I thought long and hard on what word to use to refer to the world’s most popular sport. I can’t talk about it if I don’t know what to call it. Thousands, if not millions, of lovers and haters of the game have ardently debated the naming issue for years.
The vast majority of the world calls it “football.” Americans, along with a few Aussies, Canadians, and Irish, call it “soccer.” If any other group also prefers to call it soccer, feel free to join the aforementioned minority. The English, who claim to have invented the sport, are particularly vociferous in criticizing the American insistence on calling it soccer when, ironically, they were the ones who saddled us with the term. Heck, the Italians call it “calcio” and no one seems to give them a hard time for not calling it football.
In the good-ole’ days of the mid 19th-Century (Industrial Revolution soot notwithstanding), when sports in Britain were becoming somewhat organized, football broke into two camps: the folks who preferred using their hands and those who’d rather use their feet when dealing with a pesky ball. The former, which used an egg-shaped ball (better perhaps to toss to each other through the air), called their sport “rugby-football.” The latter, which preferred a round ball (easier I’m sure for kicking on the ground), referred to their game as “association-football.” Thus, the rugby-football gents were called “ruggers” and the association-footballers were called “soccers.” In the intervening decades, rugby-football used the first of its two names more frequently, while association-football used the second, monopolizing its use more stridently, and perhaps more accurately, as it makes sense you’d use your foot when playing football.
Americans, being the endearing xenophobes that we are, chose our own path. We took rugby, changed the rules a bit, donned leather helmets, and called the whole thing football. But what of that oddly-foreign concoction that the European immigrants on our shores called football? Those Yanks must’ve scratched their heads until some Englishman passing by kicking his round ball may’ve helpfully called out “we also call it soccer.” Let’s buy that Brit a pint for triggering the drawn-out soap opera that is soccer vs. football.
Thus, in order to keep everyone in the debate partly dissatisfied, I’ll ignore my Irish forebears who think football is the Gaelic version and draw upon my Spanish roots and just call the darn thing “futbol.” That way, (1) the British won’t complain that I’m calling it soccer, (2) my countrymen won’t berate me for using the term they’d rather apply to the American version (which perhaps should’ve been named “gridball” or bashball,” but that’s another issue), and (3) my Latin friends will know what the heck it is I’m babbling about. Finally, for my fellow Americans who will still demand I call it soccer because to not do so is an insult to US-football, I’ll tell them that I played full-pads, full-contact American football for 20 years (with the scars to prove it) and love BOTH sports, so I’ll call them whatever the heck I want.
That was easy wasn’t it? Now that I know what to call it, I’ll have to address later the first word of the title up top: the BUSINESS of Futbol. In the last few decades, futbol has been a massive worldwide business worth billions of dollars, but in the U.S. it has proven to be as massive a challenge. Why has it been so successful a business abroad and so difficult here in America? Stay tuned for our next chapter (if we get good Nielsen ratings and get picked up for another episode) when we’ll delve into the myriad issues that surround the Business of Futbol. Apologies as well to my Latin American brethren who dislike our gringo appropriation of the word “America,” but that is also an issue for another day. Until then, let’s keep the ball rolling…
Scott Moran is an international corporate attorney. He is a partner with Berman Fink Van Horn P.C., a full-service law firm in Atlanta, and has served as legal and business counsel with AT&T/BellSouth, Turner Broadcasting, the Atlanta Silverbacks and Troutman Sanders LLP. Scott is heavily involved with Atlanta’s efforts to re-launch a professional futbol club in the city and help bring the FIFA World Cup to the United States in 2018 or 2022. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a former military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army.