Names for association football

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The names of association football are the terms used to describe association football, the sport most commonly referred to in the English-speaking world as "football" or "soccer".


The rules of association football were codified in the United Kingdom by the Football Association in 1863, and the name association football was coined to distinguish the game from the other versions of football played at the time, such as rugby football. The word soccer is an abbreviation of association (from assoc.) and first appeared in universities in the 1880s (sometimes using the variant spelling "socker").[1][2][3][4] The word is sometimes credited to Charles Wreford Brown, an Oxford University student said to have been fond of shortened forms such as brekkers for breakfast and rugger for rugby football (see Oxford -er). Clive Toye noted "A quirk of British culture is the permanent need to familiarise names by shortening them. ... Toye [said] 'They took the third, fourth and fifth letters of Association and called it SOCcer.'”[5]

The term association football has never been widely used, although in Britain some clubs in rugby football strongholds adopted the suffix Association Football Club (A.F.C.) to avoid confusion with the dominant sport in their area, and FIFA, the world governing body for the sport, is a French-language acronym of "Fédération Internationale de Football Association" – the International Federation of Association Football. "Soccer football" is used less often than it once was: the United States Soccer Federation was known as the United States Soccer Football Association from 1945 until 1974, when it adopted its current name and the Canadian Soccer Association was known as the Canadian Soccer Football Association from 1958 to 1971.

The reaction against soccer[edit]

For nearly a hundred years after it was coined, soccer was an uncontroversial alternative to football, often in colloquial and juvenile contexts, but also in formal speech and writing.[6] In the late twentieth century some speakers of British English began to deprecate soccer for reasons that remain unclear; it is possible they mistook it for an Americanism.[6] There is evidence that the use of soccer is declining in Britain.[6] Since the early twenty-first century, the peak association football bodies in soccer-speaking Australia and New Zealand have actively promoted the use of football to mirror international usage and, at least in the Australian case, to rebrand a sport that had been experiencing difficulties.[7] Both bodies dropped soccer from their names.[8] These efforts have met with considerable success in New Zealand.[9]

English-speaking countries[edit]


Usage of the various names of association football vary among the countries or territories who hold the English language as an official or de facto official language. The brief survey of usage below addresses places which have some level of autonomy in the sport and their own separate federation but are not actually independent countries: for example the constituent countries of the United Kingdom and some overseas territories each have their own federation and national team. Not included are places such as Cyprus, where English is widely spoken on the ground but is not amongst the country's specifically stated official languages.

Countries where it is called football[edit]

Association football is known as "football" in the majority of countries where English is an official language, such as the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth Caribbean (including Trinidad and Tobago,[10] Jamaica and others), Malta, India, Nigeria, Cameroon, Pakistan, Liberia, Singapore, Hong Kong and others, stretching over many regions including parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Central America.

North America[edit]

In the United States, where American football is the dominant code, the word football is used to refer to that sport. Association football is most commonly referred to as soccer.

As early as 1911 there were several names in use for the sport in the Americas. A 29 December 1911 New York Times article reporting on the addition of the game as an official collegiate sport in the USA referred to it as "association football", "soccer" and "soccer football" all in a single article.[11]

The sport's governing body is the United States Soccer Federation; however, it was originally called the U.S. Football Association, and was formed in 1913 by the merger of the American Football Association and the American Amateur Football Association. The word "soccer" was added to the name in 1945, making it the U.S. Soccer Football Association, and it did not drop the word "football" until 1974, when it assumed its current name.

In Canada, similar to the US, the term "football" refers to gridiron football (either Canadian football or American football; le football canadien or le football américain in Standard French). "Soccer" is the name for association football in Canadian English (similarly, in Canadian French, le soccer). Likewise, in majority francophone Quebec, the provincial governing body is the Fédération de Soccer du Québec. This is unusual compared to other francophone countries, where football is generally used. For example, in FIFA, an acronym for the world governing body of the sport, the "FA" stands for football association (French for "association football"). Some teams based in the two countries have adopted FC as a suffix or prefix in their names; in Major League Soccer; these include FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders FC, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and New York City FC.

In Central America, the only English-speaking nation is Belize, and like the other six Central American nations, the unqualified term football refers to association football, as used in the Football Federation of Belize and in the Belize Premier Football League. The term soccer is sometimes used in vernacular speech and media coverage, however.[12]

In the Caribbean, most of the English-speaking members use the word football for their federations and leagues, the exception being the U.S. Virgin Islands, where both federation and league use the word soccer.

An exceptional case is the largely Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico, where the word football is used in Puerto Rican Football Federation, while the word soccer is used in Puerto Rico Soccer League, the Puerto Rican 1st division; however, its 2nd division is named Liga Nacional de Futbol de Puerto Rico. Soccer is the most common term in vernacular speech, however. Another case is the Dutch island of Sint Maarten, where soccer is used in Sint Maarten Soccer Association, but neither football nor soccer appears in its league name.


In 2005, the Australia Soccer Association changed its name to Football Federation Australia, and it now encourages the use of "football" to describe the association code in line with international practice.[13] All state organisations, many clubs, and most media outlets[14][15] have followed its example. The Macquarie Dictionary observed, writing prior to 2010: "While it is still the case that, in general use, soccer is the preferred term in Australia for what most of the world calls football, the fact that the peak body in Australia has officially adopted the term football for this sport will undoubtedly cause a shift in usage."[16] This was highlighted shortly afterwards when the Australian Prime Minister, speaking in Melbourne, referred to the sport as football, emphasising her choice when questioned.[17] The Australian men's team is still known by its long-standing nickname, the Socceroos. (The Australian women's team is nicknamed the Matildas.)

In New Zealand English, association football has historically been called "soccer". As late as 2005, the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary suggested that in that country "football" referred especially to rugby union; it also noted that rugby union was commonly called "rugby", while rugby league was called "league".[18] A year earlier, New Zealand Soccer had reorganised its leading competition as the New Zealand Football Championship, and in 2007 it changed its own name to New Zealand Football. The wider language community appears to have embraced the new terminology—influenced, among other things, by television coverage of association football in other parts of the world—so that today, according to the New Zealand Herald, "most people no longer think or talk of rugby as 'football'. A transformation has quietly occurred, and most people are happy to apply that name to the world's most popular game, dispensing with 'soccer' in the process."[9]

Other English-speaking countries[edit]

On the island of Ireland, "football" or "footballer" can refer to association football or Gaelic football.[19][20][21][22][23][24] They may also refer to rugby union.[25][26] Similarly to Australia and New Zealand, the association football federations are called the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association and the top clubs are called "Football Club". Furthermore, those whose primary interest lies in this game often call their sport "football" and refer to Gaelic football as "Gaelic football" or "Gaelic" (although they may also use "soccer").[22][23][24] "Soccer" is the word used by Ireland's media.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33]

In South Africa, "soccer" is the more common name, used by all cultural groups when speaking English. The domestic first division is the Premier Soccer League and both in conversation and the media (see e.g. The Sowetan or Independent Online), the term "soccer" is used almost exclusively. The largest stadium used at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, held in South Africa, was known as Soccer City. Despite this, the country's national association is called the South African Football Association and "football" might occasionally be used in official contexts. In Afrikaans, one of the other major languages in South Africa, the word "sokker" is used far more often than "voetbal".

In the Philippines, both "soccer" and "football" are used (legacies of both American and Spanish rule). When used while speaking a Philippine language, the English spellings as well as the nativised spellings "saker" and "putbol" are used. "Soccer" is somewhat more commonly used among middle and upper class fans, while "football" is used by bodies such as the Philippine Football Federation, and the masses. The use of the word "football" has spread even more since the Philippine Men's National Football Team achieved semi-final success in the 2010 Suzuki Cup.

In Singapore, both "soccer" and "football" are used. The name of the governing body is the Football Association of Singapore but it is not uncommon for the sport to be referred to as "soccer" in everyday usage.

In Pakistan, Liberia, Nigeria and other English speaking countries both football and soccer are used both officially and commonly.[34][35][36]

Non-English speaking countries[edit]

Association football, in its modern form, was exported by the British to much of the rest of the world and many of these nations adopted this common English term for the sport into their own language. This was usually done in one of two ways: either by directly importing the word itself, or as a calque by translating its constituent parts, foot and ball.

From English football[edit]

Literal translation of foot ball (Calques)[edit]

  • Welsh pêl-droed
  • Manx language bluckan coshey
  • Breton mell-droad
  • Scottish Gaelic ball-coise
  • In Polish language the wording "piłka nożna" is used, which combines the words "piłka" (ball) and "noga" (leg). Nożna is a form derived from the word noga thus the sport becomes piłka nożna (literally "ball of the foot"; football).
  • The Georgian name, pekhburti (ფეხბურთი), is a direct calque of "football", being derived from the words for foot, pekhi (ფეხი) and ball, burti (ბურთი).
  • Dutch: voetbal
  • German: Fußball
  • Malayalam: Kaalppanthu - direct calque combination of "Kaal" (foot) and "Panthu" (ball).
  • Norwegian: fotball
  • Swedish: fotboll
  • Danish: fodbold
  • Finnish jalkapallo
  • Estonian jalgpall
  • Karelian jalgamiäččy
  • In Hebrew, the word כדורגל ('kaduregel) is used, which combines the words "כדור" (kadur: ball) and "רגל" (regel: foot, leg).
  • Icelandic, two words see roughly equal use—the invention knattspyrna (knatt- = ball- and spyrna = kicking) and the calque fótbolti.
  • In Greek, the sport is called ποδόσφαιρο (podosphero), from the words πόδι (podi) meaning "foot", and σφαίρα (sphera) meaning "sphere" or "ball". In Greek-Cypriot dialect, the sport is called "mappa" (μάππα), which means "ball" in this dialect.
  • In Standard Arabic, the calque kurat al-qadam/كرة القدم is commonly used. However, in the assorted vernacular varieties of Arabic, kura كرة , meaning simply "ball," is far more common. Fūtbōl (فوتبول) is also fairly common, particularly in the former French colonies of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
  • In Chinese, the term 足球 (Hanyu Pinyin: zúqiú, Cantonese: juk kau) is used. The term, a calque, literally means "foot"-"ball" ( = foot, = ball), and when used unmodified refers specifically to association football. Rugby is known as ganlanqiu (橄榄球, "olive ball", referring to the ball's olive-like elliptical shape). Non-round ball football varieties, such as American football, Australian football or Canadian football, can be referred to as types of zuqiu, but they are more commonly seen as types of ganlanqiu.

In the first half of the 20th century, in Spanish and Portuguese, new words were created to replace "football"("fútbol" in Spanish and "futebol" in Portuguese), balompié (balón and pie meaning "ball" and "foot") and ludopédio (from words meaning "game" and "foot") respectively. However, these words were not widely accepted and are now only used in club names such as Real Betis Balompié and Albacete Balompié.

From "soccer"[edit]

  • The standard Afrikaans word for the sport is sokker, echoing the predominant use of "soccer" in South African English.
  • The Canadian French term soccer is pronounced like the English word. In Quebec, the word football refers either to American or Canadian football, following the usage of English-speaking North America.
  • In Japanese, because of American influence following World War II, use of the term sakkā (サッカー) is more common than that of the term futtobōru (フットボール). While the Japan Football Association uses the word "football" in its official English name, the Association's Japanese name uses sakkā. Before the war, the Sino-Japanese derived term shūkyū (蹴球, literally "kick-ball", ultimately deriving from the name of cuju, an ancient Chinese form of football) was in common use, but as with many kanji-derived terms, it quickly fell by the wayside following the war.
  • Irish sacar.
  • Manx Gaelic soccar or sackyr

Other forms[edit]

  • Italian: calcio (from calciare, meaning to kick). This is due to the game's resemblance to Calcio Fiorentino, a 16th century ceremonial Florentine court ritual, that has now been revived under the name il calcio storico or calcio in costume (historical kick or kick in costume).
  • Bosnian, Croatian, Slovene: nogomet. In Croatian, the word is derived from "noga" (meaning "leg") and "met", which is a suffix derived from the word "metati" (meaning "to sweep"), hence "sweeping the ball using legs". In Slovene, "noga" has the same meaning as in Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian, while "met" means "throw", hence "throwing (the ball) with legs".
  • Polish: piłka nożna or futbol
  • In Hungarian futball or labdarúgás (meaning ball-kicking), but foci is used in the common language.
  • In Burma, where the game was introduced in the 1880s by Sir George Scott, it is called ball-pwe, a pwe being a rural all-night dance party, something like a rave.
  • In Lao, the term "ບານເຕະ:ban-te", literally meaning "ball-kicking", is used to denote "football".
  • In Vietnamese, the terms "bóng đá" and "đá banh", both literally meaning "kicking ball", are used to denote "football".
  • In Malay, the sport is called "bola sepak" which is a combination of the words ball (bola) and kick (sepak), while in Indonesia, the term, "sepak bola" is use. Both literally mean "kick ball" but are translated to "football" in English. The word "soccer" is rarely used in these two countries.[citation needed]
  • In Korea, the Sino-Korean derived term chukku (蹴球 축구 [tɕʰukk͈u]), "kick-ball", is used.

Other terminology[edit]

Aside from the name of the game itself, other foreign words based on English football terms include versions in many languages of the word goal (often gol in Romance languages) and schútte (Basel) or tschuutte (Zürich), derived from the English shoot, meaning 'to play football' in German-speaking Switzerland. Also, words derived from kick have found their way into German (noun Kicker) and Swedish (verb kicka). In France le penalty means a penalty kick, however the phrase tir au but is often used in the context of a penalty shootout. In Brazilian Portuguese, because of the pervasive presence of football in Brazilian culture, many words related to the sport have found their way into everyday language, including the verb chutar (from shoot) – which originally meant "to kick a football", but is now the most widespread equivalent of the English verb "to kick". In Bulgaria a penalty kick is called duzpa (дузпа, from French words douze pas – twelve steps).

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Soccer". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Etymology Online "Soccer"
  3. ^ The Old Hall School (1885). The Oldhallian, vol, v. Wellington, Shropshire. p. 171. .

    The 'Varsity played Aston Villa and were beaten after a very exciting game; this was pre-eminently the most important "Socker" game played in Oxford this term

  4. ^ Baily's Magazine of Sports & Pastimes, vol. lvii. London: Vinton. 1892. p. 198. OCLC 12030733. 
  5. ^ Rogers, Martin. "It’s football to you, soccer to me"., 1 July 2010
  6. ^ a b c Stefan Szymanski, "It's football not soccer," University of Michigan, May 2014. Accessed 26 July 2014.
  7. ^ Michael Lynch, "Soccer's name change is necessary," The Age, 18 December 2004. Accessed 26 July 2014.
  8. ^ See for example "Soccer's Australian name change," The Age, 16 December 2004. Accessed 26 July 2014.
  9. ^ a b "Editorial: Soccer - or should we say football - must change," The New Zealand Herald, 12 June 2014. Accessed 26 July 2014.
  10. ^ The nickname of the Trinidad & Tobago national team, "The Soca Warriors", refers to a style of music.
  11. ^ "COLLEGES TO BOOM SOCCER FOOTBALL; National Collegiate Association Gives Official Recognition to the Sport". The New York Times. 29 December 1911. 
  12. ^ "Soccer: St. Vincentians Arrive To Take on Belize". 7 News Belize. November 9, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Soccer to become football in Australia," Sydney Morning Herald, 17 December 2004. Accessed 26 July 2014. "ASA chairman Frank Lowy said the symbolic move would bring Australia into line with the vast majority of other countries which call the sport football."
  14. ^ The World Game, SBS Television, 8 January 2008.
  15. ^ "Football raises voice over competing din," Sydney Morning Herald, 25 February 2008. Accessed 26 July 2014.
  16. ^ Macquarie Dictionary Online. Accessed 25 July 2014. Subscription required.
  17. ^ Australian PM uses "football" to refer to Association Football.
  18. ^ Tony Deverson and Graeme Kennedy (eds.), The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2005), entries for "football", "rugby", and "soccer".
  19. ^ "U2: Put 'em Under Pressure. Republic of Ireland Football Squad. FIFA World Cup song.". Retrieved 20 February 2010. Cause Ireland are the greatest football team. 
  20. ^ "DCU footballers". Retrieved 24 March 2008. 
  21. ^ McGee, Eugene (10 February 2007). "French invasion of Croker mirrors our historical past". Irish Independent. Retrieved 24 March 2008. 
  22. ^ a b (11 February 2007). "Irish News UK – News from the Irish Community in Britain". Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  23. ^ a b Pepsi Summer Soccer Schools launched – Summer Camps 2008 – Archived 13 April 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ a b "– Much done... lots more to do, says FAI Chief Executive John Delaney". 24 November 2006. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  25. ^ "O'Sullivan wary of Paterson ploy". RTÉ News. 20 February 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2008. 
  26. ^ "History of Skerries RFC". Retrieved 24 March 2008. 
  27. ^ "Latest Soccer News - RTÉ.ie". RTÉ Sport. 
  28. ^ " " Sport " Soccer". Irish Independent. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  29. ^ "Soccer News". The Irish Times. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  30. ^ "Soccer - Today's Stories - Irish Examiner". Irish Examiner. 
  31. ^ "Soccer". Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  32. ^ "Soccer". Donegal Democrat. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  33. ^ "Soccer - Munster Express Online". The Munster Express. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  34. ^ "President's Message". Pakistan Football Federation. 
  35. ^ . Liberian Football Association  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  36. ^ Ekiti Nigeria state government Retrieved 19 June 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  37. ^ except in French Canada where it is soccer
  38. ^ The calque balompié, from the words "balón" (ball) and "pie" (foot), is seldom used
  39. ^ the sport was initially called ritnitop (ритнитоп, "kickball") as it was introduced in the 1890s; footballers are still sometimes mockingly called ritnitopkovtsi (ритнитопковци, "ball kickers") today.
  40. ^ Lviv-based Ukrainian language before the World War II used have word kopanyi myach (копаний м'яч) for football