Real life, Twitter, TV, articles… this keeps coming up. I want to be clear. The game they are playing at odd hours on the corpses of immigrant workers far off in the desert is called soccer. No “in America” or “by Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, the Irish, Pakistanis, South Africans, Nigerians… et al.” clarification needed. The game is Association Football, shortened by weird Oxford students who add -er to the end of everything to Soccer Football and later just Soccer. The game falls under the same identifying umbrella as Rugby Football, Gaelic Football, American Football, Australian Rule Football, and Hockey (field for certain – I’m not sure about ice.)
No sane person has a problem with anyone calling the game football in a context that makes it clear which of the many games you are referring to that are encompassed by the word. The British can say football all they want, knowing that those around them understand what is being referenced is the type of football known as Association Football, just as I casually use the word football to refer to the American Football type in which Alabama just beat Alabama Polytechnical Institute 49 to 27. I do have a problem when some East End denizen thousands of miles away gets a bee in his trunk or a local hipster with a crisp on his shoulder and a copy of Proust sitting on his night table that he’s started six times gets high and mighty because I or someone else is more specific than he wants to be.
Twitter is fun. In a recent exchange, there were those who said that American Football isn’t football at all since the players rarely kick the ball. Per that horde, it should be called some variation of Handsy-Eggball-with-Pads. They also claimed that soccer should be called football because “Duh!” and then offered something along these lines that were shared by a British tweeter: “It’s rather aptly named since it’s a game predominantly played with feet, in contrast to American football, which is predominantly carried around in the arms of players wearing giant shoulder pads.” The shape of the ball has nothing to do with the name of the game. Neither does the part of the body used to handle or make contact with the ball. We have British accounts of late 18th and early 19th century games called football where it was Illegal to contact the ball with the foot.
The Brits need to know that the reason there is a class of games referred to as football is because those games are not played on horses. Duh!
It’s that simple. The aristocracy formed the horsey set, and they played at jousting and polo and probably all manner of other activities. The poor people didn’t have that option. I don’t know that it was taboo for the wealthy to play non-equestrian sports, but the sense I got from reading is that these sports you had to play on your own two feet were looked down on. That’s it. Ruggers and Gaelic and Hockey (maybe the first, as it’s pretty much polo without the animal) are all sports played on one’s feet. Again, in context, calling a game football works since I already suspect which set of rules is meant but literally saying that a game is called football is akin to saying that a game is called horseless sport. (If I’m being literal, I’ll concede that since horses are measured in hands and hands are used to measure horses, football is a game without using hands. I’ll give them that.)
There you are. Enjoy the World Cup, and while you’re at it, ask a British person why they still call Rugby “Rugby.” Oh! Also be sure and mention that Bobby Charlton of the 1966 English World Cup winning team, their national hero who slew the dragon and waits under a great green hill to rise again when England is in greatest peril, titled his 1964 book My Soccer Life (He bowed to peer pressure in 2009 when he released My Life in Football.)