What came first football or soccer ? With the World Cup underway in Brazil, a lot of people are questioning if we should refer to the “global round-ball game” as “soccer” or “football”? This is visible from the queries of the readers that access my blog.
The most visited post ever is indeed “Differenza tra football e soccer” and since we are in the World Cup craze I think this topic is worth a post.
According to a paper published in May by the University of Michigan and written by the sport economist Stefan Szymanski, “soccer” is a not a semantically bizarre American invention but a British import.
Soccer comes from “association football” and the term was used in the UK to distinguish it from rugby football. In countries with other forms of football (USA, Australia) soccer became more generic, basically a synonym for ‘football’ in the international sense, to distinguish it from their domestic game.
If the word “soccer” originated in England, why did it fall into disuse there and become dominant in the States? “Soccer” was a recognized term in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century, but it wasn’t widely used until after World War II, perhaps because of the influence of American troops stationed in Britain during the war and the allure of American culture in its aftermath.
In the 1980s, however, Brits began rejecting the term, as soccer became a more popular sport in the United States: too much of an Americanism for British English to bear!
Football or soccer – which is right?
Technically, the words football and soccer are both correct. They describe the same sport which was codified by the Football Association in 1863 and the words can be considered synonyms.
The word ‘soccer’ is actually a British export, which was used for many years before the globalisation of football.
However, despite this fact, many English fans completely reject the term ‘soccer’ and insist that the game should simply be called ‘football’, while the reverse is true for many American fans.
Indeed, the linguistic divergence was the subject of a light-hearted commercial for the 2022 World Cup featuring David Beckham and Peyton Maning, with USMNT fans singing “It’s Called Soccer” at the tournament too.
What is the meaning of the word soccer?
Throughout the 1800s, the game that would eventually evolve to into modern-day ‘football’ had many different variations.
Around 1863, when the Football Association was first established, their official variant became ‘association football’.
A similar version of the same sport, ‘Rugby football’, was shortened to ‘rugby’ around this time.
Meanwhile, ‘Association football’ was shortened to ‘soccer’ to further distinguish itself as a stand-alone sport.
The term also comes from a slang abbreviation of the word ‘association’, which was adapted to: ‘assoc,’ ‘assoccer’ and then ‘soccer’
When did the word ‘soccer’ die out in the UK?
‘Soccer’ was used regularly by fans in the United Kingdom for large chunk of the 20th century. It was a phrase that was used interchangeably alongside ‘football’ and there was no great debate over which one was ‘correct’.
By the 1980s, the use of the word ‘soccer’ had declined massively in publications and wider culture.
Which other nations say ‘soccer’?
The word ‘soccer’ is common in the U.S. and in the following countries:
- New Zealand
- South Africa
Generally, the term is used where there is another more popular national sport which shares the name ‘football’.
Why Is The Game Called Football?
Like the game itself, the word “football” has foreign ancestors. Historians trace American football back to two European cousins, soccer and rugby. Both began as kicking games.
Soccer- the most popular sport in the world – was originally known as “association football.” Newspapers seeking a shorter phrase began to refer to it as “assoc.” That name was soon shortened to “soc” and then grew back a bit to “soccer.”
While rugby also began as a football game, in 1823 something occurred that changed the kicking game forever. A player named William Webb Ellis, instead of kicking the ball over the goal line, picked it up and ran it across. At first, observers didn’t know what to think. Eventually, the agreed it was a good idea. The game was played at the Rugby School and became known as rugby football, later shortened to rugby.
Both soccer-style football and rugby-style football eventually found their way to America. What resulted was an American combination of the two games. It was until much later (1906) that forward passing was allowed. So because the American game was really just another form of the European football games, it too became known as football.
Which Came First: Football (Soccer) or Rugby?
Rugby. Otherwise known as rugby football, as mentioned earlier.
Of course, various forms of football have likely been played since the medieval times. Indeed, both association and rugby football stemmed from the many folk and country games that had been played for centuries, and were even referred to as ‘football’ in documents from as far back as the 13th century. But in terms of when an official set of rules were established, rugby came first.
Rugby in its current form (i.e. rugby league and rugby union) is widely thought to have derived from the version of football played at Rugby School in Rugby, Warwickshire. It was one of many football codes played in British public schools during the 19th century (hence the name ‘rugby football’).
But it was in 1845 that the rugby football rules were published; before then, the rulebooks had varied from school to school. The association football rules did not become official until 1863, despite being derived from earlier regulations (Cambridge Rules of 1848 and Sheffield Rules of the last 1850s).
Rugby split into ‘league’ and ‘union’ in 1895 when 21 clubs split from the Rugby Football Union (formed in 1871) to form the Northern Rugby Football Union (renamed the Rugby Football League in 1922) over broken-time payments to players who took time off from work to play it.
Yet while rugby league adopted rugby union rules at first, they are now wholly separate entities (as you can read about here).
As for football, it was in 1863 when numerous clubs and schools met to establish a similarly common set of rules to allow them to form inter-club competitions and leagues.
As a result, the Football Association was also formed that year to govern the ‘new’, agreed-upon version of football, which included far less use of the hands. Indeed, some who preferred the old ‘rugby school’ style of association football, which allowed the ball to be carried and passed by hand, refused to join, but that’s essentially how the game of football as we know it today began.
Which Came First: American Football or Rugby?
Now that we’ve settled the ‘Which came first: soccer or rugby?’ debate, did American football exist before rugby?
Probably not. American football evolved from rugby at the start of the 1900s, rising in popularity at universities like Yale and Harvard initially as a kick-and-run game without passing.
This was deemed too much by then-President Theodore Roosevelt, who urged schools to introduce passing to reduce injuries in 1905, and then forward passes in 1906.
The National Football League began in the early 1920s, and helped American football become the nation’s most popular sport by the 1970s. Nowadays, it generates the most revenue of any sports division on the planet (roughly $12 billion in 2020).
Though, it it is believed that the first codified rules of American football were established in 1873 by representatives of Yale, Columbia, Princeton and Rutgers Universities. That would still mean it followed rugby rather than preceded it, but notably only two years after the RFU formed.
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