What to know

Why Is Football Called Soccer in Some Countries

American football and rugby kept the name rugby alive well after England dropped it

The word football means pretty much the same thing all over the world, except in countries like America, Canada & Australia.

Football is slowly gaining popularity in America, but it seems, to most of the world, that they just can’t get the name right. While the word football is universal (most variations of the noun sounds the same), America and a few other countries can’t stop calling it soccer.

One would think that this is pure Americanism; the USA being itself, always swimming against the stream, but the name actually originated in England, according one American professor.

Football game from 1939.

Stefan Szymanski from the University of Michigan says it began in England in the early 1800s, when an early form of football started gaining popularity.

When the sport – originally played by “common people” – found its way into privileged English schools, rules had to be put to make competitions fair and square. Students at Cambridge drafted the first set of rules in 1848, which were then modified and adopted by the Football Association in 1863.


A game of rugby.

Soon after, many variations of the sport started emerging all over England, such as the foundation of the Rugby Football Union in 1871. In rugby football, players were allowed to pick up the ball and run with it.

To separate itself, rugby football became known as rugger, and association football as assoccer, and later on soccer.

When the first recorded American football game took place in 1869 between the colleges of Rutgers and Princeton, they used their own set of rules derived from both association and rugby football. This game evolved into simply football in America, but became known as American football to the rest of the world.

American football

A game of American football.

Eventually, in England, Rugby Football became known only as rugby, and association football as just football.

According to Szymanski, the world soccer was still in popular use in England up until the end of World War II. Today soccer is almost only used in American context.

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