When Football Became Soccer

soccer ball

If you’re reading this in the U.S. or Canada, then maybe you’re familiar with the game of soccer. If you’re reading this pretty much anywhere else, then you probably know the same game rules and call it football. But how did we end up with two words for the same sport?

Let’s start in England in the 19th century. Kids played their own versions of football, however they felt like it. A bunch of private schools got together to standardize the rules, which of course led to lots of arguing. The arguments gave birth to two games: Rugby football (named after a school called Rugby) and Association football, after the newly formed Football Association.

Enter a fellow named Charles Wreford-Brown, one of Association football’s early heroes. Brown was fond of a slang fad called an Oxford-er (like a vintage version of crazes you make have experienced, like adding “izzle” to the ends of names). It works like this: you shorten a word and add “-er” on the end. Breakfast becomes “brekker.” Rugby is “rugger.”

Association football was called “footer,” but Brown had a different idea. He took the word Association, chopped off the A, sliced off the -iation from sociation and called it “soccer” instead. Weird, but true. It may not be the most logical name in the history of sports, but his influence is one of the reasons we don’t have footer leagues today. And if we did play footer instead of soccer, would we have a different word for playing footsy?

But what about that other football that people in the U.S. bring to the Super Bowl? Since American football (based on rugby) had already taken off by the time Association football became popular in the U.S., the name soccer stuck. In fact, soccer wasn’t formally accepted over football in the U.S. for a long time. The governing body for soccer in the U.S. was called the United States Soccer Football Association until 1974.

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