1. Home
  2. FAQ
  3. All you need to know about soccer
  4. What is the difference between soccer and football?

What is the difference between soccer and football?

What is the difference between soccer and football? Depending on which side of the Atlantic you learned your English, the answer is either 'There isn’t one' or 'It's a completely different sport'.

American English speakers call the sport run by the NFL and played mostly with the hands and always with an oval ball football. What is called football by most of the rest of the world, including UK English speakers, is known as soccer or European football in the USA and Canada. What is called football in North America is known as American football elsewhere. Confused? Let us explain.

Though over 90 per cent of the planet call the sport played by 22 players with a round ball on a rectangular pitch football in some shape or form depending on their native language, the sport’s full name is Association football. That is what it was christened in 1863 when the English Football Association defined the game’s first rules. The reason they called it that? To make sure it was not confused with other forms of football played at the time, notably rugby football, nowadays known simply as rugby, which is also played mostly with hands.

USA internationals Zack Steffen (l.) and Christian Pulisic (r.) grew up playing soccer in America before switching to football in Europe, but were they playing the same game? - imago images / Icon SMI

In the late 19th century, British students often used to shorten names and words, and so they set to work on Association football. It was first recorded in 1889 as socca and then socker before finding its current form in 1895.

With American football already popular in North America and being popularly known as football, Association football needed a new name to distinguish it in the United States, so it was called soccer. While that word is still frequently used in the US, it is only very rarely used in the United Kingdom, where you'll often even hear it referred to as the Beautiful Game, a name popularised thanks to Brazilian legend Pele.

It's also common to come across the Portuguese translation of that, O Jogo Bonito, because of the impact five-time world champions Brazil have had on the game, as well commercials from sportswear companies.

As for any differences in rules between soccer and (Association) football, the answer is that there are none. Both refer to the same sport featuring 22 players described above and adhere to rules laid out by the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

Watch: How does one of the game’s newest innovations, VAR, work in the Bundesliga?

That is the body that determines what's known as the Laws of the Game, which agrees a standardized set of rules for play around the world. The board consists of global governing body FIFA alongside the four football associations of the United Kingdom: England (The FA), Scotland (SFA), Wales (FAW) and Northern Ireland (IFA).

Any professional match has to abide by these rules, regardless of whether you're playing football, soccer or o jogo bonito.