Further to Gabriele Marcotti’s article on why “soccer” is not an Americanism, (thankyou Ross for the link, btw) I’ve noticed something really quite interesting about the way the word has been used by the heavy press.
Take this clipping from the Daily Telegraph (24th February 1978):
(contra that heading, it is the Telegraph). Calmly and without fanfare, the DT chooses to employ “soccer” as its subject heading.
For the rest of the seventies, and for the first couple of years in the eighties, the Times and Telegraph use soccer without inverted commas – and without italics, although I feel driven to them myself.
But then something shifts. Little by little, match reports and commentary drop the term, so that by 1985 the term is used solely when the game is connected with bad news. Like this:
There is some evidence there that in the years after 1980 soccer became associated, inch by inch, with the side of the game that would end, in that beautiful summer of 1985, in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels.
True or not, that’s long enough ago for an entire generation of young men to grow into their mid-twenties never having seen soccer used as an ordinary English noun. It’s an interesting example of a word setting out as slang, gaining respectability, and then reverting to slang, culturally disreputable slang at that.
UPDATE: If NewsUK is any guide, the process was all but over as early as 1991: