“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
William Shakespeare had no idea that those same words would apply to one of today’s ongoing terminology rivalries stretching across the Atlantic – the debate of association football versus soccer.
Or as the Men in Blazers podcast once put it, soccer is “America’s Sport of the Future. As it has been since 1972.”
Nobody walked away with the bragging rights as the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) shared a goalless draw with England in their World Cup Group B match on Friday.
Football, or soccer, has been around for centuries with its roots dating back over 2,000 years ago, but it was not until 1863 that England’s Football Association (the FA) cemented the sport’s full name of Association Football when they established the game’s first rules.
Ebenezer Morley spearheaded the idea “that football should have a set of rules in the same way that the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) had them for cricket” … unifying the game under a consistent set of rules and regulations.
The addition of the word association was to prevent confusion with other popular forms of football played at that time, most notably rugby football.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “linguistically creative students at the University of Oxford in the 1880s distinguished between the sports of rugger (rugby football) and ‘assoccer’ (association football).
“The latter term was further shortened to “soccer” (sometimes spelled “socker”), and the name quickly spread beyond the campus.”
By the time association football and its round ball made its way across the Atlantic, American Football was already the popular game claiming the name of football.
Unlike association football, American football is a game played mostly with one’s hands and uses an oval ball.
Fast forward to 1974 and the United States Soccer Football Association (USSFA) – the sport’s governing body in the US – distanced itself from the word football by changing its name to the United States Soccer Federation, commonly referred to as the USSF (US Soccer).
By the 1980s, the term soccer became less and less favored by the British as the word to describe the global sport and today is rarely used throughout the United Kingdom and also for much of the world.
“Other countries where the word soccer is common include those that, like the United States, have competing forms of football,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
“For instance, Canada has its own version of gridiron football; Ireland is home to Gaelic football; and Australia is mad about Australian rules football (which is derived from rugby). In places where football can be ambiguous, soccer is usefully precise.”
In 1994, soccer fever reached a highpoint as the US hosted the World Cup.
According to Reuters, the average attendance at World Cup matches that year set an astonishing new record of 68,991 – a record that still holds strong almost 30 years later.
Nowadays in the US, the only time you usually see the word football used in relation to soccer is when certain clubs – for example New York City FC and FC Cincinnati – have an FC (football club) in their name.
Friday’s game between England and the USMNT was their 12th meeting, though the teams had only ever met twice previously in a World Cup, at the 1950 and 2010 tournaments.
England suffered a loss in the 1950 match in what was called “the biggest upset ever in international soccer” (US Soccer), while the two teams drew in 2010.
However, England comfortably holds the upper hand in meetings between these two countries, having won eight of those encounters.
Wherever you stand on the word rivalry surrounding football or soccer, perhaps there is one thing we can all agree on: to enjoy what’s been described by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) – the organization seen as “the guardians of the game’s laws” – as “the greatest sport on earth … played on every continent, in every country and at many different levels.”