Known to most of the rest of the world as football, or “fútbol,” the beautiful game is almost exclusively referred to as soccer in the United States, but many Americans may be surprised to learn that our outlier moniker actually originated across the pond.
Games played by kicking, hitting, throwing or carrying a ball have been around for thousands of years, but in the mid-to-late-19th century many sports—such as baseball, soccer, and American football—codified their rulebooks into the forms we recognize today. Modern soccer was born in 1863, when representatives from several English schools and clubs got together to standardize a single set of rules for their matches. They dubbed their new organization the Football Association, and their version of the game became known as “Association Football.” The word association was used to distinguish their specific sport from other popular games of the day such as “rugby football.”
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 parallel names soccer and football (or the combined soccer football) were used more or less interchangeably to refer to association football until well into the 20th century, at which point football emerged as the dominant name in most parts of the world. However, in countries where another football variety was already popular—such as America and Australia—the name soccer stuck around.
Recommended for you
Watch exclusive documentaries covering soccer’s biggest moments, greatest players, and godfathers—just in time for the World Cup. Start your free trial today!