An interesting article by Steve Amoia on the history of the game.
Contrary to what the media and others want you to believe, the word “soccer” is not an American creation. Or, “They (rest of the world) call it football, and we (North Americans) call it soccer.”
Derivation of the word
The word was derived from Association Football, which was the original term given to the game in the 1860s at the elite schools that spawned the sport in England. The abbreviation “Assoccer”, which became “soccer,” was used by the British upper classes of that period. When the sport was embraced by the less fortunate, the name of “soccer” was passed down. But most commoners used the word “football” to describe their new game. Nowadays, from the British Royal Family down to the passionate supporters in the terraces at Anfield (Liverpool FC), Old Trafford (Manchester United), or Stamford Bridge (Chelsea FC of London), the game is called football. Or “footy.”
Game and Name Exported by Sailors, Coaches, and Immigrants
When immigrants, coaches, and sailors exported the game overseas, the word “football” was loosely translated to fit the local languages. For example, Fútbol does not literally mean “football” in Spanish. Nor does Futebol translate into “football” in Brazilian Portuguese. The words “fut or fute” do not mean “foot” in either language. It was the English influence that still is found today.
Many professional soccer teams in Argentina have English names: Arsenal, Banfield, Newell’s Old Boys, and River Plate to name a few of the more famous ones. Real Madrid was originally called the “Sociedad Madrid Football Club” by its British founders in 1902. If you look closely, you can see the initials MFC in their famous logo. In Italy, one of the most famous clubs, AC Milan, was founded as the Milan Cricket and Athletic Club in 1899. In Italy, the coach is called “Mister.” As a tribute to the early English coaches who taught the game in that country. Italy has its own unique term for the game, where it is known as “calcio,” not football. The word translates to “kickball.”
Coming to America
When the sport arrived on our shores in the late 19th century (the US National Team played its first game against Canada in 1885), it was called Association Football. It was not called soccer. Only after the Second World War was the sport commonly referred to as “soccer.” Perhaps due to the growing impact of the NFL (American Football), and the belief that the game was foreign. Which is strange, because in the early 20th century, there were many industrial teams and leagues throughout the country.
While the sport was not as popular as baseball, it was on the sporting landscape. The USA competed at the first World Cup, which was held in Uruguay. The American team finished third, which remains its best historical performance. Many well-known soccer nations such as England, Germany, and Italy did not compete at the first World Cup. In fact, up until the 1970s, the USSF (United States Soccer Federation) used the word “football” in its title.
Other Countries Call it Soccer
In some areas of the Caribbean, along with Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, you can say the word “soccer” and the locals will understand its meaning. Although the emphasis is to call the sport football, the English legacy remains. One region of the former British Empire that did not embrace the game was India, where cricket remains the most popular spectator and participant sport.