That Word “Soccer”

There have been a lot of – mostly – young – mostly – men on the web lately, all making the same point very loudly: it’s called “football”, in this country, yanks, not “soccer” (the real wastes of time will spell it “sawker” or some such at this point).

Even sensible people can fall into the trap, it seems:

And then there was his use of the “s” word: “soccer” this, “soccer” that. David, pet: we both know that’s not proper English, ain’ it? We both know you only said “soccer” to please the Yanks.

(Incidentally, I’m cherrypicking – the rest of Dave’s article is excellent).

There are plenty more examples where those came from should you really want to see some.

Two assumptions run through all of this, often at the same time.

  1. It is in some way annoying or insulting that “soccer” is the coinage in the US, so much so that that annoyance or insult demands expression.
  2. Those who will admit that “soccer” is a word of English origin will usually get around that by claiming that a group of people who can be written off as “toffs” came up with it, and that it fell into disuse before the World Wars.

In actual fact, the word has fallen into relative disuse in England, but only very recently. And the evidence is that it was, until recently, a “down-to-earth” “working class” word (I’m grinding my teeth here: can you tell?).

What’s worse for my army of young men is that the word is in common international use, and not just in the US.

Let’s start with some football annuals. All of the following are entirely British:

Charles Buchan’s Soccer Gift Book 1955-6:

Oh, Charlie: how could you use such non-English English? Surely lovely, plummy Ken Wolstenholme will put you right, ten years later? Or perhaps not…


“The Sun”‘s a patriotic, working class paper. They’ll sort it out, come the ’70s. Won’t they? Oh…


Well, the England captain will show Becks up for what Dave Hill took him for (or, to be fair, didn’t). Or else he won’t.


Didn’t it all die out in the ’80s, though?


But those are just annuals. Proper soccer mags used “football” didn’t they?



It’s actually harder to find one with “football” in the title, to tell you the truth. They must have all been closet yanks; it’s the only plausible explanation:


I hate to tell you this, but even the FA are at it:


And the leading scholarly historical football journal? Say it ain’t so, to coin a phrase..

And we haven’t even got to abroad yet!

The French guard their language with an intensity we can only wonder at, but what’s this? Quelle horreur, army of young men.

But I’m sure my army of young men will want to raise an arm for the Germans, who are going through an insanely-anti-American phase at present.

But you can always join the neckless skinhead crowds in Spain and call it football there if you want to.

But, failing that, surely there’s Italy, unless you are going to be insulted by their calling it “Calcio”, which you really ought to be just for the sake of consistency.

Of course, the ancient rumour is that an Oxford student, Charles Wreford Brown, coined “soccer” from a contraction of “Association Football” to mimic the contraction of “Rugger” from “Rugby Football”, but in the eyes of my army of young men, Oxford students are untermensch, so perhaps they’d prefer Duncan Edwards:



8 Replies to “That Word “Soccer””

  1. As you might know (and according to The Time in 1952 – though it was slightly sceptical) the Oxford soccer story was that C.Wreford Brown ( was asked in Hall “Wreford, would you like a game of rugger after brekkers?”, to which he replied “No, I’d rather play soccer”

    On the official side (among others) there was also Walter Winterbottom’s 1952 FA guide, “Soccer Coaching”.

    Why has the term fallen out of favour? Could it be because of the relative rise in popularity of soccer v rugby in this country? Soccer is a useful term primarily to distinguish between association and rugby football, and as such a distinction becomes less required it is less used? “Association football” is even less seen nowadays.

    In the US obviously the distinction is still necessary.

    This might also explain why it is seen as not the authentic ‘working class’ or ‘tabloid’ term – even rugby internationals don’t make the tabloid’s back page if there are soccer games on.

  2. Yes, I think it’s got to be the relative rise of soccer post Hornby, post Premiership. But that doesn’t account for what appears to be a growing belief that it’s an Americanism like sidewalk or elevator. And I’m not sure what would. Perhaps it’s part of middle-class attempts to use (often very limited) knowledge of football to present a working-class front, and because certain people’s interest in football goes no further than that, they get it wrong. And it’s part of the meme that being left-wing means being anti-American before it means anything else. But these are only ideas, and probably inaccurate or impossible to substantiate.

  3. Yes, that’s an interesting one. I think part of he explanation might be simply coincidence – the decline of ‘soccer’ over here as a word has coincided with the rising awareness and influence over here of the US in soccer – the World Cup over there, reasonable performances in World Cups and internationals since, Beckham, takeovers of English football clubs etc. Thus more soccer from there as we’ve had less soccer over here. Something like ‘turnpike’.

  4. James

    As a forty-something born and brought up in the West Midlands, I can tell you our 1970s Sunday afternoon highlights programme on ITV was called ‘Star Soccer’.

    Although I’m a Villa fan, in my mind’s eye commentator Hugh Johns is always welcoming viewers to the Molineux with John Richards and Derek Dougan kicking in in the background.

    Happy days.

  5. Ahhh reading this thread takes reminds me of my late grandfather who played for wasps in the 1920’s, he always called rugby – football, while soccer was banned from being called football in his house.
    Legendary BBC commnetator Bill Maclaren always called Rugby “Football” or at best “Rugby Football”.
    The RFU is still the Rugby Football Union.
    But in the recent Rugby World Cup, there was no mentioned of the football word, it seems in modern rugby, football has no part to play in rugby just as soccer has departed from association football.
    Ironically kicking is now more important in rugby than ever, thus Johnny Wilkinson will be remember for his football skills and not his hand skills.

  6. @Phil Lynch: Derek Dougan RIP.

    @rob r: that’s an irony worth exploring – especially with Jonny throwing his support behind proposed rule changes that will diminish the importance of his kind of kicking.

    @Matthew: like turnpike indeed.. and, thanks to the internet, “wanker” seems to be going the same way, with it becoming part of US blogging lingua franca. How long before that puts the sort of w***ker who won’t say “soccer” because of Americans off using the word, I wonder?

  7. “Young are Ignorant” shock. I blame that Shirley Williams. As for the endless subtleties of English class consciousness – everything I say on the topic seems to offend everyone so I’ll just cradle my glass of amontillado, and chuckle.

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