The Surprising Origin of Soccer

The surprising origin of the word soccer and why it's not American
The word “soccer” was coined in England, not America.


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For those in a hurry

  • Soccer is a popular sport played all over the world.
  • The modern version of it was developed in England in the late 19th century.
  • The word “soccer” was coined in England as a way of differentiating between variants of the game that had different rules.
  • The word “soccer” was widely used in England until the 1980s, when it became associated with American culture.
  • The original name of it was association football, which is still used in some countries.

How it evolved from ancient games

Soccer is not a new invention. People have been kicking balls around for centuries, in different forms and with different rules. Some of the earliest examples of it – like games can be traced back to ancient civilizations like China, Greece, or Rome, where people kicked a ball made from leather or animal skin. The Aztecs may have also invented a similar game called Tchatali, where the ball had to go through a stone hoop.

However, these games were not very organized or standardized. They often involved large numbers of players, violent clashes, and few regulations. They were more like chaotic street fights than sports.

How England shaped modern soccer

The birthplace of modern soccer is England, where the game underwent a major transformation in the late 19th century. In 1863, a group of clubs and schools formed the Football Association, the first governing body of soccer. They wrote down a set of rules that defined how the game should be played, such as the size of the field, the number of players, and the duration of the match.

The Football Association also distinguished between two variants of the game that had different rules: rugby football and association football. Rugby football allowed players to carry and run with the ball, while association football did not. The latter became known as just football in England, while the former became known as rugby.

How “soccer” became a nickname for association football

The word “soccer” was derived from association football by adding the suffix “-er”, which was a common way of forming slang words in England at that time. For example, rugby football was also called “rugger”. The word “soccer” was first recorded in 1889, and it was widely used by students at Oxford University.

The word “soccer” was not an American invention. It was actually more popular in England than in the United States for most of the 20th century. It was also used in other countries, such as Australia, Canada, and South Africa.

How “soccer” became associated with American culture

The word “soccer” started to lose favor in England in the 1980s, when it became seen as a symbol of American influence and culture. This was partly because of the popularity of American football, which was also called football in the United States. Many Britons felt that Americans were trying to claim ownership of their national sport by using their own name for it.

Another reason why “soccer” became unpopular in England was because of the rise of hooliganism, which tarnished the image of soccer as a sport. Many fans preferred to use the word “football” to distance themselves from the violence and disorder that plagued some matches.

Today, most people in England call their favorite sport “football”, while most people in the United States call it “soccer”. However, there are still some countries that use both terms interchangeably, such as Ireland and New Zealand.