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 in the UK to distinguish the game from the other versions of football played at the time, in particular rugby football. The word soccer is an abbreviation of association (from assoc.) and first appeared in English private schools and 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 "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.

Reaction against soccer[edit]

For nearly a hundred years after it was coined, soccer was an accepted and uncontroversial alternative in Britain to football, often in colloquial and juvenile contexts, but was also widely used in formal speech and in writing about the game.[6] "Soccer" was a term used by the upper class whereas the working and middle class preferred the word "football"; as the upper class lost influence in British society from the 1960s on, "football" supplanted "soccer" as the most commonly used and accepted word. There is evidence that the use of soccer is declining in Britain and is now considered there as an American English term.[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,[a] Jamaica, Barbados and others), Nepal, 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.

Fitbaa, fitba or fitbaw is a rendering of the Scots pronunciation of "football", often used in a humorous or ironic context.

North America[edit]

In the United States, where American football is the dominant code, the word football is used to refer only 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 US referred to it as "association football", "soccer" and "soccer football" all in a single article.[10]

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"). Canada's national body government of the sport is named the Canada Soccer Association, although at first its original name was the Dominion of Canada Football Association.

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, New York City FC, Los Angeles FC, and FC Cincinnati.

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.[11]

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.


Traditionally, the sport has been mainly referred to as soccer in Australia. However, 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.[12] All state organisations, many clubs, and most media outlets[13][14] 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."[15] This was highlighted shortly afterwards when the Australian prime minister, speaking in Melbourne, referred to the sport as football, emphasising her choice when questioned.[16] The Australian men's team is still known by its long-standing nickname, the Socceroos.

New Zealand[edit]

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".[17] 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.[18][19][20][21][22][23] They may also refer to rugby union.[24][25] 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").[21][22][23] The terms "football" and "soccer" are used interchangeably in Ireland's media.[26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33]

In South Africa, "soccer" is the more common name, used by all cultural groups when speaking English.[citation needed]

In the Philippines, both "soccer" and "football" are used as 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 "futbol" are used. 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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

In Papua New Guinea, the national association is the Papua New Guinea Football Association but the national league is the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League.

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. In English, the word "football" was known in writing by the 14th Century, as laws which prohibits similar games back to at least that century.[37][38][39][40]

From English football[edit]

This commonality is reflected in the auxiliary languages Esperanto and Interlingua, which utilize futbalo and football, respectively.

Literal translations of foot ball (calques)[edit]

  • Arabic: كرة القدم (kurat al-qadam; however, in vernacular Arabic, كرة (kura), meaning "ball," is far more common. فوتبول (fūtbōl) is also fairly common, particularly in the former French colonies of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.)
  • Breton: mell-droad
  • Chinese: 足球 (Hanyu Pinyin: zúqiú, Cantonese: juk kau) from 足 = foot and 球 = ball
  • Danish: fodbold
  • Dutch: voetbal
  • Estonian: jalgpall
  • Faroese: fótbóltur
  • Finnish: jalkapallo
  • Georgian: ფეხბურთი (pekhburti), from ფეხი (pekhi = foot) and ბურთი (burti = ball).
  • German: Fußball
  • Greek: ποδόσφαιρο (podosphero), from πόδι (podi) = "foot" and σφαίρα (sphera) = "sphere" or "ball". In Greek-Cypriot, the sport is called "mappa" (μάππα), which means "ball" in this dialect.
  • Hebrew: כדורגל (kaduregel), a portmanteau of the words "כדור" (kadur: ball) and "רגל" (regel: foot, leg).
  • Icelandic: fótbolti, but knattspyrna (from knöttur ("ball") + spyrna ("kicking")) is almost equally used.
  • Karelian: jalgamiäččy
  • Kinyarwanda: umupira w'amaguru[41]
  • Latvian: kājbumba (the historic name in the first half of the 20th century, a literal translation from English).
  • Malayalam: Kaalppanthu, from "Kaal" (foot) and "Panthu" (ball).
  • Manx: bluckan coshey
  • Norwegian: fotball
  • Polish: piłka nożna, from piłka (ball) and noga (leg).
  • Scottish Gaelic: ball-coise
  • Sinhala: පා පන්දු = paa pandu
  • Somali: kubada cagta - kubada "ball" and cagta"feet or foot".
  • Swahili: mpira wa miguu, from mpira (ball), wa (of) and miguu (feet/legs).
  • Swedish: fotboll
  • Tamil: கால்பந்து, கால் (kaal) = foot and பந்து (pandhu) = ball
  • Welsh: pêl-droed

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]

  • Afrikaans: sokker, echoing the predominant use of "soccer" in South African English.
  • Canadian French: soccer, pronounced like the English word. In Quebec, in New-Brunswick, etc. the word football refers either to American or Canadian football, following the usage of English-speaking North America.
  • Japanese: sakkā (サッカー) is more common than futtobōru (フットボール) because of American influence following World War II. 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
  • Swahili: soka

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".
  • In Hungarian futball or labdarúgás (meaning ball-kicking), but foci is used in the common language.
  • In Burmese, where the game was introduced in the 1880s by Sir James 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 Indonesian, the term "Sepak bola" (kick-ball) is used.
  • In Malay, the term "Bola sepak" (ball-kick) is used.
  • In Korean, the Sino-Korean derived term chukku (蹴球 축구 [tɕʰukk͈u]), "kick-ball", is used.
  • In Swahili, the word kandanda which has no transparent etymology, is used alongside mpira wa miguu and soka.

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). In German-speaking Switzerland, schútte (Basel) or tschuutte (Zürich), derived from the English shoot, means 'to play football'. 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 (lit. shot(s) on the goal) 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). In Italy, alongside the term calcio, is often used pallone (literally ball in Italian), especially in Sicily (u palluni).


  1. ^ The nickname of the Trinidad & Tobago national team, "The Soca Warriors", refers to a style of music.
  2. ^ In Bulgarian, the sport was initially called ritnitop (ритнитоп, "kickball"); footballers are still sometimes mockingly called ritnitopkovtsi (ритнитопковци, "ball kickers") today.
  3. ^ The calque balompié, from the words "balón" (ball) and "pie" (foot), is seldom used.
  4. ^ Ukrainian used the phrase kopanyi myach (копаний м'яч), "dug ball", before World War II.


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  2. ^ "Origin and meaning of soccer". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  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.
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  37. ^ Orejan, Jaime (2011). Football/Soccer: History and Tactics. McFarland. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-7864-8566-6: King Edward II of England 1314 ban on football.
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  39. ^ "History of Football – Opposition to the game". 31 August 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2019: James I of Scotland decreed that "Na man play at the fut ball", in the Football Act of 1424.
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