April 26, 2010

Football vs Soccer

We've decided to wade into an age-old debate. Should football/soccer be called football or soccer? Consulting Wikipedia doesn't really help, as there are twenty one pages of argument debating this very question (they finally settled on the term "association football").

In order to usefully respond to these debates, we figured that we should try to develop a useful understanding of the geography of "football" and "soccer." So our foray into this argument will be through a couple of simple maps. The first shows the relative usage of the word "football," while the second relative usage of the word "soccer."

References to "Football"

References to "Soccer"
Some interesting patterns are evident on these maps. Much of Arabic and Anglopone Africa stands out with a large number of references to both terms (in fact, "football" and "soccer" are some of only a small number terms that we have thus far encountered that have a comparatively high number of hits in Africa). A quick sample of the hits for football and soccer in a few different African cities reveals a range of geographic associations with the terms: bars that show football, soccer pitches, conversations that were had about football, recorded memories of a soccer game that took place, and of course references to the forthcoming World Cup in South Africa. Yet it remains unclear why Libya, Sudan, Tanzania and many other countries on the continent score so highly.

In some cases, a large number of hits for either "football" or "soccer" does seem to be correlated with on-the-pitch successes (either historical or contemporary): see Uruguay and Iraq as examples. Uzbekistan is another interesting example. Surprisingly, the country is home to a relatively large number of virtual references to "football," despite not really being the first country that springs to mind when thinking of the sport (a la Brazil, Germany or England). The country has a low total number of placemarks, but it is likely the relative prominence of FC Bunyodkor (an intriguing case of billionaires, politics, and sky high ambitions) that has sparked a lot of online interest in the footballing side of Uzbekistan.

None of this really helps us resolve the football vs. soccer debate. So we made one final map illustrating the contrast in the number of references to both terms.

What does this map tell us? There are only a few places in the world in which there are more references to soccer than football (Brazil, South Africa, parts of Japan and South Korea, and Canada). Interestingly, Ireland, the US and Australia all refer to association football as "soccer" and yet have far more references to "football." This is likely due to the fact that all three countries play their own regional versions of the sport: Gaelic football, American football, and Australian rules football.

Stay tuned, as our next post will look at how linguistic differences in virtual references to football/soccer in Google Maps are reflective of the differences in language use in the offline world (or perhaps not?).


  1. Fifa world cup is coming and it is a hot topic.

  2. Since Fifa world cup is coming this is a hot topic.

  3. Try Google Trends

    It convenient that "football" is spelled the same in English and French, but you kind of passed up fussball, futbol, and calcio.

    Clearly the English language use of "Football" is heavily influenced by non-soccer meanings as you pointed out, so such statistics games must be done more carefully on phrases. It's not clear exactly how though.

  4. @Lamblin: We're currently working on a map that shows the cross-linguistic differences using references to football/soccer in a number of languages. It'll likely be up Wednesday, so be on the lookout for that.

  5. I say soccer. That's what I grew up with calling it.
    Football to me always referred to rugby league/union or AFL (aussie footy).

  6. haha pretty powerful observation. can be quite confusing at times.


  7. I think the reason some countries appear to reference 'soccer' more in the shaded map, may have to do with the presence of more than one form of 'football' in that country. So, for example, in the UK there's really only one popular 'football' so there's less need for people to use the word 'soccer' to differentiate it. Next door in Ireland, 'Gaelic football' is very popular, so even though most people call 'soccer' 'football' there is often the need to use the word 'soccer' to differentiate it from 'Gaelic football'. Keeping up?! Meanwhile over in the USA 'American football' is the popular 'football' and more people need to use the term 'soccer' to differentiate it from 'soccer'. Waayyy too many apostrophes in this comment! Same goes for Australia where 'Australian rules' in the most popular form of 'football' although the shading on your map isn't as dark as Ireland or USA, Canada.

  8. #john, thanks for the thoughts, I think you are on to something with the multiple forms of football, btw, I think your post could use a few more apostrophes.... Cheers...Matt

  9. Aqui no Brasil tem o melhor Futebol do Mundo.
    Somo os maiores e melhores do mundo.

    The best of world!!!


  10. This is likely due to the fact that all three countries play their own regional versions of the sport: Gaelic football, American football, and Australian rules football.

    These games are completely unlike soccer. are are not regional versions of it.

  11. @Ayns: you're right. I shouldn't have called Gaelic/American/Aussie football regional variations as they are all really quite different. Thanks.

  12. i htink this is a bunch of crap

  13. I've been livin in Spain, Russia, Germany and Brazil. and I didn't meet anyone who would tell me he or she played american football. So, this map is definitely bullstuff.


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