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Soccer: More than a Word

What is the definition of the word soccer? 

Soccer definition according to the Oxford dictionary:

Soccer Definition

Although North Americans get a bad rap for using the word, it is the British who are the true guilty party. And the ones that came up with the soccer definition long ago. In fact, according to studies, the use of the word “soccer” only stopped being widely used in the United Kingdom during the 1980s.

Research suggests that the name “soccer” declined in the UK during the heyday of the North American Soccer League. This influenced British fans to forget the word and change the soccer definition. In a way, it was to differentiate the sport in the two countries and perhaps a reaction to the perceived bastardization of the game. It was then that publications in the UK decided to use the term “football” as the dominant name instead. And now, it is practically the only word in the UK used for the sport.

Origins of Football and Soccer

The name “soccer” has a lot more to do with the origins of the game known as football – or association football – than many believe. The word “soccer” originated in Oxford, a university town in England with a strong attachment to rugby, more than 200 years ago. Yet, at the time, the two sports – rugby and soccer – were both known as football.

There was a need to differentiate the two sports. So, one become rugby football or rugger for short, and the other became known as soccer.

Soccer and Rugby facts

  • There are two types of rugby: Union and League. In England, Rugby League is played more in the northern part of the country, while Rugby Union is more popular in the south. Both have very different rules.
  • Prior to 1975, the United States Soccer Federation was actually known as the United States Soccer Football Federation.
  • In the UK, the sport American’s call football is either known as American football or gridiron football.

“Soccer” was created thanks to the Oxfordian dialect. The tradition of putting an “-er” on the end of words helped to create a new name for the sport. Taking the “soc” from association, the locals doubled the “c” added the two letter ending, and thus “soccer” was created.

The Spread of Soccer

With that, a new word for the sport was born and used regularly in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, thanks to the influence of the British on the sport around the world, other countries – especially former British colonies – began to use the word, too.

While British football fans complain about Americans using the word “soccer” to describe their national sport, it is regularly used in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and most parts of Asia today. Look at the Australian national team and you will quickly find the team’s nickname is the Socceroos.

In Australia, the word football is often used to describe the sport many know as Aussie Rules – or Aussie Rules Football. The name soccer differentiates between the two sports down under, and surprisingly, the Aussies don’t get the flack the Yanks do, if any. But perhaps their soccer definition is more in-line with the British mentality.

Changing North American Culture

Interestingly, with the new interest in the sport in North America, the term “football” has become more prevalent when referring to the sport known as soccer.

When Major League Soccer formed in the mid-1990s, there was a backlash from many long-time fans and even players. The backlash resulted from the Americanization of the sport in both team name and on field rules. Over the years, MLS teams have tried to become more European and South American in name, and by doing so, have helped bring in new fans. Although that is only part of the reason new fans have been created.

MLS Originals

Looking back at the original 10 MLS team names, you find only two franchises have changed their names to more European football monikers. Meanwhile, one has changed its name to be in-line with a major European energy drink.

Yet, it is the newer clubs that have joined since 2007 – the year that marked the beginning of MLS’s most recent growth – that have really taken on the idea that they are football teams and not soccer clubs. Toronto FC, New York City FC, Atlanta United FC, Minnesota United FC, Seattle Sounders FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC have all embraced football rather than soccer.

 MLS inaugural season 1996

Eastern Conference

  • Tampa Bay Mutiny – franchise was contracted in 2001.
  • DC United – the most English football MLS team name of any original franchise.
  • New York/New Jersey Metrostars – became the New York Red Bulls in 2006.
  • Columbus Crew – have continued with the name, but have now added soccer club (SC) to the original moniker to become Columbus Crew SC.
  • New England Revolution – despite some encouragement to change names from fans, the team has kept it. After more than 20 seasons in MLS, many feel it is now too late to rebrand.

Western Conference

  • Los Angeles Galaxy – in recent years the Galaxy has shortened the Los Angeles to just LA. But that could change with the addition of LAFC.
  • Dallas Burn – Dallas rebranded to FC Dallas in 2005 when it moved into Toyota Stadium.
  • Kansas City Wiz – Kansas City has undergone two name changes. After a season as the Wiz, the team became the Wizards. In 2010 the team rebranded to become Sporting KC prior to moving into the team’s new stadium.
  • San Jose Clash – the Clash changed its name to the Earthquakes in 1999, keeping with an Americanized name that harkened back to the old NASL days in the Bay. In 2005, the team moved to Houston for the ’06 season, changing its name to the Dynamo. The team returned in 2008 as an expansion franchise.
  • Colorado Rapids – the Rapids have kept their team name throughout, despite moving into a new stadium and changing team colors

The Future of Soccer as a Word

If the sport continues to grow in North America, the term “soccer” could become obsolete in the future. Of course, this is only hypothetical as the word “soccer” will most likely still be used by people that are not fans or players of the sport. There will always need to be a difference made between the two sports in North America, soccer, and football, but the soccer definition that American's use will continue to be football at heart.

By Drew Farmer, author of Soccer Travels


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