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Why Is Soccer Called Football?

Why Is Soccer Called Football?

What would the world look like without soccer today? Picture this, No Cristiano Ronaldo, no Lionel Messi or all of the other soccer stars we adore.

Someone somewhere decided to sit down and come up with the idea of the sport for it to become what it is today.

Soccer has been a unifying tool in different eras and parts of the world. There is evidence to show the massive scale in which soccer dominates the global space we are in.

Soccer is one of the most prestigious sports in the world. The sport tops the list in terms of popularity with an estimated 3.5 billion supporters drawn majorly from Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

A soccer match with the full stands

The FIFA World Cup, which is the most coveted prize in soccer, attracts billions of viewers every four years and thousands of fans who throng the stadiums.

The television deals of the English Premier League for example runs to billions of pounds. According to the latest reports, the current deal is valued at a whopping 4.8 billion Sterling Pounds.

We cannot ignore the social impact of soccer even by individual players. Think of how the likes of Diego Maradona revolutionized the city of Naples when he joined Napoli in the 1980s to the point of winning the Italian league.

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More recently, we have Cristiano Ronaldo who is one of the greatest soccer players of all time. He made a simple gesture during the 2020 European Championships which caused a buzz.

He removed bottles of Coca cola from the display shot and placed a water bottle instead. This action according to reports made Coca cola’s market value drop by $4 billion. Ronaldo, a soccer star, influences many having enjoyed 315 million followers on Instagram alone.

Where does this beautiful sport originate from? Did the founders envision the extent to which this particular sport would transcend the world? Let us look at its origins.

Where does the word soccer come from?

The sport known as ‘soccer’ is commonly referred to as ‘football’ to the rest of the world. In the United States is where it is called ‘soccer’ which is distinct from the more popular ‘American football’.

The concept was born in the 1860s in British schools alongside different variations of the name of the sport which primarily would be played by carrying the ball or by or kicking.

The ‘ball carrying’ variations in modern sports include: American football, Canadian football, Australian football, rugby union and rugby league.

The football American players are playing

On the other hand, the ‘kicking’ variation where the ball is moved using the feet came to be known as ‘association football’ or ‘soccer’. In the latter, using hands when playing would be restricted.

In the 1860s, British schools came together and decided to play the sport under a unified set of rules and regulations that would govern the sport.

According to, “The word soccer comes from a slang abbreviation of the word association, which British players of the day adapted as “assoc,“”assoccer” and eventually soccer or soccer football.

“The habit of adding –er to nicknames in British vernacular is frequently attributed to Oxford students of that period, and can be found in other sporting slang such as “rugger” for rugby,” the summary reads.

an ancient building in UK

Why is soccer called football?

Going back to its origins, the drive to make distinctions came about as the sports were played with a different set of rules for the 5-18 or so number of players.

The variation of the sport all had two sets of opposing players trying to get a point or score by moving the ball from one end of the field to the other. What brought about the two names?

1. Need for distinction

A group of students from The University of Oxford in the 1880s looked at the names of the sports of “rugger” (rugby football) and “assoccer” (association football).

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“Assoccer” was shortened to “soccer” by the students with the name being quickly adopted across the institution and beyond. According to history, ‘soccer’ was initially a nickname.

From the initial ‘association football’, the name ‘football’ was more adopted in the 20th century across Britain with ‘rugby football’ being widely referred to as just ‘rugby’.

However, “soccer” never became much more than a nickname in Great Britain. By the 20th century, rugby football was more commonly called rugby, while association football had earned the right to be known as football.

2. Language preference

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There are different variations to the English language. Those countries expressively using British English include the United Kingdom and affiliate countries as well as former colonies use ‘football’ as opposed to ‘soccer’.

In the United States and countries that primarily use American English, the preferred term is ‘soccer’. In these regions, ‘football’ refers to the ‘carrying’ variation of the sport where players run from one end to the other with the ball.

3. Football has a ‘kick into it’

Soccer Isn't Real Football

The term football can be broken down to refer to a ball that is kicked using the foot/feet thus ‘football’. For quick comprehension, football is the more widely used term outside the United States and Canada.

It was therefore a straightforward decision to have even the world governing body be called Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). It currently has 210 member associations drawn from different nations.

What countries call football soccer?

Joe Rogan | Why is it Called "Soccer" in America? w/Ian Edwards

There are some countries that call football ‘soccer’. This is either due to drawing some kind of distinction between the two terms or the language variation the country uses. The following countries use the term ‘soccer’:

United States – In the United States, American English is used. Due to the various codes of how football is played, there had to be a distinction.

What came to be known as American football is the ball carrying sport that gained traction in the USA. This was later shortened to just ‘football’.

The variation of the sport where the feet are predominantly used when playing became referred to as ‘soccer’ in the USA.

A ball with some flags of countries in North America and Concacaf

Canada – As they are neighbors with the United States, there is little surprise that the word ‘soccer’ was also adopted in Canada with ‘football’ remaining the ball carrying variation of the sport.

There is huge involvement in terms of the Canadian teams in the American soccer league known as Major League Soccer (MLS). CF Montréal, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC are Canadian teams in the MLS.

Ireland– As soccer became introduced in Ireland, both football and soccer terms became used. What is also popular in Ireland is ‘Gaelic football’.

This is where “the ball can be carried and can be kicked or passed with the hand.” To draw a distinction with soccer, they call it either football or soccer.

Other countries and regions– There are other notable countries that use the term ‘soccer’ around the world. They include; New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, South Philippines and Japan.

Why is soccer called football in England?

The English share a proud tradition when it comes to soccer. It comes as no surprise why they have such passionate fans and it comes almost catastrophic when they underperform?

Do you remember all the bashing that occurred when England failed to qualify for EURO 2008 after losing 3-2 to Croatia on that cold night at Wembley Stadium? The aftermath of failure bites even harder because they are one of the founding nations of the sport.

Going back to history, the sport known as ‘soccer’ has its origins in Britain in the mid 18th century. At the time, there were two sports that had similar concepts. They were Rugby Football and Association Football.

A ball with the England flag

Rugby football or ‘rugger’ featured players carrying the ball and running while Association Football had players using their feet to move the ball.

Later in England, Association football was just referred to as ‘football’ with rugby football being ‘rugger’ as its nickname and later just ‘rugby’ to what it is today.

Do they call soccer football in Australia?

In Australia, the concept of football that was adopted since inception was the ball carrying sport. It is the sport that has dominated the nation with millions of players taking part.

Match Highlights | Socceroos v Chinese Taipei | FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifier

Australians refer to the variation of the sport that uses the feet when being played as ‘soccer’. Even the men’s national team has a catchy name drawn from soccer and kangaroos (the main symbol of Australia’s wildlife) to make the ‘Socceroos’.

Does Japan call soccer football?

From the word ‘football’ and ‘soccer’ different languages have adapted variations of the two to mean the same sport. Japan’s variation of soccer is called ‘sakkā’. While ‘futtobōru’ is the variation of the football that is less used.

Most Japanese use the word ‘soccer’ as opposed to ‘football’ in their interactions. Unlike in the USA where ‘soccer’ is the dominant name, in Japan, there is a mixture with ‘football’ appearing in their governing body called Japan Football Association.

When the term football or soccer is used in Japan, there is no confusion over which sport is being referred to as they all identify as the one played with the feet.

a Japan flag is printed on the soccer field


There is no doubt soccer is the most popular sport in the world today. The power of soccer in terms of social impact and revolution is unrivaled when it comes to team sports.

Though it has its origins in Britain, the sport spread to other parts of the world with variations of the name being adapted depending on the language spoken and local dialects.

Even with the variations in language, the universal set of rules under the dominant body FIFA, has seen soccer grow from the grassroots level up to higher echelons of sporting greatness.

While soccer is a widely used term in the United States and Canada, ‘football’ has majorly been used in other parts of the world. In both cases, it goes down to interpretation to how the sport is played to provide meaning.

The common denominator is that they both conform to the same set of rules with 11 players in each team playing using the feet. With the evolution of soccer over the years, surely the only way is up!