Why Americans Call It Football Not Soccer

  • The FIFA World Cup season is upon us, so here’s a timely reminder of one of football’s age-old questions.
  • Why do Americans insist on calling the sport “soccer” and not “soccer” like the British do?
  • Well, if you’re English, it’s your own fault.

While the name of the world’s most popular sport ‘soccer’ is typically portrayed as a symbol of American ignorance, the reason we don’t call it ‘soccer’ like the rest of the world is because of Britain’s fault.

The word “soccer” is a British invention that Brits only started using around 40 years ago, according to a 2014 study by Professor Stefan Szymanski of the University of Michigan.

The word ‘soccer’ comes from the UK’s use of the term ‘association football’ and dates back 200 years.

In the early 1800s, some British universities took ‘football’ – a medieval game – and began playing their own versions of it, all using different rules. To standardize things across the country, these games have been assigned to different organizations with different names.

A variant of the game you played with your hands became “rugby football”. Another variant became known as “association football” after the Football Association was formed in 1863 to promote the game, 15 years after the rules were established at Cambridge.

Rugby football briefly became rugger, then rugby. “Club football” became “soccer”.

After these two sports spread across the Atlantic, Americans invented their own variation of the game in the early 20th century, which they simply called “soccer.”

Association football became soccer in America, and what was called gridiron in Britain became simply football in America.

Most Brits stopped saying “soccer” because that’s what Americans called it

Harry Kane and Christian Pulisic.

Harry Kane and Christian Pulisic.

Photo by Getty Images



The interesting thing is that the British continued to use “soccer” regularly for much of the 20th century. Between 1960 and 1980, “soccer” and “soccer” were “almost interchangeable” in Britain, Szymanski noted.

Then everything changed (via Szymanski):

“Since the 1980’s the use of the word ‘soccer’ in British publications has declined and where it is used it usually refers to an American context. This decline appears to be in response to increased use in the US, which appears to be associated with the peak of NASL around 1980.”

Most Britons stopped saying “soccer” because of its American connotation, but British broadcaster Sky Sports still used it to brand the hugely popular TV shows “Soccer Saturday” and “Soccer AM”.

So, no, it’s not wrong to call it “soccer” if you’re an American.

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