Sports-Column Repost #14
On the Mark: Why It’s Called ‘Soccer’ in the United States
By MARK LORENZANA
(Originally posted on July 25, 2022, in PNM)
There has been a lot of soccer news lately.
Two columns ago, I wrote about a particularly bad stretch for Mexican soccer: how the Mexican Women’s National Soccer Team went winless in the recently concluded CONCACAF W championship despite hosting the tournament here in Mexico, about how Mexico’s U-20 National Men’s Soccer Team suffered a shocking defeat to underdog Guatemala at the quarterfinals of the pre-World Cup tournament in Honduras and how the Mexican Men’s National Soccer Team failed to win a single game against opposing teams that have also qualified for the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar in November.
Still in Mexican soccer, French star André-Pierre Gignac, who plays for Tigres UANL of the Liga MX, will miss the “MLS All-Stars vs. Liga MX All-Stars” game on Aug. 10 at the Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minnesota, after he was removed from the roster of Liga MX players traveling to the United States next month. The United States is still requiring non-U.S. resident visitors to be vaccinated against covid-19 to be admitted to the country. Gignac has so far refused the covid-19 vaccine because of religious reasons.
In international soccer, Barcelona defeated Real Madrid, 1-0, on the night of Saturday, July 23, in their much-anticipated pre-season El Clásico match at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
Most importantly, in Philippine soccer — and this is a matter of personal pride for me, as a Filipino sportswriter based here in Mexico City — the Philippine Women’s Soccer Team won its first-ever AFF Women’s Championship (a soccer tournament organized by the ASEAN Football Federation, which includes national teams from Southeast Asia and Australia) by beating four-time champion Thailand on Sunday, July 17, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila, the Philippines.
Indeed, it’s a very eventful period for soccer fans worldwide.
But that’s not the issue here.
It’s still strange for me to be writing “soccer” instead of “football” in this article. That’s the issue.
In the Philippines, we refer to “soccer” as “football.” Here in Mexico — and in Guatemala and Costa Rica, where I lived for a time as a backpacker — soccer fans say “fútbol” (mostly in Latin America, essentially), and it’s normal. Whenever I’m in the United States, though, and I talk about sports with my Filipino-American cousins, I revert to “soccer” when the conversation moves into MLS territory — by the way, MLS: Major League Soccer.
When I write for Pulse News Mexico, I need to call it soccer because we have a lot of readers from the United States. Whenever I’m in the United States, I need to call it soccer; otherwise, my cousins will think I’m referring to “American football,” which, in the United States of America, is only “football.”
So now you might be thinking that this whole soccer thing is the fault of Americans. Right?
Not so fast.
After some research, I found out that it was actually the “fault” of the British — believe it or not.
You’re asking right now: “Why? It’s also called football in Great Britain. Isn’t it?”
Correct. But according to a paper by University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski (and this entry from Encyclopædia Britannica), the word “soccer” comes from the use of the term “association football” in Britain and goes back 200 years.
In the early 1800s, several universities in Britain started playing their own version, or versions, of a medieval sport of “football” — all under different rules, and that was the problem. To solve this problem, and in an attempt to standardize rules across the country, the two different games that were derived from the original medieval football were also called different names.
“Rugby,” which is played mostly using the hands — and is very popular not only in Britain but also in Australia and New Zealand — is the shortened version of the sport that was back then called “rugger football.” Modern-day soccer — or fútbol in Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America — which is played mostly with the feet, was then called “association football,” which was shortened to “asoccer” and then eventually “soccer.”
After these two sports gained popularity, Americans then created their own variant of the game — American football — that they simply called “football” in the early 1900s. Which is what my cousins in the United States simply call football and which what Mexicans call fútbol americano.
The interesting thing here is that, as Szymanski discovered and has written in his paper, the British still referred to the word “soccer” regularly for the majority of the 20th century. In fact, between 1960 and 1980, the words “soccer” and “football” were almost interchangeable in Britain, according to Szymanski. Then everything changed.
“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 United States, which seems to be associated with the high point of the NASL (the now-defunct North American Soccer League), around 1980,” Szymanski wrote in his paper.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica entry, “In places where ‘football’ can be ambiguous, ‘soccer’ is usefully precise.” Like in the United States.
So yes, I’m a Filipino sportswriter in Mexico stuck with writing “soccer” instead of “football” for Pulse News Mexico because of our American readers.
The terminology comes with the territory, I guess.