Is it called football or soccer? An age-old debate for Irish sports fans

Is it called football or soccer? An age-old debate for Irish sports fans

IT’S a common perception that only Americans use the word ‘soccer’ to describe what the majority of us call ‘football’.

That’s not quite true, though, as in Irish circles ‘soccer’ is still widely used, particularly among older generations, though perhaps not as commonly as it once was.

To begin with, here’s a little background information on where the words actually come from.


‘Association football’ is the official name of the sport, which was invented by the English, and from that the word ‘soccer’ was derived, taken from the consecutive letters s-o-c in the first word.

You see, back in the 19th Century, when many sports began to become established with official rules and governing bodies, it was common in British slang to change words to end in “er” .

Think ‘rugger’, for example, a nickname that has stood the test of time. Rugby Football (the official name of the sport) became ‘rugger’ and, likewise, the shortened word ‘soc’ became ‘soccer’, a fact our reader Alan Moore was already clued up on.

The only difference these days is that ‘soccer’ is considered more than just a nickname in some quarters, one of those quarters being Ireland.

Clearly, Americans take kindly to the word because it makes it easier to distinguish the sport from American football, as the sport of gridiron is commonly called. Canadians have the same stance.


Similarly, of course, us Irish have this problem with Gaelic football, which plays second fiddle to ‘soccer’ in Ireland – according to research conducted by PSG Sponsorship last year – though it remains immensely popular.

Irish Post reader and Aghagallon (Co. Antrim) native Séamas Pádraig MacCriostail offers a sensible explanation: “I think it all depends on where you grew up. Soccer, I call it. Football is Gaelic [football].”

It certainly depends on what you were born into. Personally, having grown up in Armagh, I have always called it football. Yet 15 miles down the road from me, Crossmaglen folk are prolific users of the same word to describe Gaelic football.

London's Philip Butler with the ball against Waterford's Paul Whyte during their Div 4 National Football League game in Fraher Field. Photo Sean Byrne//Deise Sport London GAA's Philip Butler with the ball against Waterford's Paul Whyte in Fraher Field [Photo Sean Byrne/Deise Sport]
For those who don’t know, people from Cross are mad into their Gaelic football; it’s fair to say that it means everything to their community and they’ve been extraordinarily successful for it.

As illustrated in the BBC documentary Field of Dreams, to them, ‘soccer’ is just a word for that other type of football outsiders are into.

I myself played Gaelic football growing up but only ever called it ‘Gaelic’ for short, so that I could reserve the word ‘football’ for my other love, which I never really played properly but have always taken a keen interest in.


Judging by our readers, it’s heartening to know I’m not alone in this respect.

In and around GAA circles ‘soccer’ was always a dirty word when I was a kid. I remember being scolded by an ageing fellow club member for daring to discuss this rival sport on GAA premises.

Needless to say, I went home confused and upset at the notion of not being allowed to like ‘foreign sports’ (as they used to be referred to) which is pretty much every sport other than Gaelic games.

Thankfully, that dated GAA attitude is filtering out and kids are now free to enjoy rugby and ‘soccer’ guilt free; they just can’t be seen playing them within GAA grounds.

Australians have a similar dilemma when it comes to differentiating association football from Australian rules football, the most searched and most attended sport in the country, according to Topend Sports.

“No one says Aussie rules,” says Australian Dean Skinner, who met his Irish wife in Brisbane. “It's just football. Soccer is never referred to as football.”


Australian Rules Football is known as 'Aussie Rules' outside of the land down under [Picture: Getty] Australian Rules Football is known as 'Aussie Rules' outside of the land down under [Picture: Getty]
Melbourne resident and New South Wales native Jen Morillas counters that argument, saying: “We use both words, because half of us like to think we're European.

“I mean, we’re in the Eurovision after all! But all my friends tend to call it [association football] ‘football’ unless they need to clarify that they mean soccer. Football with the weird-shaped ball is just ‘footy’ to me.”

According to a study by University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski, the British only stopped saying 'soccer' themselves around 1980, by which point it had come 'too Americanised' for their liking.

Indeed, Britons tend to get irate at the word being used to describe their national game and, as such, are fiercely protective of the word 'football'.

All in all, it seems reasonable to suggest that whichever sport you prefer – Gaelic football or association football – gets the nod for the more coveted word of ‘football’.


There is no right or wrong.