Crédito: ©iStockphoto/saintho

Crédito: ©iStockphoto/saintho

By Edna Marta Oliveira da Silva, english teacher

Every four years football captures the attention of the entire world. In 2014 the world cup will be in the “land of football”. Although football was imported from England, it has become a national passion, deep within the hearts of most Brazilians… wait a minute… football??? But isn’t it soccer? Almost everyone who studies English, at some point learns that “Americans use the word soccer, and the “British use the word football”. But if the sport is the same what, after all, is the reason for having two names that are so different?

The origin of Rugby football

In the nineteenth-century in England, football as it is known today, was a sport played by the British elite. One day, during a school match among students, a boy named William Webb Ellis caught the ball with his hands and ran across the field towards the goal. The other boys liked the idea so much that they eventually started doing it too. And that’s how rugby football was born.

Rugby was the name of William’s school, where they played the game: Rugby School!

At that time, football wasn’t as structured as it is today, with associations, standards and rules to be followed by all who play the sport. Everything was new and football was not for everybody. As mentioned previously, football was a game played only by the British elite which was a very restricted group of people. Nowadays, with so many people cheering for their favorite teams, it is difficult to imagine this sport being played by only a small part of the population. But it was!!!

Football x soccer

The truth is that whether its soccer played with your feet or your hands, people needed to create a different term to differentiate rugby football from football. At that time (the 19th century), there were some people interested in establishing the rules for football. Then, someone had the idea of calling the game played with your feet association football (because of the group that wanted to establish rules), leaving the name rugby football for the game played with your hands. The names are somewhat long. The boys from the British elite shortened the suggested names and began to call rugby “rugger” and association football “assocer”.

Some notes on the English language

In paying attention to some English words, we notice that some professions end in -er, such as teacher, singer, driver. Thus, the very end of the word, the suffix -er, indicates the person that carries out the action of teaching, singing or driving. Er appears in the words rugger and assocer to give the idea of the person who plays one sport or the other. Therefore, association football became assocer: assoc, from the word association and the suffix -er. And as time went by, people ended up shortening it even more to the word soccer as it is known today. The same happened to the word rugger. From the word rugby, the “by” was taken off. In English, when words are composed of a consonant + vowel + consonant with just one syllable, you need to double the last letter before adding suffixes. That is the case of the word rug: r(consonant) + u(vowel) + g(consonant) = rugger. It’s simple, isn’t it?

The word soccer became the term used by the British elite thanks to a comment made by Charles Wreford-Brown, a passionate supporter of the football organization at that time. It is not known if he was speaking seriously or if he was making a joke, but the truth is that he was asked if he’d like to play a game of “rugger”. He replied that he preferred “soccer”. That’s how everything began. From a nickname invented by adolescents, soccer became the word used by the British elite.

Football: the people’s favorite word

When the sport gained in popularity, the word soccer didn’t catch on, but the word football did. England was in full colonial expansion at that time. With the expansion not only of the sport, but also the word football, which was taken everywhere England was present. It’s no wonder that every time there is a game, whether in Asia or in Africa, we always see the word football, not soccer. But if soccer is a British invention, why was the word adopted in the United States?

The word football had been used in the United States to refer to rugby. But even so, the term football was commonly used among the associations to talk about the sport in which the feet were used. There was a lot of confusion between the two largest associations at that time and, as result, the word soccer began to be used to differentiate from football. Consequently, due to this messy situation, the game with the feet was prevented from evolving. As a result, the word football prevailed to refer to rugby. There was no alternative to the game with the feet but to adopt the term soccer to differentiate it from the other game.

Other English speaking countries, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa chose the term football due to their association to FIFA[1] (International Federation of Association Football). Until 2006, in Australia, soccer was the favorite word to talk about the sport, but then it was changed to football. However, people in Australia still call their national team socceroos, which is a word composed of two other words, soccer and (kanga)roo. Kangaroos are typical animals in Australia and that is why Australians associate them to their male football team.

In Brazil, football is futebol

What about Brazil? The sport was introduced in our country by Charles Miller. After studying at Banister Court School in England, in 1894, he brought with him in his luggage two balls for playing football. In the beginning, there were some attempts to call the new sport ludopédio (ludo = jogo; pédio = pé) in the end, football was chosen as the name, and when adapted to Brazilian Portuguese, it became futebol.

Now you know the origin of the word that makes huge crowds of Brazilian go wild, whether it is soccer or football, enjoying the game is what really matters.

To learn more, watch the following video:


DICIONÁRIO INFORMAL. Ludopédio. Available at:<> Acessed on May 24, 2014.

LIMA, D. de. Qual a diferença entre football e soccer? Available at: <> Acessed on May 24, 2014.

THE FREE DICTIONARY. Socceroos. Available at: <> Acessed on May 24, 2014.

WIKIPEDIA. A História do futebol no Brasil. Available at:<> Acessed on May 24, 2014.


INTERNATIONAL RUGBY BOARD. William Webb Ellis. Available at:< > Accessed on May 24, 2014

UOL EDUCAÇÃO. Charles William Miller. Available at:< > Accessed on May 24, 2014.

WIKIPEDIA. Charles Wreford-Brown. Available at:<> Acessed on May 24, 2014

YOU TUBE. The History of Soccer. Available at: <> Acessed on May 24, 2014.

YOU TUBE. The differences between soccer and American football Available at: <> Accessed on May 24 2014.

[1] FIFA is a French abbreviation and it means Fédération Internationale de Football Association.