This was probably asked before, but I bet it was a long time ago, I did a quick check and didn’t see this question, so here goes.

I’m assuming that Soccer, known as football to the rest of the world, came before American football, so…
Why did we (here in America) create a different sport, give it the same name as an existing one, thus, causing the need to create a new name for it here in the states?

It’s not as simple as you make it sound. Football is something of an outgrowth of what we now call rugby, but what used to be called football. Obviously it’s evolved into something else, but the name stuck.

Additionally it’s not like Americans were keenly aware of this other sport gaining steam abroad in the 19th century. Hell, my dad never heard of soccer until he was an adult.

America wasn’t the only place to have created “football” either. Australia also has it’s own version of football. They call the American game “gridiron” and don’t seem to have any hang-ups about not being the first people to call a game “football.”

Soccer is not known as football in the entire “rest of the world” either. Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders also call it soccer.

That is complicated. So, let me get this straight. There was football, which evolved into rugby, or, at the very least, the name changed. Then, there was an outgrowth of rugby which was also called football. Right?

So when football was created in America, the people who named it were probably unaware that another sport with the same name already existed?


I didn’t know that. Guess you learn something new every day.

Thanks for all of the info.

And Italians call it “calcio”, correct?

As a slight highjack – how many other languages call this sport a name which is neither a pronunciation of the English “football” nor a translation of “foot”+“ball”?

Are you talking about the American style football, or the soccer style football?

Italians use both “calcio” and “futbol”. The former is more popular in Italy, but people wouldn’t be confused.

Master Control,

Check out the following link:

Gives a brief rundown on the history and development of soccer/football.

As an aside - it is interesting to note that rugby (and later American football) became popular/associated with universities. However, soccer/football became popular with the working class/poor of England. Thus, there is somewhat of a class distinction associated with how “football” (soccer, rugby, American football) evolved and became popular where they did.

Hence the saying " football ( soccer) is a game for gentlemen played by louts and rugby is a game for louts played by gentlemen "

My source for all of this is The Simplest Game, by Paul Gardner. It’s a book about (what’s known in the US as) soccer, but there’s some interesting info in there about the origin of the sport and the “football” name. Page numbers for my citations are from the 3rd edition.

Specifically, this tidbit from the first paragraph of Chapter 1 (p.1):

The 1300’s version of “football” bore scant resemblance to either modern game. The ball was carried, kicked, thrown, or whatever in what sounds like the ultimate in “barbarian ball”. Gardner writes (p.1), “The most notable feature of the contests was an absence of rules.”

Apparently, the game developed over the next 500 or so years as a very popular but hideously dangerous and often outlawed activity. Football was played by students at various schools in England, normally against the wishes of the administration, and while every school had its own particular version, two distinct “codes” of play evolved. One allowed players to run while holding the ball, while the other permitted use of the hands to stop a ball, but required that it be advanced only with the feet. Both were known as “football.”

A guy by the name of Thomas Arnold was the headmaster at the Rugby School from 1828-1842. Rather than following the examples of his predecessors by trying to squash this game, he laid down some rules at Rugby and encouraged play of “football.” The version of football being played at Rugby was the “handling” one, and a number of other local schools adopted this style as they gained control over the sport on their own campuses.

Still, every school pretty much had its own set of rules. In 1848 Cambridge University tried to publish a unified set of rules. According to Gardner, these rules have not survived. There is, though, a somewhat abbreviated version published in 1862 by J.C. Thring. Of his ten(!) rules, one was that hands could only be used to stop the ball. Clearly Cambridge favored the “dribbling” version of football.

You’d think that this “handling” vs. “dribbling” distinction would be what ultimately sent the two divisions of football off down their own evolutionary paths, but Gardner claims that this is not the case. Instead, it was another of Thring’s rules - one stating that players’ kicks could only be directed at the ball, and not at other players.

Kicking opponents’ legs, or “hacking”, was at that time considered an integral part of the “handling” version of football. Proponents of this game did not take kindly to its being outlawed. In 1863 Cambridge put together another set of “universal” rules for football, which again proscribed both hacking and carrying the ball. The grumbling grew louder in some circles.

Later that year a climax was reached: leading football clubs (non-school groups, which had been growing in popularity) from the London area got together to organize the Football Association, the goal being country-wide regulation. In trying to lay down the official rules, though, they were forced to acknowledge that there were, in fact, two games laboring under the common name “football.” Gardner writes (p. 7):

The “dribbling game” became known as “association football”, being played according to the F.A. rules. The “handling game” became known as “rugby football” (evidently after Rugby, where its first rules were codified some time before), and organized itself under the Rugby Union in 1871.

Popular student slang of the day often dropped the end of a word and replaced it with “er” or “ers”; the name “soccer” apparently came about in this manner based on the abbreviation of association - “assoc.”

Gardner doesn’t go into much detail on the evolution of rugby football into what we now call American football. (It is, after all, a soccer book.) I believe it was somewhat straightforward, though(?) Possibly not…

Anyway, the conclusion I draw is that “football” isn’t just a term that some dudes here in the states decided (for no reason) to slap onto a game that evolved from rugby. Rather, it’s a reasonable thing to call a spinoff from rugby football, which is the full name of its parent sport.

And Ireland also has Gaelic football (very similar to the Australian game). American football is called, well, “American football”, and soccer may be referred to either as football or soccer (usually the latter when necessary to distinguish from the Irish game).

Thanks, I’ll check it out.

Well, the Japanese generally call it sakkaa (soccer).

The US game is called amefuto, a contraction of American Football.

Not sure the source here, but it matches (and expands on) info found at Wikipedia…


Would be interesting to see whether there was any link between the Rugby version of football being played (pre-Rugby rules) and the one that eventually evolved in the US. That is, was there some kind of direct linkage between people who played the rugby version and the students who played the game at Harvard?

Might help explain the preference for a “handling vs. dribbling” version that evolved in US.