So why do YOU call it “football”?

I recently stumbled across this diatribe, which appears to be a thinly-disguised all-American rant against what most of the world calls “football” and Americans insist on calling “soccer”. I also stumbled across a far more reasoned discussion to which I would draw your attention.

Before going any further, let’s take a quick rundown of the main sports in the US.

  • Baseball – Originally invented in England (yes, England), a variant called “rounders” is still played in Britain… mainly by girls.
  • Basketball – Still played in Britain as NetBall, but again, mainly by girls. No self-respecting English schoolboy would be caught dead playing netball.
  • Football – Chiefly characterized by speed, power and aggression, this sport is known in Britain as American Football (or Armoured Rugby, probably because of all the padding that the players have to wear).

Now let’s go across the pond…

  • Football – Ninety minutes of watching twenty-five men chasing a ball around. What fun!
  • Rugby – Much like American Football, but the same players stay on the field throughout the entire game and they don’t need to pad themselves up like nancies. Consequently most rugby players can be readily identified by missing front teeth.
  • Cricket – If you know the rules of this game, please let me know. I was born and raised in England and it still makes no sense to me…

I agree with their premise that “soccer” will never catch on in the land of the free and the home of the brave – but not for the reasons that they think.

Most American sports have been designed – or redesigned – around the almighty commercial break. Here’s what a Baseball game looks like to me…

  1. Lots of wibble from commentators.
  2. Camera zooms across field to pitcher, who spits.
  3. Camera pans to batter, who waves his bat menacingly.
  4. Pitcher goes through some callisthenics, spits again, and pitches.
  5. Batter hits the ball and runs to first base.
  6. Cut to commercials.

The idea of 45 minutes of commercial-free game would give most network execs a nervous breakdown, never mind that those who are watching on Cable or Satellite have already paid once… but I digress.

As an expatriate Brit living in the US, I have some strong opinions on the subject. While I am no fan of American Football, I respect the game and the players – though some of the fans can be more than a little extreme. I found the article offensive, inflammatory and factually incorrect. Let me quote and expound, if I may…

Most soccer matches end in scoreless ties (or nil, nil in soccer parlance), 1-1 deadlocks or 1-0 victories. A final score of 2-1 is regarded as a veritable outburst of offense… A score of 2-0 is said to be a crushing victory (or defeat) of Carthaginian proportions

This is true, but only for good teams that are evenly-matched. In local (“league”) games, a score of 4-3 is not uncommon. Cricket matches routinely have scores that run into the hundreds – does that make Cricket a better sport? I would like to see more goals, to be sure, but is that really grounds for complaint?

In truth, soccer could be played without using a ball at all, and few would notice the difference.

The same could be said for American football – especially the bit when they all jump on each other pile up with the ball somewhere at the bottom.

The game consists of 22 men running up and down a grassy field for 90 minutes with little happening as fans scream wildly.

A football game takes less than two hours from start to finish. The starting players are usually there till the end. Think about that. These guys are on their feet for all that time – and on the move for most of it – with only one fifteen-minute break between halves. American Football games last far longer, but if you channel-surf into a game at random, you are likely to see one of the following than actual gameplay:

  1. A commercial break.
  2. One of those times when “Dee-fence” and “Off-fence” teams are swapped in and out at the drop of a hat.
  3. Commentators indulging in random wibble and/or stastical blather.
  4. Dramatic close-ups of players.
  5. Dramatic close-ups of the crowd.
  6. The team taking a coffee-break while one guy comes out to kick the ball between a pair of posts.

So yes, football is 90 minutes of men running around. While an american football game is far longer, the actual amount of gameplay is far shorter – and the amount of time the players are actually “working” is shorter still.
Sorry, what was your point again?

goaltenders wile away their time perusing magazines, trimming their fingernails or inspecting blades of grass

Excuse me sirs, but your ignorance is showing.

  1. They are Goalkeepers or Goalies, not “Goaltenders“.
  2. It is while, not wile… unless they are fluttering their eyelashes and flirting with the spectators.
  3. If a Goalie gets bored, he can always run up the field and join the game, kick the ball around, and even score goals (though he cannot handle the ball outside of his area).
  4. At any given time in an American Football game, half of the team is on the bench. What are they doing? What magazines are they reading?

Gentlemen, you have made it stunningly obvious to anyone with more than half a brain that you have not seen enough football to be able to make such sweeping judgements.

Mostly soccer is just guys in shorts running around aimlessly, a metaphor for the meaninglessness of life.”

Two can play at that game. By your definition, American football is just huge padded guys running each other over, a metaphor for “get out of my way or I’ll mow you down”, and Baseball is a metaphor for lashing out in anger and running around in circles. Your point, gentlemen?

In almost all other sports, the head is protected against injury. Players wear helmets and try to avoid contact with sticks, bats, balls, elbows, fists, roadways, goalposts and other things that might inflict injury on that big brain… But soccer players use their heads, deliberately, to contact the ball. This is contrary to all human instinct, which is to keep the head out of the way of danger. Duck, you idiot! Protecting the head against injury is deeply rooted in our nature… This is as stupid an action as a human being can undertake… Soccer, then, would appear to be a game better suited to dim-witted quadrupeds than to human beings.

Gentlemen, have you ever heard of a sport called BOXING? Head injuries are common in this sport, but for some reason it is very popular in America. While we are on the subject of injuries, let’s look at the typical game-related injuries.


  • In game injuries: Cuts, scrapes, bruises
  • Carried away: It is very rare to see a player injured badly enough to take them out of the game.
  • Career-ending injuries: Few careers are ended by injuries.

American Football

  • In game injuries: Broken limbs, broken backs and blown out knees are not uncommon.
  • Carried away: It is not at all unusual to see a player being carried from the field.
  • Career-ending injuries: More careers are ended by injury than anything else.

So… who is being asinine here?

any game which prohibits the use of the hands is contrary to nature

That’s why it’s called football. Words fail me. But that’s ok – apparently they have failed you too.

Guys, it is ok to dislike Soccer; it is not a perfect game. But it is obvious that you are simply seeking justification for your prejudices, and are no more qualified to give expert commentary on that game than I am to comment on the many oddities of American sports. The difference is that I do not pretend to be any kind of expert – I have merely tried to show some of them as an outsider would see them. I am no fan of any sport in particular, but your particular brand of “We’re Amurrican and therefore we’re right” Jingoism/Xenophobia has no place either in sports or in journalism.

Watching American Football is like watching a series of hundred-yard-dashes separated by copious breaks. Football is more like watching a Marathon. Does that make the Marathon any less noble a sport?

By the way… we call it football because it is played with the feet. So tell me… why do YOU call it “football”?

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  • queenmothersbiggestfan  On February 17, 2009 at 5:41 PM

    Hello. As a fellow Brit, I would like to thankyou for your well argued work. Its encouraging to hear there are people like you in the States making a stand for what is true and right.

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