We here at The Philly Soccer Page thought a lot about whether our name should include the word “soccer” or some variation of “football.” Given our Philadelphia roots one of those variations could have been “phootball.” Happily, this was not to be. In the end we went with soccer simply because it’s better understood on this side of the pond, not to mention more easily searchable by those who might be interested in what we have to say about the beautiful game. If you’ve watched David Beckham talk about the game on American television, you can probably understand our concern – you can almost see his brain waving a red flag to his mouth, warning, “Must not say ‘football’ . . . I am in America . . . Must say ‘soccer’ . . . I wish I was in Italy . . . I think I’ll get a haircut . . . ”
Americans take a lot of stick, particularly from Brits, about using the word “soccer.” This may in part be due to the fact that many people outside of the United States are confused that the game Americans call football, at least in terms of contact with the ball, barely involves the use of a foot, let alone the use of feet. (“Throwball” anyone?) But I think this is more likely due to some kind of cultural superiority complex, not to mention simple ignorance. Sure, it’s rude. But it is also unfair since the Brits are the ones who came up with the word “soccer” in the first place.
When the Football Association, or the FA, met at a pub in London to codify the rules of game in 1863, some of the attendees were just as interested in establishing uniform rules for rugby football, the game which is the forefather of American football, as others were in establishing uniform rules for association football, the proper name for the kind of football we call soccer. Whereas supporters of rugby football could simply refer to their game as “rugby,” “association football” is a bit of a mouthful and supporters of that game referred to it simply as “football,” thereby, no doubt, pissing off the rugby crowd so badly that their ears began to shrivel into a kind of cauliflower-like shape, the legacy of which is sadly apparent to this day. Others, probably following the conventions of university slang at the time, took “soc” from ”association” to form “socca” (around 1889),”socker” (around 1891) and finally “soccer” (1895).
The earliest use of a term other than association football that I’ve seen in an American source is from an article in an 1895 issue of Harper’s Weekly which notes that “Socker” is the word with which “the young Englishman sometimes familiarly dubs” the game. The first use of “socker” in the Philadelphia Inquirer is from a March 12, 1905 article about an upcoming match between Haverford and Harvard: “The playing of a game of association football between two prominent American colleges will mean that the great English game of ‘Socker,’ as they call it, is no longer to remain merely a club game.” Within a short time the Inquirer was regularly using “soccer.” Not too long after that the use of “association football” disappears almost entirely.
So, the next time one of your British friends makes some crack about the ridiculous and absurd “American word for football,” you can let them know that it’s actually all their fault. If they don’t believe you, tell them to look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary, that venerable repository of “proper English.” And while you’re at it, let them know how grateful you are that they didn’t call the game “asser.”