Why soccer? (by Garry Archer)

I am an Englishman that has taken on himself a personal crusade to respond to comments regarding the use of the "American" word for football. I have seen them over and over again on the worldwide computer news network, USENET, in its rec.sport.soccer newsgroup where I have been an active contributor for several years.

To love the game of football is to love it's rich history also. It particularly disturbs me when modern fans of the game less conversed in this history do not fully understand that the word "soccer" is an English, _not_ American word derived from the second syllable of the word "association".

"Soccer" was originally called "association football" during the formation of the Football Association in England in the 1860s. This was to maintain a distinction from the other football game being organized in England at the same time based on the handling codes, whilst Association Football conformed to the dribbling codes. The other football came to be known as "rugby" football, named after the Rugby School in England, where it is said that a certain young student, William Webb Ellis, picked up the ball in his hands during an association football match and ran with it over the goal line. Master Ellis asked his teacher, who was refereeing, if that was a goal. The reply was, "No, but it was a jolly good 'try'", which is where one of the rugby scoring terms comes from. Rugby Union was formally organized by 1871, but suffered another split by 1893 when Rugby League was formed. I digress.

Near the end of 1863, Charles Wreford-Brown, who later became a notable official of the Football Association, was asked by some friends at Oxford whether he cared to join them for a game of "rugger" (rugby). He is said to have refused, preferring instead to go for a game of "soccer" - a play on the word "association". The name caught on.

English public schoolboys love to nickname things, then as much as now. The tendency is to add "er" to the end of many words. Rugby [Union] Football became "rugby", and then "rugger". Association Football was better know as "assoccer" and naturally evolved into "soccer" which is much easier for a schoolboy to say...

Therefore, the word "soccer" has been used in the mother country of all football-type games since at least the mid-19th century. The word "football", however, was more descriptive of the game (i.e. kicking a ball with the feet!) and was the term more frequently used. The British exported the game, so naturally the word "football" was the name mostly used all over the world. In recent decades it has been noted that the word "soccer" is apparently increasing in usage. The word "football" still appears in formal designations, however, in for example, Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The word "soccer" is more commonly used in several countries around the world that play other forms of football. When Australians say "football", they mean Australian Rules football instead [Well in southern states they do, in the north they mean Rugby League]. The Irish have Gaelic football. In the USA and Canada, of course, there is Gridiron football. Rugby Union, Rugby League, Australian Rules, Gaelic, American and Canadian football all owe their roots to Association football. With the exception of Gaelic Football, they all use an ovoid shaped ball. None is as popular around the world as Association football.

"Football" is the world standard name for "soccer". I always used the word "football" (and still do, wherever I can). The word "soccer", however, is ingrained into the origins of the modern game of association football as much as any other aspect of The Game much of the world enjoys today.

Finally, it must be remembered that British football, both association and rugby, had been organized in the 19th century by people in the upper echelons of the English educational system, from "exotic" schools, colleges and universities as Harrow, Eton, Oxford and Cambridge, just for starters. As I stated earlier, students of the Victorian era, as much as now, loved nicknames and "soccer" and "rugger" were the accepted everyday names for those people. These were sports for gentlemen.

When the games were taken up by those less fortunate enough to have received the higher (and more expensive) levels of education the game of soccer became very popular with the masses. Rugger, less so. As the rules became increasingly divergent between the two sports, soccer became the people's sport and rugger remained more of a "gentleman's" game.

Ever heard the phrase, "Soccer is a gentleman's game played by ruffians and Rugby is a ruffian's game played by gentlemen"?

So "soccer" was a fanciful, gentleman's name for the sport. The mere, common man started to call it "football" for the obvious reason that it's a game about a ball kicked with the foot. The game, and the word, was exported by British workers, students and merchant and naval seamen all over the world in the latter 19th and early 20th century... and the name, and the game, blossomed.

I prefer to call it "footy" myself!

Yours in football,

Garry Archer