Have you ever wondered where the word soccer actually came from? Isn’t it odd that we call the sport soccer when the entire rest of the planet calls it football. We do use our feet, don’t we?
Most people know that soccer has been around for a long time. The Chinese were known to kick the ball around thousands of years ago. In the medieval days, when a criminal was beheaded, his head was kicked from city to city in a morbid game to show the peasants the punishment of the times. It was not until the 1800’s when the English decided to create some rules for the game the world calls football.
When these rules were codified, soccer was named association football which was abbreviated to “assoc. football.” This was to maintain a distinction from the other game being developed in England which we now call rugby. This was named after the Rugby School in England where it is said that, during a soccer match, a certain young student, William Webb Ellis, picked up the ball in his hands and ran with it over the goal line. The hand ball was called, of course, but this created a whole new idea of carrying the ball with the hands which evolved into rugby in England and later in our country as American football.
England, schoolboys love to nickname things, and it was common to add “er” to the end of many words. Assoc. football was nicknamed “assoccer” and evolved into “soccer” which was much easier to say.
English football, both association and rugby, had been organized by people in the upper echelons of the English educational system, from colleges such as Oxford and Cambridge. Soccer and rugby were sports for “gentlemen.” When the games were taken up by those who could not afford the higher education, soccer became very popular with the masses. As the rules became increasingly divergent between soccer and rugby, soccer became the people’s sport and rugby remained more of a “gentleman’s” game. In England, there is a phrase, “Soccer is a gentleman’s game played by ruffians and rugby is a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen!”
Because of its links to the wealthier class, Football Association, “soccer” remained a snooty, gentleman’s name for the sport. The mere, common folk 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, merchants and naval seamen all over the world in the latter 19th and early 20th century and the name and the game spread throughout the world! Even today around the globe, the sport is the working class sport or more appropriately, the “People’s Sport”.
In the United States, the young country did not want any attachments to England and so the foreign sport was relegated to the colleges and universities and denied access to the mainstream of American sports. Many immigrants passionately wanted to play their native sport and even today we see soccer leagues made up of Mexicans, Brazilians, English, Germans, Italians and any other country where soccer was played.
The term football, however, attached to the more accepted American football and when soccer was finally acknowledged by the American elite, it retained the name soccer to differentiate itself from the other oddly-named sport of American football.
As we all know, soccer has grown tremendously in this country and the people’s game is finally starting to make it in the mainstream. Before, when people ask about football, they used to talk of the NFL. Now, people say, “what…you mean soccer?”