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Why Do Americans Call It Soccer?

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This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

Contrary to what the media and others want you to believe, the word “soccer” is not an American creation. Or, “They (rest of the world) call it football, and we (North Americans) call it soccer.” icon wink Why Do Americans Call It Soccer?

Derivation of the word

The word was derived from Association Football, which was the original term given to the game in the 1860s at the elite schools that spawned the sport in England. The abbreviation “Assoccer”, which became “soccer,” was used by the British upper classes of that period. When the sport was embraced by the less fortunate, the name of “soccer” was passed down. But most commoners used the word “football” to describe their new game. Nowadays, from the British Royal Family down to the passionate supporters in the terraces at Anfield (Liverpool FC), Old Trafford (Manchester United), or Stamford Bridge (Chelsea FC of London), the game is called football. Or “footy.”

Game and Name Exported by Sailors, Coaches, and Immigrants

When immigrants, coaches, and sailors exported the game overseas, the word “football” was loosely translated to fit the local languages. For example, Fútbol does not literally mean “football” in Spanish. Nor does Futebol translate into “football” in Brazilian Portuguese. The words “fut or fute” do not mean “foot” in either language. It was the English influence that still is found today.

Many professional soccer teams in Argentina have English names: Arsenal, Banfield, Newell’s Old Boys, and River Plate to name a few of the more famous ones. Real Madrid was originally called the “Sociedad Madrid Football Club” by its British founders in 1902. If you look closely, you can see the initials MFC in their famous logo. In Italy, one of the most famous clubs, AC Milan, was founded as the Milan Cricket and Athletic Club in 1899. In Italy, the coach is called “Mister.” As a tribute to the early English coaches who taught the game in that country. Italy has its own unique term for the game, where it is known as “calcio,” not football. The word translates to “kickball.”

Coming to America

When the sport arrived on our shores in the late 19th century (the US National Team played its first game against Canada in 1885), it was called Association Football. It was not called soccer. Only after the Second World War was the sport commonly referred to as “soccer.” Perhaps due to the growing impact of the NFL (American Football), and the belief that the game was foreign. Which is strange, because in the early 20th century, there were many industrial teams and leagues throughout the country.

While the sport was not as popular as baseball, it was on the sporting landscape. The USA competed at the first World Cup, which was held in Uruguay. The American team finished third, which remains its best historical performance. Many well-known soccer nations such as England, Germany, and Italy did not compete at the first World Cup. In fact, up until the 1970s, the USSF (United States Soccer Federation) used the word “football” in its title.

Other Countries Call it Soccer

In some areas of the Caribbean, along with Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, you can say the word “soccer” and the locals will understand its meaning. Although the emphasis is to call the sport football, the English legacy remains. One region of the former British Empire that did not embrace the game was India, where cricket remains the most popular spectator and participant sport.

In any language, the whole world is united by a ball. Or two…

Steve Amoia writes on ‘World Football Commentaries‘. This article was first published here.

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

Comments (21)

  1. I don’t mind it being called soccer (I am Australian) but what really pisses me off is when American Movies/TV Shows portray kids as being into ‘soccer’ and yet appear to have no fricken clue about football culture (presumably because the writers themselves have no fricken clue). The oldest kid from ‘Home Improvement’ springs to mind. I imagine (or rather hope) that real American soccer fans aren’t that different from you or me.

  2. The name comes from Association, there getting the Soc part, how the cer came up, i have no clue about

  3. Good article!

  4. Sports/passtimes involving kicking a ball (or similar object) were around for centuries before the establishment of the “Laws of Assocation Football” which was established in 1863. It is true though that it was the “public schools” [in England, a "public school" means an aristocratic private school] that sat down to codify the laws for the first time. In codifying the rules, they joined together to establish the “Football Association”. Other schools/teams, including that from the city of Rugby in the Midlands, dissented about the removal of two clauses in the draft rules – the ones that stop you picking up the ball and the one that stops you hacking down an opponent. This break-away group of clubs led by Rugby eventually established the “Rugby Football Union”… I think in 1871.

    From the word “association”, the word ‘socca’ did indeed develop and it ended up being used to distinguish between the sport of “Assocation Football” and “Rugby Football”.

    Many upper class/upper middle class people in England STILL to this day refer to football as “soccer” and rugby as “football”. In rugby commentary on TV you sometimes hear reference to players who are skilled at “football”. You can tell the public school educated presenters on the BBC because they also refer to “soccer”. ####s. I don’t mind Yanks calling it soccer as they don’t know any better ;-) … but upper class BBC presenters who don’t know their #### from their elbow that do it should be shot at dawn.

  5. U.S. Football Association – 1913-1944
    U.S. Soccer Football Association – 1945-1973
    U.S. Soccer Federation – 1974-Current

    The old fat white guys that have never played the sport run the show.

  6. Great piece… always wondered about the derivation of the word. Posted a link from my blog.

    MJ

  7. DBeech

    know you were probably just throwing that name out there, but he lived about two blocks away from me and he has played almost his whole life. My friend actually broke his leg in a match which is why he had a cast on for a whole season on tv. That example would have to be chalked up to the writers. However i do see your point, like in the movie “Goal” when the lead actor say “Full-ham” rather than Full-um”

  8. Pingback: Football Writing Competition | Soccerlens - Football News Blog

  9. maybe the question should be why americans call their form of rugby style game football?

  10. seng: because rugby is properly called “rugby football”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugby_football

  11. To the guy who asked about the -er. The -er comes because it comes from British slang. It is slangrization. A lot of other things have been slangrized that way.

  12. a fascinating blog and the follow up comments are worth a read too.Good job by Steve Amoia.

  13. Yeah its Football..and Brits gave it nickname Soccer.

    Im and Aussie and our organistaion changed its official name to Football 3 years ago..to use the formal name. As did New Zealand.

    In South Africa they usually refer to Rugby as being Football…though the Football World Cup in 2010 held there so refer to the formal name also as well as Soccer.

    The game Americans play is called Gridiron, the name they gave it is pretty much what everyone calls it. The pro league is nfl Gridiron.

  14. Football (or soccer) is just one form of a game originally called football.

    The rules of Association Football (soccer) were originally codified by a few clubs in England (1862?) who wanted a single set of rules, as several different teams played football using different sets of rules.

    These clubs called themselves an association, became known as the Football Association (hence FA Cup, begining 1872), and the (modified) rules they outined are used today to play Association Football.

    The rules of football within the association banned handling, catching etc of the ball, but some clubs preferred to continue to allow handling and so developed the rules for Rugby Football.

    Rugby Football developed a schism between amateur and professional and the professionals broke away to form the Rugby League which is played a little differently than Rugby Union.

    No such schism has ever occured wtih Association Football, the professional and amateur games and rules are identical.

    American Football obviously is a variation of Rugby Football.

    Other forms of football are Gaelic Football and Australian Rules Football, which is actually the clearest name. Technically it should be Association Rules Football or American Rules Football etc.

    But it’s all a form of the original game called football which way back was just a mob (or two mobs) in the streets trying to propel a ball from one end to the other.

    Soccer? Well we sometimes called it that as kids but I don’t think anyone in England uses the term now. And no one is going to call football Association Football or Association Rules Football anyway.

  15. To the writer of the article…..
    Are you the Steve Amoia that went to McNamara High School in Forestville, MD?
    If so, we were “soccer” teammates for one season when I was a senior and you were a freshman.
    Great job on the article Steve!

  16. In New Zealand it is definitely called Soccer. No one calls it Football. Football or Footy in NZ means Rugby Union Football to the vast majority of the population. Some people might identify the term with Rugby league (A different game to Union). Only ponces or people who mix with the immigrant Pommie (UK) soccer crowd would ever use the term football to mean soccer.

  17. I think the real reason that the English, in particular, have a hang-up about Americans calling the game “soccer” is because it comes across as rather arrogant for a country that has no real history in the sport to decide to it a new name. It is doubly egregious when other countries follow the American model. I also suspect, deep-down that many people are concerned about the US adopting football and creating their own version to allow things like frequent advertisements and overt use of technology, as they have with baseball (originated from the game of rounders), basketball (originated from the game of Netball) and American football (which originated from Rugby football).

  18. Great article. Now when some snobby Euro soccer fan tries to bash me, i can just say that they made the word in the first place.

    @Simon: If you actually read the article, it clearly states that the English CREATED the word first.

  19. Well people might say that the brits created the world Soccer although they don’t use it at all. I am brazilian and I just can not understand what is the reason of calling it Soccer since you people that call it soccer don’t even play the sport, don’t know anything about it. All I’ve read in this article is about South USA, Australia, NZ and South Africa. People you don’t play football you play soccer that is why u suck at it!! understand soccer suckers. And a question how come the American Football got the name football but most of the time the ball remains on the players hand? wouldn’t it be easy user Handball. We don’t like when people call it soccer because anywhere where people are fascinated for football the sport is called football but you guys play rugby or whatever so just forget about it.. just let us play and enjoy and keep you criticism for yourselves.

  20. Potato, potato, tomato, tomato. Let’s play! That is the game!

  21. Because in America we got a sport that REAL MEN play called football…