The most flexible word in the English language?

I believe it is a mark of the wide diversity of English, and the inventiveness of its speakers, that our language has at least six different meanings for the F-word, "football". Wherever a person is in the world, what they call "football" might not be a sport that people in other countries recognise as such.

I know. I'm as sickened by it as you are. Whether due to regional accent or bad teachering over the past 150 years but particularly the last generation or so, our "international" neighbours have found it acceptable to mangle our precious words FOOT BALL into some hideous abomination with no rules in the name of the twin prongs of "flexibility" and "political correctness".

Football-fields: adapted from

This folly takes many forms.

The game of Canadian football developed from rugby in the 19th century. The Canadians, famously an arrogant nation, named the sport after themselves, even though it already had a perfectly good and settled name: rugby, because the humble people of the town of Rugby did invent the sport, and cried when its name was modified.

This is what Canadian football looks like.
I should like any Canadian readers to explain this sport, about which I have no desire to learn.

FOOTBALL IN THE U.S.A.: American football was invented, surprisingly, by an Englishman. Charles Wreford Brown, a student at Oxford University, sat down for brekkers one day and was asked "Are you going to play soccer today?"
He replied: "No, I'm going to invent an horrid sport that the Americans will henceforth call 'football'."

Thus was created "American football", which is an Americanism. I fail to see how this game is football, or has any connection with the rest of humanity, as it appears to be played by helmeted cybermen without any ball at all! And yet countless Americans claim to find it entertaining; its popularity is a clear case of the Emperor's New Pads.

FOOTBALL IN IRELAND: I'll say this for the Irish: they haven't got the basics wrong. They didn't disfigure the essential roundness of the ball, which if you peruse your dictionary IS round because that's what makes it a ball!
Nor can Gaelic football be accused of Dumbing Down to the Lowest Common Denominator. It is almost impossible to keep track of whom is winning at any time, as the commentator mutters things like, "Kerry have narrowly beaten Mayo 0-20–5-4!", in a confused voice.
However, what I am unable to forgive is the permissive Irish attitude towards scoring: players are allowed to score without a net, or with a net! For 3 points! Read into that what you will, but this "anything goes" attitude causes the Gaelic football posts to resemble a ridiculous thing, a mished mash of rugby and soccer goals with none of the charm.

FOOTBALL IN AUSTRALIA: "Fuhdy", they call it. "Fuhdy": a word used by Australians to describe two popular sports, neither of which is football!
The first is rugby league. The second is "Australian football" (I refuse to say "rules" because it has none). This sport is played on cricket fields in winter. The aim of Australian football is to destroy a perfectly good pitch, in order to de-stabilise English cricket tours of Australia. As long as a player stays within these rules, he may do what he likes! A good drinking game is to watch Australian football, and take a "swig" whenever you don't understand what is going on. I predict you will get very drunken!

Together, the authorities of Gaelic and Australian football tried to concoct a better sport, "international rules". Sadly...


Bloody hell!, if you'll pardon my Australian.

It was heartening to hear New Zealanders speaking of "footballers" and, "playing some football". Unfortunately, they meant rugby union! Simply because they have the most famous rugby team, the 'All Blacks'. It's almost as though every country just calls its most popular ball game "football"! This is not how language works.

FOOTBALL IN SOUTH AFRICA: Use of the word is "disputed", according to the Wiki Pædiæ. The only way to settle this is to pit the South African soccer team against the rugby players, the Springbox, in a game of international rules! Winner takes (footb)all.

FOOTBALL IN INDIA: Nope. There is only cricket.

FOOTBALL IN THE UNITED KINGDOM: The book Soccernomics claims that Brits used to call football "soccer" freely and without being castigated by me. Many times, my grandad recounted his conversations in the 1950s,
– "How do! What yez deein the day like?"
– "Why, we're al gan' to watch the whyca't*... the soccer."
[*short for "what-you-call-it"]
Doesn't seem very realistic to me, and that's because it is a lie! Uttering the word "soccer" is, and always has been, an unpatriotic act for a British person, as it vandalises English and will probably cause our football (the truest form of football) to lose popularity and disintegrate into a melée of misshapen goalposts and head–gear.

But, I ask you, is this not already happening? Football has become a business, dominated by Germans and Mediterraneans and Step Bladder. On the pitch, too, football is no longer pure. Its name is FOOT BALL, yet so much of the play is non-foot or -ball-related! A "throw-in" with the hands is not football. Heading the ball is not football. Goalkeepers is not football. Hitting the crossbar is not football. The ball, bouncing on the ground, is not football!

This is why we in Britain must start again, and design a sport that better obeys my extremely strict conception of what "football" must entail. Either that, or go and practise our archery. It's not like other countries will be inventive enough to come up with a new form of football!

See also

More foreign mischief
I got all my info here