Before I start ranting and raving in my usual manner (with plenty of brackets) I feel I need to preface this with a fact about me. I am in fact a British immigrant in the tropical island of New Zealand. As a Brit, I love what is known as ‘the beautiful game’, a game called football. Now anyone who knows an iota about New Zealand knows that football is not their most popular sport, it is of course horse dressage (of course I jest but I can’t help thinking that there is some truth to the statement when we’re subjected to it every time the Olympics rolls around, even if something more interesting is on, like handball or fencing or watching paint dry), it is in fact rugby. Every Brit in a country that is not football oriented will hear the word that makes your fists clenc h, your teeth grind and your blood boil. That six letter word that can make a mild mannered man willing to kill, willing to kill in the most graphic and horrible way possible, the word ‘soccer’. I for one admit that I have heard it a number of times as a British teenager in a foreign land (they still haven’t found all of the body parts) but recently I’ve come to thinking, is the word ‘soccer’ really so bad.
So right now I’m sure that football fans are preparing to march on me like an army of ancient Britons, faces painted, wearing their tribes colours and armed with whatever they have found handy, ready to descend on me like I’m a roman soldier who called Boudicca ‘a bit porky’ (but then again I should have known what I’m getting with football fans, I’m watching you Millwall). Just give me some time to explain myself.
As you may know ‘soccer’ is short for association football, and many a football fan will tell you that ‘the beautiful game’ was the original football and the Americans came along and stole the name for their game, even though they ‘don’t even use their feet’. However this is not the case, and football was used as a name for many games in the 1800s (i.e American, Sheffield, Rugby, Australian Rules etc).
But i feel like we’re skipping ahead a step, first let us cast our minds back to primitive times, a time when animals were large and savage, men were fearful and made tough by that fear, and dating was easy. From the moment man learned that they could use parts of animals for work and leisure they were experimenting with parts to see what was easier to kick around, and were discouraged after a very messy tangling incident with the large intestine. But before you could say ‘kicking around the bladder of a sheep’ they had their game underway, and it was a rip roaring game, unfortunately man’s new obsession with this game set back production of the wheel by months. It is strongly believed by researchers that this game was the cause of the first argument between a man and a woman, it is also strongly held that it was about the woman’s failure to understand the offside rule.
Now lets fast forward to the ancient times, between the columns of ancient Rome, where there were many ball games that required the use of hands and feet. Such games also existed outside of the cities in the country, unfortunately the lack of columns had players in search of alternatives to use as goals, this spawned the popular phrase ‘tunicarum, quae est finis’ or ‘tunics for goalposts’.
This football for rowdy peasants in the countryside has been a common trend in the history of football. In rural England in medieval times entire towns would line up against other towns for a game, of course many townspeople used this as an excuse for a punch up, but of course peasants were always looking for an excuse for a fight, bloody peasants.
The point of this whole delving into the history of football (of which only some is factual) is that throughout history and all over the world men have been picking up bladders of animals and carrying or kicking them around, usually in a way that leads to the ball going between 2 or more
posts. From the Chinese playing ‘cuju’ to the aboriginals in Australia playing ‘marn grook’ to the Inuit people of Greenland playing ‘Aqsaqtuk’. Football has always been in the global consensus for over a millennium, however by the late 1600s Britain had moved on and these games seemed unstructured and savage, these games needed revamping, rules and structure needed to be added. This required the smarts, the creativity and the pedantry of a British public school boy.
Public schools all over the country had their own games and own set of rules for these games, rules about how the ball can be handled or kicked, how points were to be scored and how rough the players could be in attempts to get the ball, there was even an offside rule. These became known as codes in the 1800s and had greatly increased in popularity due to the fact that peasants now had to work in factories (bloody peasants), while public school boys didn’t have to work a day in their lives (nice to see that has changed….).
Britain by this time had an empire and was well in the process of stamping out anything of cultural relevance which was deemed ‘too savage’, at this point similar games were being developed in the more ‘settled in’ colonies Canada and Australia, and former colony USA (the rebellious brother of North America).
Of the public school codes, only 3 are relevant to the creation of modern sports, Sheffield, Cambridge and Rugby. Sheffield and Cambridge rules being used as the basis for association football aka ‘soccer’, ‘the beautiful game’ or ‘football’, while those who followed the rugby code went on to form their own governing body separate from the then new Football Association. These rugby rules were also the basis of the rules of Canadian football which in turn were the basis for the rules of American football. My point is that there is no need for fans of ‘the beautiful game’ to be snobs when it comes to which game should be given the name ‘football’, in fact if anyone has the right to be snobbish (and a bit hipster) about being the original it’s the Australians, Australian Rules Football was officially organized in 1859 (damn hipster Australians), two years before Canadian football (1861) and four years before Association Football (1863).
So 5 sports, all invented around the same time, all with similar origins and all sports that became highly popular professional sports (well except Canadian football), so what’s with all the elitism over the name football? Well ‘soccer’ is by far the most popular of the four, this being because of its simple rules making it the most easily accessible and easiest for anyone to pick up, and secondly because it’s not heavily nationalized sport. American, Canadian and Australian Rules Football are all ingrained into the cultures of the country of their origin, this is not so for ‘soccer’, it is universal.
So ultimately it is not named football because it is the first, or the best (subjectively), but merely because it is the most popular and can only become more popular around the globe. This is evident by the way that FIFA is making so much of an effort to make more of the world take part, there are currently trying to take measure to make it that more African, Central American and Pacific countries can take part on the global stage at the World Cup, it seems to be working somewhat as in 2010 an unprecedented 2 pacific teams took part in a World Cup. It is also evident as Australia, New Zealand and Samoa have all changed the names of their respective governing bodies to reflect that they are calling it football and not ‘soccer’.
So when I am asked what I call the beautiful game, I will still say that I call it football, however I will not begrudge anyone if they instead prefer to call it soccer, there is no historical basis for any snobbery (damn hipster Australians).
Now that’s been sorted, if there are any women still here (unlikely) maybe you’d like me to explain the offside rule…….