Football season once again has us by the throat, and the mayhem can be enjoyed on Saturdays and Sundays and sometimes other days as well. When Americans speak of “football,” they don’t mean the same thing as most of the rest of the world. They mean a brutal tackling game that developed in this country in the 1860s and nowadays requires helmets and heavy padding. When the rest of the world speaks of “football,” it means what Americans call “soccer.”
Soccer originated in the 1840s in England and became known as “Association football,” named for its governing organization, the Football Association.The modifier “Association” was needed to distinguish it from another form of football that developed in 1840s England, “Rugby football,” named for Rugby School, at which it was first played.
The term “soccer” originated in the 1880s, as Oxford student slang, which playfully added “-er” or sometimes “-ers” to the roots of certain words. “Champagne,” for example, was referred to by Oxonians as “Champers.” Breakfast was “brekker.” The "Bodleian Library” morphed into “Bodder.” “Rugby football” was known as “rugger.” And in the same way, “Association football” was “Assoccer,” shortened in the 1890s to simply “soccer.”
When the game was taken up by non-university players, they rejected the Oxford “soccer” as too twee, and simply called it “football.” Rugby remained a game of the educated classes and thus retained the name “rugger,” by which it is commonly known today.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has his own brand of football, which consists of rocking on the balls of his feet in the direction of the nearest bar. After a few hours of this sport, he is able to come up with messages like this:
There was a pair of soccer kickers
Who suited up in knickerbockers.
At night, they worked as pocket-pickers
And stored their loot in liquor lockers.