What Do Brits Call a Soccer Ball?

Soccer is popular within the United States and the United Kingdom, as both of these nations share a similar love for the beautiful game.

But what’s quite interesting however, is the fact that the citizens of each country refer to the spherical object used to play the sport in different ways.

The people of Great Britain call a soccer ball by a different name, instead choosing to cite and reference the popular piece of equipment as a “football”.

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If you’re familiar with the years of eventful history between the aforementioned nations, then this distinction in nomenclature won’t come as a surprise to you!

Just take a moment to picture how Americans call certain things and then visualise the United Kingdom’s word equivalent.

To paint an easy picture for you, I’m going to run down through some food-related examples:

  • Courgette (UK) vs Zucchini (USA)
  • Prawns (UK) vs Shrimp (USA)
  • Chips (UK) vs Fries (USA)
  • Sweets (UK) vs Candy (USA)

As you can see, the list is pretty extensive.

Now let’s move back to the matter of soccer balls.

There are two very simple reasons why this name transforms once you make your way out of American territory and progress towards the land of the British.

Here’s why…


Why do people in England call a soccer ball a football?

It’s not out of pure stubbornness that the English decided to refer to soccer balls as footballs.

In fact, there’s quite a bit of logic that went into the way these objects were named.

Read on to find out more.


1. Growth of Association Football

why brits call soccer balls footballs - growth of association football

During the early 1800s in England, football and rugby were almost unified in the sense that they were just different variations of the same game.

However, things changed in the year 1863.

At this time, the Football Association was developed to formalise football and publish a specific rule set that the aristocratic boys of that era – who played games against each other through school representation – could follow.

On the 26th of October in 1863, the Football Association was officially founded following a meeting of London clubs at the Freemason’s Tavern.

Because “football” at the time included soccer and rugby, there were too many similarities that made the game quite generic and in need of a distinctive overhaul that included further categorisation.

Now once that formation had taken place, the Rugby Football Union also decided to go on a similar path in 1871 by codifying the rules of rugby.

So, after that was achieved, the two sports officially became known as “Rugby Football” and “Association Football”.

Over time, the “Association Football” name grew to become increasingly prevalent in countries where it was the only kind of game that was played with the feet.

And the sport witnessed exponential progression after the first standard soccer ball was invented.

With the advancement of more international matches and tournaments featuring black and white soccer balls that were televised on screen, “football” just sort of stuck in the minds of players and fans as the standard international word used to describe the game.

This influence also made its way over to the English territories, which is why to this day their citizens typically refer to soccer balls as footballs.


2. Game is played with the feet

On a more amusing note, the people of Britain still like to call soccer balls “footballs” because the game is played predominantly with the feet.

What’s quite funny is that they actually joke about the sport called American Football by referring to it as “hand egg”!

Their justification for this word play is that the ball is rarely dropped from a player’s hands, and that player’s feet are not called into action with much frequency either.


Why do Americans call it a soccer ball?

In the late 19th century, a sport called gridiron football became a hit in the United States.

The game – which combined elements of both association football and rugby – exceeded the popularity of the aforementioned two within the country and soon it became known as “American Football”.

Now, when association football begun to make waves in the United States, the powers that be couldn’t just allow the sport to be called football in the same way that American Football (a derivative of rugby) was defined as.

The term “soccer” had already been coined in England during the 1880s, as renowned professor of sports economics – Stefan Szymanski – posited that it was a way of differentiating between the variants of the game at a time when the rules of the sport had not been fully agreed on.

What’s quite interesting is that Americans who played soccer in the country began to use this term to refer to the sport.

And it wasn’t before long that the United States Football Association changed its own name:

“The United States Football Association, which had formed in the 1910s as the official organizing body of American soccer, changed its name to the United States Soccer Football Association in 1945, and it later dispensed with the “Football” altogether.”

Source – Britannica

Soccer became the new term and it’s the reason why Americans say they play American Football with a “football” and Association Football with a “soccer ball”.

Check out the video below, which does a slightly better job of explaining this in a succinct way:


What does Europe call a soccer ball?

You will find that the many European countries use the word “football” to describe the sport that Americans call “soccer”.

So European nations typically mention “footballs” when they are in fact speaking about soccer balls!

Here’s a nice infographic that shows you exactly which regions of the world use the term “football”:

You will find that “soccer” is generally used in countries where other competing forms of football exist.

Examples of where this is evident include Canada, which has its own form of gridiron football and Ireland which has Gaelic football.

Samuel Waihenya
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