All right… our office has a bit of the World Cup Fever today. Well, some of us. The rest are hard at work… Did you know that last week’s World Cup game between the U.S. and Portugal was the most watched soccer game ever in this country (beating out the 1999 World Cup Final featuring the U.S. Women’s team).
But, as many of us in the country wonder, why do we call is soccer while the rest of the world calls it’s football? Okay… here is what we found. The term “soccer” was actually first used in England. The story begins in a pub…
As early as the Middle Ages, the rough outlines of soccer – a game, a ball, some feet – appear to have been present in England. But it wasn’t until the sport became popular among aristocratic boys at schools like Eton and Rugby in the 19th century that young men tried to standardize play. In October 1863, leaders of a dozen clubs met at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London to establish “a definite code of rules for the regulation of the game”. They did just that, forming the Football Association.
The most divisive issue was whether to permit “hacking,” or kicking an opponent in the leg. And the the answer, ultimately, was no. But that wasn’t where the controversy ended. In 1871, another set of clubs met in London to codify a version of the game that involved more use of the hands – a variant most closely associated with the Rugby School. From this point on, the two versions of football were distinguished by reference to their longer titles, Rugby Football and Association Football (named after the Football Association). It is said that British school boys of the day liked to nickname everything, which is still somewhat common. They also liked to add the ending “er” to these nicknames. Thus Rugby was, at that time, popularly called “Rugger”. Association Football was then much better known as “Assoccer”, which quickly just became “Soccer” and sometimes “Soccer Football”. In fact, in the early days of the sport among the upper echelons of British society, the proper term for the sport was “Soccer”.
Not only that, but the sport being referred to as “Soccer” preceded the first recorded instance of it being called by the singular word “Football” by about 18 years, with the latter happening when it became more popular with the middle and lower class. When that happened, the term “Football” gradually began dominating over “Soccer” and the then official name “Association Football”. Both sports fragmented yet again as they spread around the world. The term soccer caught on in the United States in the 1st decade of the twentieth century, in part to distinguish the game from American football, a hybrid of Association Football and Rugby Football. (Countries that tend to use the word “soccer” today – Australia, Canada, South Africa, among others – usually have another sport called “football”.)