The soccer versus football debate has raged on for years, mostly at the expense of American fans. We take a look at the origins of the “American” term, while also explaining why the contentious talking point is nothing more than noise.
I used to be a Euro snob when it came to the beautiful game. One of those, “It’s called football” types. And growing up a Roma supporter, I was the ultimate hipster. Bigger clubs and leagues were too mainstream for me, and having an attractive style of play meant more than winning. Being drawn to the romanticism of one-club players like Francesco Totti made me a more authentic fan in my eyes. I often shied away from talking footy with classmates who I thought of as EPL fanboys addicted to playing FIFA Ultimate Team. But since then, my perspective has evolved thanks to several life experiences.
I worked for my college newspaper as the beat reporter for the men’s soccer program. After graduating I began writing here at Urban Pitch, covering many different leagues including MLS, USL, NISA, and NWSL. I then started watching Liga MX and CONCACAF Champions League regularly. I’ve also helped start a supporters’ group, navigating that precarious minefield of internal politics. However, one specific event made me withdraw from both sides of the long-running soccer versus football war for good.
I was taking the metro to an LAFC match in one of the club’s early seasons, when a man noticed me wearing my scarf on the platform. This man and his friends also had scarves and were heading to the match, so he struck up a conversation with me.
Everything was going well the first few minutes until I dropped the dreaded s-word. As soon as I said it, he might as well have physically recoiled in an absurd, cartoonish fashion. He quickly developed an air of superiority. Immediately cutting me off, he said, “It’s called football, let’s call it football.” It was so off-putting, and the conversation pretty much ended there. What I wanted to say to the man is, “I call it soccer because I’m tired of following up with, ‘No, soccer’ after I tell someone I’m a football fan.”
— Aaron West (@oeste) June 19, 2019
Not to mention, insisting on calling it football from a purist’s point of view is actually a faux pas. Up until the ’70s or ’80s, soccer was often used colloquially in England to differentiate the sport from rugby. Soccer is a shortened form of the word “association” in association football, while rugby is a shortened form of rugby football. In the ’70s and ’80s, soccer picked up a negative connotation due to a rise in anti-American sentiment for using the term. So, technically, people who refer to the sport as soccer aren’t wrong. But I’m not trying to bring that up just to troll people a la Alexi Lalas.
Because in the grand scheme of things, neither side of this soccer versus football war is justifiable. It’s a bullshit, pedantic argument any way you slice it. The sport is far too small in this country for people to be gatekeeping and judging people based on what they call it. When I’m talking to people who don’t know the sport, I call it soccer. If I’m in a pub or talking to English fans, I call it football. When I’m talking to my fellow Roma fans, I call it calcio. It’s not that hard to be flexible and respect how each culture refers to the beautiful game.
Compared to the entire U.S. population, the number of soccer fans in the country is relatively small. I’m pretty sure the ratings for the Johnsonville ACL Cornhole Championships are higher than most soccer matches. Over the weekend, a lot of the country missed the first portion of the U.S. Men’s National Team friendly against Switzerland because of a college softball game. The softball game was actually super fire, but still, we’re talking about an amateur event versus international soccer. It’s just not a priority here like it is in other places. The sport has a long way to go in the U.S., and we as fans of the game can’t afford to be bickering about something so trivial as the name.
With the game growing faster than ever, there’s going to be new fans calling the sport by various names more and more. So, chill out and enjoy the fact that we all have more people to talk to about the game than yesterday. It’s time to put the soccer versus football debate to bed — it’s tired.