Calling it Football? Here’s Why “Soccer” is OK Too

The argument about why the sport of football or soccer, whichever you decide to call it, has two names is a long one….

Guest post by Imogen

European countries generally call it football, whereas North America and Australasia almost always refer to it as soccer. The average Englishman will adamantly argue that the right name is football, and may even argue that the word soccer is some kind of American invention, but he would actually be wrong. In fact, the word soccer originated in Britain, so read on to find out the interesting course of events that led to the creation of the much disputed word soccer.

Football played with the feet and football played with the hands

To understand why two words exist for the same sport, more explanation about another sport being played in Britain is needed. During a game of football played with the feet, at the Rugby School in England, a student called William Webb Ellis decided to pick up the ball and run it over the goal line. When he asked the referee if it was a goal, the ref replied, “No, but it was a jolly good ‘try’”. The sport of Rugby Football progressed from there, with the adoption of ‘try’ as a scoring term, and the name of the sport is taken from the school. The Rugby Union organisation was eventually formed in 1871, and in addition, schoolboys at the time gave the game the nickname ‘rugger’, which is still used today.

As Rugby football became a popular sport in England, a distinction had to be made between rugby, where the hands are used, and football, where just the feet are used. It all began with the creation of the Football Association, or FA, back in 1863. Football had been played in England for many years before this date, but no formal set of definite rules had been decided upon. A group of teams decided that they would play all their games according to the rules set out by the Football Association, and many more followed suit. From here the modern game of football or soccer flourished, but where did this new name come from?

Origins of the word soccer

The term football was a common name used for both rugby and football, so with the creation of the Football Association, football began being referred to as association football. As with the nickname of Rugby being ‘rugger’, soon enough a nickname was used for association football – soccer. The story goes that not long after the formation of the Football Association, an Oxford student called Charles Wreford-Brown was asked by friend whether he would like to join in with a game of ‘rugger’ they were about to play. Charles replied by saying no to a game of rugby because he preferred to play ‘soccer’.

The birth to the two names for these two games explains how the words came into existence, but doesn’t explain why is there a distinction between who uses ‘soccer’ and who uses ‘football’ This is even more relevant seeing as English people will often declare football as the proper name, even though the term soccer originated in England.

How British society shaped the use of soccer and football

In the second part of the 19th century, these two organisations governing the two sports of football, association football and rugby football, were establishments of the upper class educational system. Universities like Cambridge and Oxford endorsed the implementation of a set of rules for each game, and began to create competitions that pitted teams from each university against each other. The love of creating nicknames for things was a common thing for schoolboys of the time to do, and students at these schools for the privileged made the words rugger and soccer their own.

The reason why football has become much more widely used than soccer in England is down to social factors (much like drug addiction varies in England depending on social class and background with many footballers sadly falling into addiction in retirement, a fate less common for those who played rugby). The terms rugger and soccer were common words for the upper class, but there was a big distinction between people from these more fortunate backgrounds and the rest of England’s people.

When these sports were introduced to the masses soccer was the all-out winner, but the word soccer belonged to the privileged Victorian schoolboys that invented it. Instead, the masses reverted back to simply calling it football, and a large reason for this would be because the game is playing using a ball and your foot, unlike rugby.

So there you have it, the reason behind why one sport has two names.

See More:

Origin of the word soccer

Names for Association Football (wiki)

Forget those mocking Brits


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