The final session of Gaelic football for kids in Abu Dhabi last Sunday involved a match against the parents at the British School – delicious irony in that given the history between the Irish and the English. But that’s another story.

The kids call it “Gaelic”, but the parents call it football, after all, its Irish football.

And I’m afraid that if the football fraternity in Australia does not actively resist the insidious attempt by soccer to appropriate the name “football” then our game too will become known by its organisational name, AFL.  This is already the case in the northern states.

The Irish Society in Abu Dhabi, Na Fianna, works hard at providing social, sporting and cultural activities in the city for the expatriate Irish community. It fields two senior and two senior women’s football teams and a hurling team as well as catering for kids from 5-15 years. The society also holds the highly popular St Patrick’s Day Ball and arranges concerts and exhibitions.

The kids proudly wear the county shirt of their origin – Mead, Kerry, Kilkenny, etc are all there. My young bloke wears his Collingwood colours (not provided by me!), but given the Pies strong Irish Catholic antecedents it’s not altogether out of place.

But the point of my story is to proclaim that in Australia, soccer should call itself just that, soccer. Or more appropriately, Association football, which, of course, was shortened to soccer. … It doesn’t own the name, football.

Football – regardless of the code, is the name that a culture gives to its own game of football, as we have done in Australia, as have the Americans and the Canadians. They call soccer, soccer. This is the case  in New Zealand and most the South Pacific – where rugby is the dominant code.

The trend by the media to increasingly to call soccer, football, is probably not as detectable in the southern states where the media still largely refers to Australian football as ‘football’ given its overwhelming dominance in this part of the world. However, in Sydney and Brisbane, the Fairfax press, Fox Sports, ninemsn, and more recently, the ABC now call soccer, football. It’s confusing.

And it’s a crass case of linguistic imperialism. Moreover, it shows a lack of respect for Australia’s sporting traditions. Soccer is essentially, the “johnny-come-lately” game of football in Australia as it never really had an impact until after World War II although, in fact, it was played much earlier.

Soccer might be the “world game”, but it isn’t Australian football – that is an indigenous game that was developed in advance of Association football in England

There are four codes of football now played across Australia, it is probably the case that each should be referred to by their distinct name, viz., rugby union, rugby league, soccer and Australian football. For the latter, that’s the official name of the game. AFL is the name of the country’s premier football competition, not the game.

Then there can be no further confusion – even though we all know what football is in Melbourne! And in Benalla, Bunbury, Bordertown, Burnie and Balranald. The Benalla Football Club is not a soccer club; it was founded in 1871. The Benalla Rovers soccer club was started in 1954. Soccer ain’t football in this country. So it should not be called such – otherwise we’ll end up like the Irish surrendering again to British imperialism.


  1. Rocket – its been 10 hours and nobody has bitten yet!

    Just to confuse things further, as you well know, the Sydney Uni Football Club is the Rugby Union club.

    And in the southern states its not football…its ‘the footy’.

  2. Dave Nadel says

    You probably won’t get a bite because we have discussed this topic several times recently on the almanac. On the other hand it would be nice to read one of the members of ABC Grandstand (several of whom read this website) justifying the decision of the ABC to refer to Association Football as “Football.”

  3. Enjoyed the piece, but not an issue down here Rocket.

  4. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says

    Thanks for the responses.

    Crio – it’ll just happen and you’ll pick up the paper see the reference to Football – read it and find its about soccer. Overnight The Sydney Morning Herald just starting calling it Football and it spread to other media outlets, then soccer associations starting calling themselves Football Associations ( no problem if it had been Association Football)- and its got very confusing. Its now almost become part of the vencular.

    Then you have goons like Craig Foster referring to Australian football, and he’s talking about soccer…

  5. George Callum-Jones Kennedy says

    Rocket, you’re right again!

    Even FIFA’s official name (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) when translated is International Federation of Association Football with the French word order of noun-adjective referring to the round-ball game definitively as ‘Association Football’.

  6. Richard Jones says

    AH dear, Rocket. After all the issues and historical items on which we have agreed so solidly, here comes the decider.

    Typing this in the heart of ancient Persia — Shiraz, to be precise.

    And what have the people in the restaurants, the tourist buses and so on been discussing. Yep, football. The World Game to be exact. The clinker between Real Madrid and Barca if you want to be really specific.

    Long ago I gave up calling the round ball game “soccer”. Just we folk from Oz and the Septic Tanks refer to it by that name. The game played right across the globe — and our boys in the Asia Cup and the World Cup — is rightfully known as football.

    I’m quite happy for the ABC and the Syd. Morn. Herald to have a link simnply entitled “football”. I know immediately to which code they’re referring.

    And Rocket. Thanks for the tip on Damascus restaurant Al Khawali in the Old City. A beauty.

    Will be typing these Knackery replies from Oz in 10 days or so. And becoz it’s Shiraz (in Iran) the only Shiraz grapes on offer are the dried variety.
    Not a bottled drop anywhere to be found !!

  7. Rocket, this is something I wrote on this matter recently http://footyalmanac.com.au/?p=19323

    I’m not as hard line as your good self about the issue — though I agree with you. When soccer people call the game football they are projecting a desire — much the same as footy people calling their game football in Sydney or Brisbane.

    I grew up understanding football to be Rugby League (and even though I’ve been in Melbourne for 17 years I still sometimes go there when I hear the term).

    Historically Australian soccer had a much more significant history pre WWII than you suggest though — particularly big spikes in the 1920s and more than a few regions where it was a dominant (or jointly dominant) code much earlier than that. One point to be made is that soccer doesn’t call itself soccer in Australia until 30 years after it was first played (40 years formally).

  8. Pamela Sherpa says

    Couldnt agree more with you Rod. It”s not only annoying,its confusing to refer to soccer as football in Australia.

  9. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Go Syso, the Don Chipp of the Almanac.

  10. george kerlin says

    Agreed. It’s simple. In Australia, in 2011: AFL := footy; NRL := League; ARU := Rugby; Soccer := soccer.

  11. So I guess that would make them the Football-a-roos then. (Idea stolen from the previous correspondent).

    I’ll call it football when they start making real tackles.

  12. Ian Syson says

    Gus, they make real tackles already — they’re just different from tackles made in footy.

  13. Apologies Ian. It’s my usual bait for the English contingent at my current school.

    I can appreciate the grace and skill of soccer, but rarely see anything other than the pretentious being replicated on the playground. I find it sad that the kids are obsessed with the scorer of the goal rather than the creator, the satisfaction of through ball into space rates less than a mindless hack.

    UAE league is a joke where tickets can’t be given away despite huge salaries being paid to has beens from unknown countries. David Leary was recently sacked, so not sure who the next EPL fall guy will be…

  14. Ian Syson says

    Just got in from the VPL Futsal GF. Pascoe Vale beat Metro 8-5 or something like that. A number of times I had pause to reflect how a number of knackers might have had the fog lifted from their eyes re soccer: diving (didn’t happen); whinging to the ref (happened twice); toughness (generally hard and competitive game). All in all a good hard skillful game won by the team in black and white stripes.

  15. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says

    I want to reflect on Mark’s comment #1.

    The Sydney University Football Club was founded in 1863 when it was the only football game in town and used the rugby rules. It is one of the oldest rugby clubs in the world and proclaims to be the oldest rugby club in Australia.

    The Melbourne University Football Club was formed in 1859 and played a form of football that eventually moulded itself into what we now know as Australian football. For both clubs the game they played was football. Not many at Sydney Uni now call the SUFC the “football club” except as Mark would know, the Sports Union – for most on campus, and also in the sporting community, its the rugby club. A very successful rugby club that has won quite a number of premierships in recent years and produced more Wallabies than any other club.

    The football clubs formed in Victoria like Melbourne (1858), Geelong (1859), and Carlton (1864) did not play soccer. They played their own game of football, which the society still calls “football”. If you look at football clubs formed in the UK at this time they were called either Association Football club or Rugby Football club.

    At Sydney Uni there’s also a rugby league, a soccer club, and the Sydney University Australian National Football Club that was formed in 1887 – long before the league and soccer clubs. The names of the respective football codes have been reflected in the name of the constituent clubs all over Sydney and NSW for a very long time – except in the last five years or so, the soccer clubs have started to call themselves, “football” (sic) clubs.

    No code “owns” the name football, its what the people call it. And in Australia the media has been sucked into calling it a name that the vast majority of people do not call it.

    Let’s call a spade a spade, soccer is soccer.

  16. Ian Syson says

    Even while I agree with you about the general argument, it is not for you to tell organisations what to call themselves. If South Melbourne Hellas wants to call itself SMFC that’s up to the club. We can still call the game soccer (as you and I clearly will) if we choose.

    I’ve seen too many soccer team photos from early days with the term FC inscribed on the ball to allow arguments that the game has never been called football here. Here’s an example of the Thirroul Football Club from c. 1910 http://illawarraimages.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/IllaIms/P10/P10449.jpg
    You can rest assured it wasn’t an Aussie Rules club.

    It was called football, then soccer. Some within the game have decided to call it football again. I don’t agree with them for the reason I give in the above link.

  17. Andrew Fithall says

    The following announcement was just published on my sons’ school newsletter.

    Captain of Football – Patrick Moore (AFL), Connor Pain (Soccer)
    Captain of Rugby – Andrew Gillies

    The players names and the school are irrelevant. I will attempting to have a serious talk to some responsible people to tell them there is no such sport as AFL!

  18. Rick Kane says

    re #17, Very interesting point AF.

    I asked a good friend his opinion on this subject. My friend is English, his family emigrated to Australia when he was a young boy. He has played Association Football through his life. He has lived in Europe and Japan for the last 20 years and the beautiful game is a deep part of his life. He’s a mad Spurs fan because his Dad is and his Dad grew up in that part of London. For what it’s worth, here is what Richard said on the subject:

    “As for soccer v football, being completely removed from the Australian culture and environment it sounds like a very parochial debate, and one that I’m guessing is only really exercising the minds of Australian rules supporters. Does the Aussie Rules world feel threatened by the growth, locally and internationally, of the other game? People can call their games/sports whatever they want, but with 95% of the world calling the round ball game football, the popularity of the World Cup, UEFA Champions League, Premier League and the like, and the growth of the game locally, isn’t it almost inevitable that the name will also be used for the round ball game in Australia. Although I don’t know the local circumstances, I don’t buy the argument that TV channels in Sydney are forcing the name football, when talking about the round ball game, on the Australian population. A great conspiracy? I don’t think so. More like the TV channels and others are reflecting or predicting a wider trend. The debate on the Almanac site reminds me of when I was growing up in Perth, trying to tell people the real name of soccer is football but being constantly shouted down. I, and I guess other British immigrants, were fighting against the tide and had no chance. Maybe that’s where footy people are finding themselves now”.


  19. Ian Syson says

    Rick, as you know I’m an advocate for the name soccer but not a passionate one. However, one of the reasons Australian clubs and associations have named themselves football clubs or assocs is because they are starting to engage with Asia where the word football unambiguously denotes association football.

    My club, South Melbourne FC has recently played in the Singapore Cup and will do so again this season. Having been excluded from ‘new football’ in the Lowy revolution we are tentatively looking to play in the Singapore league. It would in that circumstance be absurd to call ourselves a soccer club. There’s a global reality that is driving the name change.

    This global reality also relates to the AFL as name of the code. Like it or not, Vlad the billion dollar man wants to brand the game with that moniker.

  20. Kenny from Kensington says

    I have been following this discussion with great interest because while I happen to call rugby league, league, but most of my mates still call it football. I began to follow the Swans as a result of the Super League War when they first made the grand final. As far as I am concerned people can call whatever game they like football, but please tell the newspapers, radio and TV crowd not to go jamming the word football down my throat when they’re reporting soccer! Reckon George Kerlin’s comment summed it up perfectly.

  21. Rick Kane says

    Probably not the last word, but for the sake of trying to be emphatic, I’ll say the last word on this matter should go to Stephen Colbert on his brilliant and not so slyly subversive satirical news show, ‘The Colbert Report’ in Britland for the Royal Wedding:

    “The English really are fond of their soccer here or as they call it, footsoccer”.

    Anyway … #19, Ian, that is very impressive that South Melbourne FC play in the Singapore Cup (and potentially League); competitions that would not be on the radar of anybody outside of that sport but International competitions nonetheless. Great for the club obviously and it also highlights what can become of a sport and people and teams when the sport crosses so may boundaries.


  22. Hi Rocket – is that the rocket from UTS in the 80s? Trying to catch up to get some history from you. Please send me your email and phone number so we can have a chat

    Cheers Axel

  23. Rocket Nguyen says

    On ya Axel – great to hear from you!
    Will send you contact details.
    Be pleased to help you in way I can with history.
    Now based in Saigon, Vietnam.

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