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That’s not football... Why soccer doesn't own the word 'football'

How do you feel about Tim Cahill playing for Melbourne City? What about more stars? (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
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2nd December, 2016
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Not long ago, AFL and NRL nearly exclusively monopolised the rights to the words football and footy – so long as you knew which state you were standing in.

However, Aussie rules and rugby league’s exclusivity has become increasingly eroded in recent years even in the sense that more people recognise that the word “football” can refer to other sports.

In Australia, calling soccer “football” in addition to other codes AFL, NRL, and union, has increasingly become the norm. Professional soccer rebranded itself as the latter after the 2004 season, major news companies now refer to the soccer as football nearly exclusively.

This phenomenon is not unique to the lucky country. In America, the increasing Hispanic and Latin American population has also provided good reason for there to be more awareness of Fútbol instead of Jarryd Hayne’s temporary code.

But how did we end up here with some many types of football? Why are there so many different codes calling themselves by the same name when each are played so differently?

The answer: “football” is merely a word used when referring to the most popular local code.

This may seem a bit too obvious when someone says, for example, “turn on the footy,” in Sydney to watch NRL as opposed to AFL when in Victoria. The same applies to the NFL in America, CFL in Canada, GAA in Ireland, Soccer in the UK, and rugby union in New Zealand/Wales etc.

But this does not explain why.

Originally, “Foot-ball” was a pejorative term in England used to describe the sport that common folk played. As opposed to riding a horse, these people played on foot with a ball.

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Yes, despite popular belief and other old wives’ tales about William Webb Ellis, the actual history has nothing to do with kicking the ball.

Sorry soccer, but the exclusive rights to the name football are not yours and they never were simply because players don’t use their hands. In fact, your actual name, association football (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), is merely a British nickname created to avoid confusion and wasted travel time for travelling teams over a century ago.

This clear differentiation between soccer and rugger meant that there would be far fewer mistakes in setting up teams to play different sports, which may not sound like the biggest deal but is quite frustrating when the next town was 26 miles away on foot or horse.

Later, when rugby league (previously known as Northern Rugby) broke off from the rugby union governing body in favour of professionalism, the two would then go by the names union and league and the nickname rugger was phased out. In England, so was soccer since it could clearly be the code known as football but it other areas of the Empire and former colonies, the nicknames stuck with “football” being use to describe whatever style was most popular.

It is important to note that older football codes that predated the Association/rugby rules divergence such as Wales’ Cnapan, Ireland’s Caid, and other Celtic/Gaelic codes frequently used their hands in play.

Here with sport, we see Australia at another crossroads in its identity. Unlike the switch from Imperial units of measurement to Metrics and Fahrenheit to Centigrade (Celcius), which provided a global standard for the sake of uniformity in maths and the sciences, there is no present or historical reason to justify handing over the name football to soccer aside from conforming for the sake of conformity.

Sports are great entertainment but they also reflect the cultures that play and watch them.

Willingly handing over the rights to a generic word is just as bad as the attempted trademarking of “UGG” by Decker and, from this Yanks perspective, absolutely un-Australian.

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