What's in a Name: Football v Soccer

September 09, 2015

If you support football, aka soccer, in the U.S. you have been without a doubt harassed heavily for calling the sport the wrong name. Whether you refer to it as soccer, and get scoffed at by those who prefer the traditional name and are quick to lay out all the reasons why “American football” has nothing to do with feet. Or you choose to call it football, like the majority of rest of the world, and are instantly heckled for being a snob; there really is no way to win. Even in writing the first sentence of this commentary I struggled trying to decide which term to use first. As a soccer, yes soccer supporter in the US, I have been scrutinized heavily for use of both terms and am always a bit puzzled by the hostility.

I personally refer to the sport based off the culture I am surrounded by, which means soccer it is. If I were to move to England I would call it football. Not because I’m faking it, but because more people would understand me and we could carry on from there as friends discussing things that matter.

After all we are talking about the same game right? No matter what you or I call it, we both like the same game. So long as we know what each other is talking about I don’t see why it makes any difference to me if you call it what you wish. Tomato, tomato? I mean we call deep fried potato wedges fries in the U.S., in Great Britain they would be call chips, and what we refer to as chips would be referred to as crisps. Yes initially that might cause a touch of confusion, but as long as we get sorted on which of these we are actually talking about there is no need to riot.

Looking up the definition of football in the dictionary doesn’t necessarily draw a straight conclusion to help sort this out either: 

Football: referring to a number of sports that involve, to varying degrees, kicking a ball with the foot to score points. Unqualified, the term football is understood to refer to whichever form of football most popular in regional context of where the word is used: Association Football (aka soccer), American/Canadian Football (aka Gridiron), Australian Rules Football, Gaelic Football, or Rugby.

With so many sports falling under the "football code" it's no wonder Americans call it something else. In fact according to a paper published by sports economist Stephan Szymanski at University of Michigan, the confusion between differentiating multiple sports that were all being called football is exactly where the term soccer came about. And sorry England, but you are mostly to blame for the name's origin. Sometime dating back to the early 1900's Rugby Football was shortened to "rugger" at the same time Associated Football was reduced to "soccer," and for some time all these terms were used interchangeably. By the 1980's the U.S. had really clung to the term soccer, and Britain distanced itself from it. Essentially soccer is a British slang term for associated football that got adopted by they're annoying younger brother and is no longer cool to say.

There is no doubt heads will continue to butt over this one. This score will likely ever be settled, even if Americans do start calling it football. Because in reality no one wants it to be settled. It is fun to have conflict. It's fun to have rivals. If everyone is on the same team then there is no one to play against and that's no fun at all.

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