Why America uses the word soccer rather than football has been asked by many people for many years. It seems strange that a single sport would be referred to by one name in one country but by another name in another country. Thankfully the reasons it’s referred to by this name can be easily explained.
The reason America calls it soccer is because that was the name associated with the game when it was first introduced to the United States. The use of the name soccer also helps to differentiate the game from the sport of football.
The word soccer is often associated with America, but it actually wasn’t Americans who invented it. The word soccer was a British invention. So how did it become more popular in the US than in other parts of the world? Let’s find out.
History of the Word “Soccer”
The use of the word “soccer” goes all the way back to the 19th century.
When the first official rule book for soccer was put together in England in 1863, the game we now know as soccer was called association football.
At this time, the rules for association football needed to be clarified. There were many variations of the game being played across the country, and different teams were using different rules. Watching a soccer game could get very confusing!
To find out more about the invention of soccer, look at this article I put together to explain where soccer originated.
However, when the Football Association agreed on the rules each team should abide by, a group was unhappy about what had been decided.
They wanted to carry on allowing players to use their hands to move the ball, but the new rules didn’t permit this. This group eventually broke away and formed the game that became known as rugby football.
This new group meant that in the middle of the 19th century there were two sports with the word “football” in the name.
- Association football
- And rugby football
At the time it was also popular to shorten names of sports and then add an “-er” on the end.
So, some people started to shorten these names and use the shortened versions to refer to the separate sports. This meant that rugby football became -” rugger, “and association football became – “assoccer” or “soccer. “
And the name soccer stuck.
For over 100 years, even in England, it was common for the game to be referred to as soccer. In fact, a paper by a professor at the University of Michigan suggested that the use of the word soccer actually became more popular in England after World War II due to the influence of American soldiers in the country!
But the fact is, this was never an official name. It was only used as a nickname, or alternative name, for the game.
This is where word soccer took a different path in America.
History of the Word “Soccer” in the US
In America, the word soccer is used as more than just a colloquialism for the game. It is the primary term used for the game. This is mostly to do with what happened soon after soccer arrived on the United States’ shores.
At the same time that the sports of both association football and rugby were beginning to establish themselves in the nation, another sport began to appear. This sport was a combination of both these two sports and became known as gridiron football.
Gridiron football, or what we today more commonly refer to as just “football,” quickly became the most popular of these sports.
Because this new form of football was fast becoming popular, it soon became confusing to refer to both games as “football.” (Rugby football was commonly referred to as “rugby”) The two sports needed separate names.
With the arrival of soccer in the United States, came the use of the term “soccer.” Although it wasn’t the official name of the game at the time, it became the obvious option to use as an alternative name to football.
However, it still took a while for the use of the word soccer to fully replace the word football in America.
When the first internationally recognized governing body of soccer in the US was formed in April 1915, it was called the United States Football Association.
It then took until 1945 before the word soccer was added to the name. And even then, they maintained the use of the word football, and the organization became the United States Soccer Football Association.
It was only in 1974 that the word football was dropped entirely, and the governing body of US soccer became the United States Soccer Association.
At this point, the word soccer had officially taken its place as the primary term used in America.
Is It Just America That Calls It Soccer?
It’s also interesting to discover that it isn’t only America that calls it soccer.
Many people think that only people in the United States call it soccer, but the truth is something different.
It isn’t just America that calls it soccer. Multiple countries around the world refer to the game as soccer. The reason for this is that in many of these countries there is an alternative sport known as football that is also popular.
While America is probably the country that most famously calls it soccer, the US is not alone!
What Other Countries Call It Soccer
Although the word football, or a variation of that, is used by most people around the world, there are several nations that primarily use the word soccer.
Other countries that call it soccer are:
- New Zealand
- South Africa
As well as these, there is also a selection of South-East Asian and Pacific Island nations that use a variation of the word soccer.
Although many Asian and Pacific nations call it soccer due to the influence of the United States in their countries, other countries on the list have different reasons for using the term.
For example, in Australia and Ireland, they have another popular sport in their countries known as football.
In Australia, they have Aussie Rules Football, and in Ireland, they play Gaelic Football. Both of these sports are arguably more popular than soccer in their respective nations.
Using the term “soccer” helps clarify which sport is being referred to.
Soccer or Football: Which is Correct?
So lastly, to answer the most controversial question is saying soccer or football correct?
Some people insist that soccer is the only way to go, and then some people are convinced that calling it football is correct.
To be historically accurate, it would be correct to say football rather than soccer, as this was the word first associated with the game. However, the term “soccer” has been around for nearly as long and is used by millions of people worldwide.
What the correct term for the sport is, mostly depends on where you are. Suppose you’re in a country with another popular game known as football, and the majority of people there call the game soccer. In that case, it’s probably best to call it soccer.
But if you are somewhere where everyone else is calling it football, then my advice is to embrace the culture around you and call it football.
Millions of people say either soccer and football, and the terms are both over 150 years old and are unlikely to go out of use anytime soon!
Conclusion and Recommendations
Whatever you choose to call it, this game is enjoyed by billions of people worldwide, and the name doesn’t change it’s influence or reach!
If you want to know more about soccer in America, I recommend checking out one of my previous articles below.
- See my comparison of the sports of soccer and football here.
- Find out if soccer takes more skill that basketball here
- And find out if soccer is harder than football here.
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