“A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”
Little did William Shakespeare know that the same words would apply to one of today’s ongoing terminological rivalries that stretches across the Atlantic – the debate between association football and soccer.
Or as the Men in Blazers podcast once put it, football is “America’s sport of the future. Just like since 1972.”
No one walked away with bragging rights as the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) shared a goalless draw with England in their Group B World Cup match on Friday.
Football, or soccer, has been around for centuries, with roots stretching back over 2,000 years, but it wasn’t until 1863 that the Football Association of England (FA) cemented the full name of Sports Association Football when they first laid down the Laws of the Game.
Ebenezer Morley advanced the idea that “football should have a set of rules like the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) had for cricket”…to unify the game under a single set of rules and regulations.
The addition of the word association was intended to avoid confusion with other popular forms of football played at the time, notably rugby football.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “In the 1880s, linguistically creative students at Oxford University made a distinction between the sports of rugger (rugby football) and ‘assoccer’ (association football).
“The latter term was further shortened to ‘soccer’ (sometimes spelled ‘socker’), and the name quickly spread beyond campus.”
By the time association football and its round ball crossed the Atlantic, American football was already the popular game that claimed the name football.
Unlike association football, American football is a game played primarily with hands and uses an oval-shaped ball.
Fast forward to 1974 when the United States Soccer Football Association (USSFA) – the sport’s governing body in the United States – distanced itself from the word soccer by changing its name to the United States Soccer Federation, commonly referred to as USSF (US Soccer). .
By the 1980s, the term football was less and less favored by the British as a word to describe global sport and is now rarely used in the UK and much of the world.
“Other countries where the word football is in use are those that, like the United States, have competing forms of football,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
“Canada, for example, has its own version of gridiron football; Ireland is the home of Gaelic football; and Australia is crazy about Australian Rules Football (which is derived from rugby). Where football can be ambiguous, football is usefully precise.”
In 1994, soccer fever reached a fever pitch when the USA hosted the World Cup.
According to Reuters, the average attendance at World Cup matches this year set a staggering new record of 68,991 – a record that still stands almost 30 years later.
Nowadays, in the United States, the word football is normally only used in connection with soccer when certain clubs – for example New York City FC and FC Cincinnati – have an FC (football club) in their name.
Friday’s game between England and the USMNT was their 12th meeting, although the teams had only met twice before at a World Cup, in the 1950 and 2010 tournaments.
England suffered defeat in the 1950 game in what has been called “the greatest upset of all time in international football” (US Soccer), while the two teams drew in 2010.
However, England clearly have the upper hand in encounters between these two countries, having won eight of those encounters.
Wherever you stand on the word rivalry surrounding football or soccer, maybe there’s one thing we can all agree on: enjoying what’s been described by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) – the organization known as the “Guardians of the rules of the game”. – as “the greatest sport in the world… played on every continent, in every country and at many different levels.”