• Justin Ford

Why is football called football if you play with your hands?

A common question asked is why football is called football? Is football actually soccer? Is it American football or football? Either way, if you don't play football with your feet why is it called football?

It's endless.

Each sport has a rich history with a story as to how it was formed, how it grew, and how it became the sport we know and love today. Most sports weren't just formed overnight. It took a long process to get it to where it is now.

It is impossible to understand when and where the concept of soccer originated, but today it is known as a universal sport played by people everywhere. The interesting part is learning how American football grew.

Soccer can also be referred to as football, but American football is not referred to as soccer.

First off, let’s get a bit of understanding of how these two sports came to be.

The sport of soccer involves solely using your feet to control and play during the game. Any use of your hands is considered foul play. Which is where the original term – football – came from. You’re controlling the ball with your foot.

Better yet, the official term for soccer is Association football, established by the Football Association, which was formed in 1863.

Where did the word soccer come from? It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when this occurrence formed. Overtime, the slang soccer was created, mainly used by North Americans, to simply refer to the game. It is hypothesized that the word came out of the word ‘Association.’

American football is mainly played by controlling the ball with your hands. So, people often wonder where the name came from if you’re not playing football with your foot.

American football is related to rugby which was related to soccer

It’s not to say that soccer came first and then came rugby, they were an odd mesh that really formed one game of football. Rugby and soccer both originated in Britain, but it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century where the games became fully codified and differentiated. That’s when the two games split to what they are known as today.

After the codifying and creating Association Football, followers of the Rugby game grew and refused to let it be 'obliterated' by the creation of Association. As a result, around 10 years following the Association came the Rugby Football Union – cool. After this point, the two games drifted apart.

American football stems from rugby, which is which is where it got its name – football. Get it?

The original games were never so clear cut

As mentioned above, until the games were codified and diverged into Association and Rugby, most ‘football’ games were played through the use of both hands and feet. Back then, rugby and soccer were a weird game of their own. So, it’s actually not that off and odd for American football to be called football. Over time, each country adopted its own set of rules for the games such as Australia Football or Canadian Football.

We hope that clears some questions up! If you have any more, feel free to send us an email or comment below.


Camp, Walter., Deland, Lorin. Football. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1896.

Harvey, Adrian. Football. Routledge, 2005.

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