The source of the
name of the game—almost any game—is usually easy to figure out. You would be
correct, for instance, if, knowing nothing about football, you were to deduce
that the game involves contact between ball and foot. Similarly, the unschooled
could make some pretty good guesses about racquetball, basketball and
Now take a shot
at soccer. Soccus in Latin and socc in Old English refer to a light shoe and
are related to "sock." And, if you were to consult the authoritative
Oxford English Dictionary, you would learn that soccer was originally spelled
"socker." You might figure the name for soccer is linked to
And you would be
wrong. There is no connection.
Before I reveal
the source, let's take a look at the related game of rugby. Rugby started off
as a charming village in England called Hroca's Burg. Several centuries ago,
the village became Rocheberie and then Rokebi. But one mispronunciation led to
another, and pretty soon everybody called the town Rugby. Later, the famous
Rugby School was created.
In 1823, William
Webb Ellis, a student at Rugby School, was playing a form of football in which
the ball could be handled as long as the participant didn't move his feet.
Ellis, out of frustration, picked up the ball and hauled it over the goal line.
Ellis' action soon became an accepted practice and was identified with the
school as the "Rugby game."
What Rugby became
famous for was a rough-and-tumble version of "football," which, like
most other things, had been passed along by the Greeks and Romans. Eventually,
the game's rules were standardized, the size of the field and the shape of the
ball were established and the sport became known as rugby football, rugger for
Englishmen did not like the rugby form of football. They favored the earlier,
gentler game, in which physical contact was minimized and coordination and
cooperation were emphasized. And so, in 1863, an organization was formed to
codify the rules for their game. It was called, simply, the Football
Association. The game it governed was known as association football (to
distinguish it from rugby football); it became abbreviated to "assoc.
football" in print and was probably pronounced "soc football."
And, in much the
same way that rugby football had become known as rugger, soc football became
known as soccer. But, even so, it is popularly called football in Europe and
other places where American-style football has been rare; if not unknown. The
name "soccer" is used mostly in the U.S. and Canada.
trouble it has had catching on in the United States, soccer is the most popular
spectator sport in the world, drawing crowds totaling hundreds of millions
every year. You might even say it's had a lot of sock.