Soccer or Football? Exploring the Difference in Naming Across Countries

Soccer and American football are two sports that have a common origin, but have since developed into two distinct sports. This has led to a difference in naming across countries, with some calling it soccer and others calling it football. To understand why this is the case, let's take a look at the history of the two sports and how they have evolved over time. Both soccer and American football stem from the same set of forerunner sports, which became popular in upper-class English schools in the early 19th century and spread across the Atlantic.

As a result, American football players increasingly adopted soccer to refer to their sport. To distinguish between association football and American football, the sports were called soccer and football respectively. In the 1880s, linguistically creative students at Oxford University distinguished between the sports of “rugger” (rugby football) and “assoccer” (association football). The United States Football Association, which was formed in the 1910s as the official organizing body of American football, changed its name to the United States Football Association in 1945 and, later, dispensed with “soccer altogether”.

The latter term was further shortened to “soccer” (sometimes spelled “socker”), and the name quickly spread beyond campus. The British only stopped using the term “football” about 40 years ago, when the word became popular across the United Kingdom. The term “soccer” actually comes from Great Britain and Americans use it to differentiate it from American “soccer”. Around the 1880s, the two most popular sports were rugby, which Oxford students shortened to “Rugger”, and association football, which was abbreviated as “Assoccer”.

All pink countries call it soccer or some literal translation of soccer. All blue countries call it soccer or some translation of soccer. All green countries call it something else. Other countries where the word soccer is common are those that, like the United States, have forms of soccer that compete with each other.

For example, Canada has its own version of field soccer; Ireland is home to Gaelic football; and Australia is crazy about Australian football (which is derived from rugby). In places where soccer can be ambiguous, soccer is useful and accurate. Thus, the Americans began to call their variety of playing field football, and they referred to British sport with the slang term soccer, derived from the soc in association. So which countries also call soccer football because of the distinction made between two competing forms of football? As the World Cup continues in Qatar, people around the world discuss whether the sport should be called “soccer” or “football” in the United States.

Sue Ayars
Sue Ayars

Wannabe travel fanatic. Freelance bacon fan. Incurable sushi trailblazer. Friendly music junkie. Infuriatingly humble zombie junkie.