Soccer vs Football

The Free Beer Movement recently posted a controversial article about using the word “soccer” to refer to the sport when played in the United States (and Canada).

I was pleasantly surprised and hugely appreciative to see such an influential soccer blog take such a stance.

Since coming back from my 10-year(ish) hiatus from soccer, I was struck by the preponderance of British English terminology in U.S. soccer. Eventually, I came to realize that there are a few reasons for this.

  1. Cable TV and internet. The masses now have instant access to games around the world. So many U.S. residents now follow EPL teams and pick up the terminology from British announcers, reporters and bloggers.
  2. Importing British commentators. Soccer in the U.S. expanded in popularity so quickly that the pool of commentators just couldn’t keep up. At times, this resulted in commentators being recruited from other sports. This rarely went well. So the recruiting pool was expanded to the other side of the Atlantic. Sporting KC recruited young up-and-coming Callum Williams from the U.K. and he’s done a great job for the team so far. But all of those imported commentators have brought their terminology to the masses.
  3. Eurosnobbery. Basically, it’s a strange phenomenon in which people seem to believe that anything European is automatically better than the U.S. version. A related term is Anglophilia – that strange love affair some U.S. residents have with everything British. These Eurosnobs and Anglophiles will always choose the British terminology over the American. They spell “color” with a “u” in the middle.

You all know I consider myself a fairly global person. I try not to be America-centric. In fact, I rarely use the word “America” or “American” to describe things related to the United States. Because, hello, there are two enormous continents called America.  So using the term to apply to only one country (albeit a really large one) isn’t very accurate or polite to the other residents of this corner of the planet.

Of course, we don’t have a specific term in English to refer to things related to the United States of America (vs the United States of Mexico – good grief we need some more creative naming around here!). And Estadounidense just does not roll of the tongue – even in Spanish. So sometimes, American is the best word to use. My apologies to Mexico, Canada, Central and South America.

So, anyway… I’m not uber-patriotic. I have a healthy respect for the history and culture of my country. I’m thankful to have been born here, with all the attendant benefits and opportunities. I’m happy to be here now, and I imagine I’ll probably spend most of my life here, although I hope to travel a LOT over my lifetime. But I’m not one of those folks who believes that something is the best simply because it is American.

So I’m not going to say that we need to use American terms because they are better than British terms. Some of them are more clear. Some of the British terms are more clear. Mostly, they’re just different.

So if neither set of terminology has an inherently better value, then here’s my reasoning for using the American terminology.

  1. We don’t need to be copy cats. The U.S. has a long and colorful soccer history dating back to the 1860s. We developed our own terminology and culture in an organic way, just as other countries did. There’s no reason to throw out all of that history just to conform to international norms. Besides, with association football being played in over 200 countries, and very few of those speaking English, why should there be any “norm”? As far as I’m aware, the official language of FIFA is French. And I doubt there would be much support in the U.S. for converting all our soccer terminology to French.
  2. Mutual understanding with other U.S. sports fans. Much of the American soccer terminology has similarity to terminology for other American sports. Which can only help U.S. soccer fans to share their sport with others. A hockey fan can appreciate a “shut-out” more than they could a “clean sheet.” Insisting on using British terms that sound at best oddly foreign and at worst incomprehensible will only further alienate the very people we are trying to invite to games. If we want soccer to grow in the U.S. it has to be accessible. I’m not saying we need to dumb it down, water it down, or turn it into a circus like other sports. But we do need to retain the unique American identity and heritage that we already have. So stop calling uniforms “kits” already. It sounds ridiculous.

Not to rag on my guys, but every time I go out to play pick-up and one of them makes some comment on the condition of the “pitch,” I want to tackle him right then and there. We are all Americans. Standing in a field in mid-Missouri. It’s a field. Note: The women I play with do not do this. They use the American terminology almost exclusively.

P.S. The Spanish word for the area in which you play futbol is called a campo. Which is the same word for the area of land in which a farmer grows crops. Which translated to English is field. A field is a field is a field. I don’t even know where “pitch” came from. Possibly from cricket. Which is probably not the sport we want to copy from…


3 thoughts on “Soccer vs Football”

  1. Here’s a little Brasileiro lingo or guiria. Pai de crancia. Father of the goal. Futebol- brasileiros. Pela lando. near the goal. grande area. Futebol, soccer, or what ever it in the end it doesn’t really matter. This is what makes language so cool. If youant to ge futebol fans nuts use this little diddy- head fake right dribble drive left- hoops terminlogy to descrobe futebol. Actually the english announcers have use this. They have also used a hoops term give and go. The first championship ever played was the FA Cup. It began in 1872.

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