One of the more confusing games of sporting nomenclature is certainly the big “soccer” vs. “football” debate that rages on. In places like America, Canada, South Africa, Japan, and Australia, it’s called some variation of soccer. But in most of Europe, Asia, and Latin America, it’s called football or some related translation.
But where did it all begin? Which name is correct? Why do Americans call it soccer instead of football? As we’ll see, it’s actually kind of a funny story.
Football or Soccer? Which Name is Correct?
As with so much in sports history, determining the origins of soccer depends greatly on who you ask, and how close the rules have to be for you to consider it the same game. Many credit the Chinese with inventing the original version, then called “cuju”, back in the 3rd century AD. But it wasn’t until the 12th century that the sport was documented in England.
Fast forward to the 1800’s, when the commoner’s game of football made its way into the private school system in England and, from there, into upper class society. At that point it was still called football. Things began to get confusing when rugby, which was also called “football”, started to get more popular as well.
To differentiate between the two different footballs, the names were formalized as “Rugby Football” and “Association Football.” Over time, each sport was shortened to “rugger” and “ascoccer”, respectively (a common trend in those days was to add an “er” to the end of words).
Why Do Americans Call It Soccer Instead of Football?
Well, “asoccer” eventually gave way to “soccer”, since many felt it was easier and less awkward to say. What many people don’t realize, however, is that the British actually continued to use to term “soccer” in some places all the way up until the 1970s and 1980s. This fact seems to have been conveniently forgotten by the Brits who vehemently argue in favor of “football” these days.
During the 1980s, as soccer grew in popularity in the United States, there seems to have been a backlash elsewhere against the American “soccer,” especially in Britain. While no one can say for sure, there are a couple theories as to why this was.
In America, the sport has always been called “soccer.” While the game has steadily grown in popularity, the quality of American soccer has never been close to that of Europe. Some believe “football” rose to prominence throughout Britain and elsewhere because no self-respecting European football fan wanted to dignify that poor North American version by referring to their game by the same name.
Additionally, Americans at that time already had a sport called football. Europeans may have repopularized “football” in an effort to reclaim a sporting name that vastly predates the American football.
Whatever the true reasoning, many passionately assert (and perhaps rightfully) that “football” is the true, original, and correct name for the sport.
Football vs. Soccer – The Debate Continues
Now, as “the beautiful game” continues to grow in popularity in the United States, there are more and more people calling it soccer instead of football, continually increasing the debate. The irony of this is that one of the main reasons soccer in North America is becoming so much more popular is the annual influx of big-name players coming over from the English Premier League, and other big European leagues. North America’s professional league is called Major League Soccer, or MLS, and in recent years it has become the comfortable, lucrative destination of choice for declining European football stars in their thirties looking for a few bigger paydays and a chance to stay relevant against slightly lower competition.
He wasn’t the first, but when David Beckham moved stateside to play for the LA Galaxy in 2007 he may not have been the best athlete on the planet, but he was arguably the most famous, and his defection really put the MLS on the map. Suddenly there was a whole new generation of American soccer fans, and a whole generation of kids set to annoy the British with their uncouth terminology.
Of course, with every country having their own leagues, the terminology really only becomes a problem during the World Cup, when countries from all over the world converge to crown a global champion. So, since the English have only themselves to blame for the word “soccer” in the first place, maybe everyone would be happy to compromise on a return to “asoccer”, although I don’t hold your breath on that happening any time soon.
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