Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and fans from every continent flock to the World Cup every four years. However, it’s only fans in North America who still call the sport “soccer”; to the rest of the world, it’s “football.” This distinction is rooted in soccer’s origins in England and the clarification of rules to distinguish it from rugby.
Kicking a ball around a field has been done in some form or another for around 2,000 years, and while in more modern times schools played kicking games based on their own rules, in the mid-1800s seven public schools in England got together to codify rules of a foot-based game. This was known as “association football.” This association became an official governing body when “undergraduates at Cambridge tried to unify the rules in the mid-to-late 1840s and those rules would largely be accepted on the evening of 26 October 1863,” according to the Football Association of England. However, Rugby School wanted to keep a rule that allowed players to run with the ball in their hands. This conflict led to a new sport called rugby. If the other six schools played the early version of modern soccer, then Rugby School played the earliest version of American football.
Early History of Soccer
The word “soccer” derives from a slang term using the “soc” part of the word “association.” Rugby players played “rugger” and association football players played “soccer,” according to historian Bill Murray in “The World’s Game: A History of Soccer.” The dispute arose when rugby players thought soccer, by restricting players to just kicking the ball and not “hacking (kicking) each other,” would threaten “the essential ‘manliness’ of football, and sneered that such sissy reforms would reduce the game to something more suited to the French.”
The Boston Oneida
Richard Witzig, in his book “The Global Art of Soccer,” claims that “the USA was the first country outside of England to organize a soccer team, the Boston Oneida Football Club in 1862.” This was the start, in North America, of the continuing confusion over what term should be used to define the sport. Oneida won every match it played and never even conceded a goal. Although this team existed only for four years, the popularity of the sport grew in the northeastern universities. Shortly after 1873, “university soccer was nearly forgotten by the meteoric rise of the indigenous USA-football, and USA soccer was forced to hibernate in immigrant enclaves.”
The United States Soccer Federation
The USSF highlights the confusion that has permeated U.S. sporting culture for more than 100 years. At the turn of the 20th century, according to Witzig, the United States had two competing soccer associations, the American Amateur Football Association and the American Football Association, both of which represented soccer clubs across the country. The merged United States Football Association, or USFA, joined the Federation of International Football Association in 1914. This continued until after World War II, when the United States Soccer Football Federation took over running the game. The final name change, in 1974, to United States Soccer Federation, cemented the “soccer” terminology in American sporting cultural language.
• The Washington Times: It’s Called Soccer. Deal With It
• US Embassy: Soccer
• Hornet Football: History of Football
• “Spiegel Online”; It’s Called Soccer; Michael Scott Moore; July 2006
• ‘The Global Art of Soccer; Richard Witzig; 2006’