combination of other additives. Heine Allemagne, the Brazilian man who has fought to be recognised as the official inventor of the spray, admits to vegetable oil playing a major role in the development of his initial concoctions. As the lid of the can is compressed and the spray released, the butane, which is in a liquid state inside the can, immediately evaporates to form bubbles in the water/surfactant solution. The surfactant provides stability for the bubbles, allowing them to exist within the liquid for a short period of time before eventually collapsing and, therefore, vanishing.
A bit like England’s chances, then? Let’s hope not.