Arsenal America fans: it’s called soccer and that’s okay


Nike got this one right....


Sigh. Unfortunately, Americans feel like they can’t say the word “soccer.” Somehow it’s wrong or dirty.  Sometimes fans get a little too emotional, it’s all very “The Soccer Dialogues.” Some guy hoists a beer and starts talking about what the word “soccer” means to him, from his days as a young AYSO player, while a bunch of other fans nod their heads knowingly.  Then another fan steps up and talks about all the stick he takes, if any Brits are around, yelling at him for using the word “soccer” because “it’s called football since it’s played with your feet!”  Another cries softly as he talks about his embarrassment, when he accidently said “soccer,” but he meant to say football and everyone looked at him funny.  He tries so hard to fit in!  Until finally, one fan stands up, looks at the others in turn, looks to the ceiling and shares an eye-opening discovery that changed his life: It’s okay to say: soccer.

I exaggerate, somewhat. I mean, in the US the “S” word doesn’t come up much as an issue.  We just say soccer and move on.  But recently I was speaking with another American Gooner about whether we should use soccer or football in our writings since the posts have a global readership.  One issue was whether Americans lose “respect” by using the term.  (Imagine me shrugging shoulders at this point). But, as my compatriot aptly pointed out, opinions on the topic are strong.

Here’s the thing: no one country owns the beautiful game.  Each country adds their cultural twists and turns.  Each country has to have its own history.

It all begins with the word “football

People love to say Americans are stupid because football obviously requires a ball at your feet, hence the name “foot+ball”.  As opposed to say American football where the ball can be thrown.  But if it were that simple, don’t you think Americans would have thought of that.  Xenophobia aside, be reasonable.

The word “football” is actually a bit more generic; it’s an old term, and by old I mean hundreds of years old, referring to a sport played on foot with a ball, as opposed to on horse with a ball.  So in that sense, football refers to a type of sport, not a specific sport; American football, football/soccer, baseball, rugby, basketball, cricket, all would be “football” under the original meaning.  But hunting or Polo would not be football.

As for American football, enthusiasts would be angered if I didn’t point out that in the beginning, the players only ran with the ball, they didn’t throw it. That’s a modification on the original game.  Something that makes sense since American football is just rugby’s illegitimate child.  Which takes us to the next point.

Rugby is football; soccer is football

In the 1800s, two sports competed for the high honor of claiming the one name “football” -rugby football and association football.  There was no FIFA in those days so the officials were much better, but the rules were a little more unsettled.  Anyway, soccer/football was called “association football.” Or, affectionately called soccer! Yes.  The word soccer comes from England, not America.


This sort of looks familiar to Americans


In England, “soccer” eventually won out over rugby as the national sport, as it did in most other places.  As a result, association football became the one and only football and rugby became, well, rugby.

That said, Americans have always gone their own way and sport is no different.  In America, the rough and tumble of rugby won our hearts.

Illegitimate children


Rugby, meet your long-lost child football


In the winner take all contest for the hearts and minds of American and Brits, this was high-stakes poker: rugby football versus association soccer. The winner takes the name football.  In the United States, rugby won.

Believe it or not, Americans love rugby, or at least rugby’s derivation: American football.  The football that we grow up with is rugby that has been tweaked and modified from the original form.  Today, the professional league of rugby in the US is the best run league in all professional sports, in all the world for that matter; it’s call the National Football League (NFL).


Quality Entertainment


It might be easier to think of it this way though, in the hearts and minds of the US back in the 1800s, rugby won and soccer lost.  But in England, soccer won and rugby lost.  Yes of course both still exist, but we’re talking about the mainstream popularity of the sport.  And since winners get to name the battle, soccer in England took the name football.


How to be classy

As much as it annoys me to put up with people that feel entitled to yell at Americans about using the word soccer, I still try to adapt.  When I’m in London or Europe, I say football –cultural sensitivity and all that.  No big deal.  After all, that’s what the sport is called there.  But if you say football in the US, even most US soccer fans will assume you’re talking about American football.


Yeah, so this was like Calcio back in the day...still slow


It’s foolish, however, to think that soccer is uniform across the world.  For instance, Italy calls it Calcio or “kick”, something much more descriptive of the actual game.  This name isn’t football or soccer; rather, it comes from an old Italian game very similar to soccer that developed independently of England, actually, in a form similar to rugby.  In any case, the point is, England may be the roots of the modern game, but nothing says English terms must control everything.

Or take, for example, a team’s uniform.  In the US, we refer to the team’s uniform as a jersey. But in England they use the word “kit”.  In Spain they use the word camiseta.

Some might say, “Wait! Spanish is another language.  Americans speak English.  So we should use the English terms.”


Should we say, “boot” instead of trunk?  Should we say “loo” instead of restroom?  Should we say “lift” instead of elevator?  Should we say, “mate” instead of amigo?  No.  Of course not.  Languages change and differ.  It’s part of their beauty and failings.  It’s kit there, jersey here and camiseta somewhere else.  No big deal.  Let the English say football, the Italians say calico and American say soccer. It’s all the beautiful game and we all know what we mean.

The word soccer my fellow Americans is not a dirty word, it just points out the obvious: Americans have our own history.  So the next time someone asks why it’s called soccer –look’m straight in the eye and say.  Cause this is America.



  1. Nice article, soccer rulez! 🙂

  2. I agree in America, the national team, and the MLS is just that, Soccer, and that is okay. Its not a bad word. However, we support Arsenal Football Club, not Arsenal Soccer Club. As a representative of the Arsenal Football Club, I think that it is important for maintaining the club’s integrity, that we educate people about football. Soccer is a sport we play in America (and is also played in Australia), and yes, just like you’ve said, it has its cultural changes in expression, but as we are educating those on our Football Club, it is important that we as a community reflect its traditions, and that includes the language, since it is English. We’ve made our own Soccer in this country, but this is about AFC.

    Interestingly enough, the word Soccer did come from England. There were Ruggers that played Rugby and Soccers that played Association Football. Weirdly enough, Ruggers never caught on, and only 2 of England’s succeeded nations kept the term going.

    • Thanks for your response. This is the discourse I was looking for. In response,

      I understand your point; but I think it’s a stretch. I don’t know anyone that refers to Arsenal as Arsenal Soccer Club. Additionally, I think that goes to my point: when speaking in an English context we use the word football, i.e Arsenal Football Club. But Americans don’t need to be restricted to that, let alone feel bad for it! Otherwise, if we adhere strictly to what I understand you as saying, whenever we talk about an Italian club we need to say calcio, we can’t say soccer or football.

      Finally, I don’t see how it is distracting to use the word soccer when educating people on Arsenal FC. As noted above, nobody calls it Arsenal Soccer Club. Americans that aren’t even soccer fans are aware of the difference in terms. But I think that anyone interested in learning about the sport just has to learn these things: soccer here, football there, calcio in Italy. 🙂 That’s part of learning process, globalization doesn’t mean uniformity.


  3. Good one C, I like the term futbol americano, it encompasses America, English and Spanish norms into one semi-logical package.

    • Next time I’ll strive for logical 🙂

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