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Soccer Versus Football: What’s The Sport’s Real Name?

When it comes to the world’s most glorious game, which name reigns supreme? 

By Andrew Woodin
Christian Pulisic versus an Iran player

Unless you’ve been hunkered down in a hole somewhere in Middle Earth – we’re looking at you, Frodo – you’ve probably fired up that 65-inch monstrosity hanging precariously on your wall to catch a few, precious glimpses of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and, in doing so, seen a commercial in which Manchester United legend and former England captain David Beckham go toe-to-toe with two-time Super Bowl-winning NFL quarterback Peyton Manning over the “correct” name for the beloved sport of footy. The dichotomy of Beck’s posh English and Manning’s molasses-drenched southern draw aside, the Frito Lay spot makes a valiant attempt at solving one of the most baffling debates man has endured since the invention of the McDonald’s McRib (what the actual hell is it?). But this isn’t kindergarten. Though the sultans of salt at Frito Lay get an A for their effort, there’ll be no participation trophies here, folks. Only the cold, hard facts will suffice, so buckle up Britons – you may ben in for a rude awakening.

Though people have surely kicked balls around for millennia, the sport we know as modern soccer, er, football, dates to mid-19th century England, which began to codify the rules to the game. In 1863, the country's newly formed Football Association unified disparate regional rules to essentially provide the framework for today's version. The person who gets the credit as the "father" of modern football is Ebenezer Morely. Forget the fact that his name sounds more like a villainous moniker from "Die Hard," it was Morely who drafted up the modern rules during pivotal meeting at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London one afternoon in October of 1863. So, it’s called football, right? Not so fast, smarty pants.

RELATED: How To Sound Smart While Watching The World Cup With Friends

The name actually went through a bit of an evolution, because like other fledgling species, it was competing against other sports, most notably rugby, which was popularly known as "rugby football" at the time. In order to distinguish the sports, what Americans refer to as soccer became known in England as "association football," or as a shorthand, simply "association."

As the trend of shortening and abbreviating names spread through the land along with other common slang, "association" would get chopped up more than a skirt steak at Benihana. It became "assoc," then "asoccer," and finally – cue the bell at Big Ben – SOCCER. Yes, English lads and lasses, you heard correctly. As much as the truth may haunt you, you gifted the world the name of the sport which you so readily and ruthlessly like to condemn others for using.

While "football" became the wildly more popular name for the game in England and pretty much everywhere else in the world, "soccer" stuck in the U.S. because, well, you know, there was this other sport that had started to create a toehold in the country's sporting culture.

So, while the great debate rages on alongside the likes of Britney vs. Christina, Team Jacob vs. Team Edward, Seinfeld vs. Friends, Pepsi vs. Coke and a mind-numbing litany of other pop culture comparisons, it seems that ... both sides are right? In a sport where ties are allowed, that about right. 

Can't get enough soccer action? Watch Premier League coverage on USA Network, featuring Premier League Mornings, select matches, and Premier League Goal Zone (check listings for games/schedule). And catch up on all the action on Peacock.

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