I came to the U.S. to study at Northwestern College and play soccer, but I was surprised why the most popular sport in the world is called “soccer” and not “football.” I first thought that it was due to the basic attitude of the American people to do everything a little differently. Americans tend to try and separate themselves from the rest of the world through their terminology. A few examples of this are their preference of Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, using the Anglo-American system of measurement instead of the metric system, or using gallons and ounces instead of liters for volume units. In addition, Americans already have their version of football, internationally known as “American football,” which would otherwise be confusing. However, the reason for the name development of soccer is none of the above.
To find it, one must go back to the origins of the sports of football and soccer. Both mentioned sports have their origin in the Great Britain of the 18th century. At that time, there was only football, which was a mixture of today’s soccer and rugby. However, it differed from place to place. In 1863, this ancient football was divided into “rugby football” and “associated football,” and for the first time, there were clear and uniformed rules, as well as the ancient mixture, which was called “gridiron.”
These sports came to America with the immigration wave around 1900. The Americans developed their mixture of the above-mentioned sports, which is very similar to the gridiron. However, they gave this sport the name “football.” That’s why Associated Football became soc and later soccer, while rugby football became rugby. This name development also took place in parallel in Great Britain, however, there were rugby, gridiron, and football; the term soccer was used for the same sport as football. According to Szymanski, “Since 1980 the usage of the word ‘soccer’ has declined in British publications, and where it is used, it usually refers to an American context. This decline seems to be a reaction against the increased usage in the US which seems to be associated with the highpoint of the NASL [North American Soccer League] around 1980.”
Thus, it can be said that the British merely banned and abhorred the term soccer so that they could distance themselves from the Americans. The term soccer, however, has nothing to do with a gradation of the sport but only the classification of similar sports.
In summary, we can say that soccer developed from the term “associated football” and nowadays it is used only in the U.S. because Great Britain distanced itself from the term. It may seem at first that it was just Americans being Americans, but there is a very logical cultural reason why Americans chose to call the sport soccer.