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Football vs. Soccer

No, this is not a debate about the merits of The Sport of American Football vs. The Sport of Soccer. This is a debate about whether the sport we know as "soccer" in the U.S. should be called soccer or football, by an enthusiast living here in the U.S.

First, not many people realize this, but the word soccer comes from an abbreviation of the term, Association Football, which was what soccer was first called in England to distinguish it from rugby football, which is apparently also called football by really old people in the U.K. How you get to the word "soccer" from the words "Association Football" is beyond me. But you can see the "soc" there in the word "association." Anyway, it seems that in the U.K. people use football and soccer interchangeably, with a heavy preference for the word football.

So, can and should a U.S. soccer fan refer to soccer as football? Here's my take:

Reasons for it:

1.) If you look at the game itself, it really makes a lot more sense to refer to soccer as "football" than it does to call American Football "football." To me this is an air-tight argument.

2.) The game is called "football" or "futbol" literally everywhere else in the world except the U.S. and Canada. So in an effort to be culturally aware, when you sit down to watch an English Premier League game, you really are correct saying that you are watching "football."

3.) It's also just fun to purposely fly in the face of accepted terminology once in a while. But be wary, you will ruffle some feathers with this. Get into a bar or a heated conversation and start throwing the word "football" around for soccer, and you will get some flak. If enough alcohol is involved, and you're in the wrong place, you may get into a fight.

4.) Related to #2 I suppose, but calling the game "football" is a way to express a connection with the deep heritage and tradition of the game, and with your millions of brothers and sisters around the world who follow it as well.

Reasons against it:

1.) There is something to be said for speaking in your own vernacular. Regardless what they do in the rest of the world, the American word for soccer is soccer, and what we mean when we say football is American Football. If you spent the first 10 - 12 years of your life in America, try as you might, you will never undo this syntactic connection in your brain. It's impossible to fight it and, kind of ridiculous unless you can ever lay claim to having grown up in a foreign country. Plus, if you want to be understood and not have to explain yourself all the time, you just call it soccer.

2.) Unless you're doing it out of spite or stubbornness (perfectly valid reasons) it's a bit of a pretentious affection. Would you walk around calling soccer "calcio" because that's what they call it in Italy? Or would you call a flashlight a "torch" or your running shoes your "trainers" and expect to be taken seriously? No. And neither can any American who calls soccer "football" without a mischievous gleam in his eye.

The Verdict:

Call it whatever you want and own it. Just know that you will suffer the consequences such as a.) people thinking you're pretentious, and b.) having to explain yourself. I've gone through a phase of referring to it as "football" but that quickly disappeared because it confuses non-soccer fans too easily and, I'm American, I live in America, and therefore I speak American English. Once I stopped remembering to call soccer football, I quickly reverted to calling it soccer, and always will.

That said I highly encourage you to pepper the word "football" in there whenever you get the chance, in reference to soccer. It's fun to throw people off and it may even start some interesting conversations or bar fights.


Grace McQueeny said…
After living in Ireland, I got very used to called soccer "football." I don't plan on going back.

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