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Football vs. Football: The Name Debate Settled

In the world of sports one of the longest running debates revolves around the word "football". While UK sports fans adamantly claim that their game (also known as Futbol and Soccer) deserves the exclusive rights to the name, American fans have a different point of view.

Fans of American football (also known as Grid Iron) mount the argument that UK Football has a second name (soccer) and American football does not. Since the typical American is either ignorant of other cultures, or simply doesn’t care, they seem to believe that this alone should settle the debate.

Remember, in the eyes of the typical American, America is #1. They don’t get specific with that claim, because, in reality, America is rarely #1 (unless we’re talking about national debt or prison population).

(Before any American reading this gets all worked up into a huff and start plotting their snarky comments you need to remember: I’m not insulting you, I’m insulting the majority of your country’s population. Until your major TV networks stop allowing their “experts”, such as Bill O'Reilly, to make claims such as “no one can explain why the tides come in and out”, there is no debate to be had.)

I figure since I’m Canadian, and most of us Canadians are almost impartial on this subject (we’re too busy watching Hockey) I’d fill in as a mediator and try to settle this debate once and for all. I honestly don’t lean either way; I enjoy both of these sports equally.

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The Plan

I’m going to compare each sport under a series of categories, each category earning the better sport a single point. The sport finishing with the most points will forever be deemed “the greater of the two”, thus claiming all rights to the name Football.

Obviously, this is all very scientific.

The goal for each category is to break it down to the simplest ideas possible, because other than being played on a field and involving running these two sports have almost nothing in common.

I’ve also tried to stay away from any category which would be completely subjective (such as which sport has better athletes). Without a neutral head-to-head athletic competition categories like this are next to impossible to judge; which is good, since it allows me to get far more creative.

Let the battle begin:


american football versus european football

Accessibility is first for a very good reason: if kids need money to play the game, then it becomes a game for privileged kids. This is the biggest problem with ice hockey. Without a serious amount of money (and ice rinks) you can’t get into the game.

At the very basic level the two sports are equal: all you need is one ball, a couple of friends and a flat surface to run on. But once you get beyond the basic “fun” levels, and start to take the game more seriously, American football requires a full set of equipment and a lot of friends, while you can play European football at the nearly highest level with still nothing more than a ball, flat surface and a couple of friends.

Truth be told, you can practise a significant portion of your European football skills by yourself with a ball. The first point definitely goes to the UK.

Score: UK-1 USA-0

The Ball

football ball

The biggest advantage of a football over a pigskin is you can make your own football out of whatever scraps of cloth and tape you can find. But since this is more of an accessibility argument (and the UK already won that point) I’m going to leave this out of the consideration.

While tremendous amounts of design, engineering and testing have gone into the creation of today’s high-end footballs, they’re really not much different from any other ball out there. Team Handballs are little footballs, basketballs are bigger thick-skinned footballs, and dodge-balls are plastic softer footballs which leave little waffle marks on your face when your year 6 P.E teacher blindsides you yelling “SUCK IT LIND”.

Other than the paint job, there is really nothing all that cool about a football. It doesn’t resemble the original balls, and they all look like they’re from a video game or made of plastic. A pigskin, on the other hand, is leather with white stitching. The balls used today are basically the same as the original versions, just a better made and more perfectly rounded version. It tapers on both ends and is unique among all other balls out there. The closest any other ball comes is a rugby ball, which is more of a cousin than a brother.

I have to give this one to America.

Score: UK-1 USA-1


replica sweater versus football jersey

This might be the toughest category for me to rank. To be clear, I’m ranking this one on a regular person wearing the sweater out to a pub, not the on-field durability of functionality.

On one hand we have American football jerseys, which might be my least favourite jersey from any sport. Because of the large shoulder pads and little-to-no leg/hip/waist padding they always look like a triangle. Plus the super glossy/translucent mesh material they all seem to be made of I’m not really a fan of.

On the other hand we have football replica sweaters with advertising so prominent you’d think you’re supporting team bwin, not AC. Milan. I hate logos and advertising on clothing, which makes me want to rule against the UK here. But even with the adverts, you still look like less of a cock wearing a replica EPL sweater than an NFL jersey in the pub.

This one goes to the UK.

Score: UK-2 USA-1

football goal celebrations

Goal Celebrations

I’ve taken a long time to deliberate on this topic, and I’ve finally come to a ruling. While the touchdown celebrations in the NFL are anything but lacking, they all feel contrived to me. Even if your celebration is spontaneous, so many of them are rehearsed and planned that it comes off as a dance or a show.

When watching European football, a goal is often celebrating by a thundering release of emotion and joy. Rather than having rehearsed and polished celebrations footballers tend to be raw, exhibiting nothing more than pure emotion and elation.

Other than Tiger Williams playing hockey, I’ve never seen so much pure raw emotion in a sporting venue, outside of winning a championships. Without a doubt, this one goes to the UK.

Score: UK-3 USA-1

football cheerleaders


If there’s one thing American football takes seriously, it’s their cheerleaders. The cheerleaders are such a huge part of the game that the team’s cheerleading squads can become nearly as famous as the team itself. In fact many of the most popular squads from the NFL have their own webpage.

America even makes movies based entirely on cheerleading and cheerleading competitions. The most notable of these was the gem known as Bring It On. This movie is so goddamn popular they’ve now made four sequels. That’s correct, there are five movies in the Bring It On franchise (and I don’t recommend you watch any of them).

Any country who takes cheerleading this seriously deserves this point. That and the majority of professional European football squads don’t even have cheerleaders.

Score: UK-3 USA-2


europe versus america

I don’t follow UK news all that closely, so I might be incorrect on this one, but I’m pretty confident that the EPL doesn’t have to deal with one of their players being involved in a shooting, rape, dog fighting ring or violent gang at least once a season.

While I’m sure plenty of footballers are dicks, there is really no contest here. When it comes to class, America is almost never the first place which comes to mind. The UK takes this one by a landslide.

Score: UK-4 USA-2

Putting on a Show (spectacle)

football half time

If you had to pick one thing the NFL does best, it would their amazing ability to turn every game into a massive spectacle to behold. American football truly takes to heart the American mind frame of bigger is better: everything to do with an NFL game is utterly massive.

They have fighter jets doing flybys (even with a closed roof stadium for some reason), blimps, choreographed pyrotechnics, halftime shows with some of America’s biggest pop stars and provide more hype and buzz than any other sport in any other country.

The NFL is simply a hype and spectacle machine. Even people who don’t care or understand the game at all tune in to watch the Superbowl. I have no idea how they managed to do this, but they do it every year. Hands down, this point goes to the US of A.

Score: UK-4 USA-3

Game Atmosphere (crowd)

football fans

Despite the hype and grandeur of an NFL match, it’s next to impossible to match the atmosphere created by UK football fans. While American football fans will occasionally get into fights with fans from opposing teams, they don’t need to force the fans to enter at different times and gates to prohibit riots and brawls.

During a big match a European football crowd shakes the ground with a roar of chants, cheers and vuvuzelas, and the air is thick with smoke from fan-brought fireworks and flares.

There has never been an occasion in the NFL where the crowd was rambunctious enough to penalize the fans by forcing the next home game to play to an empty stadium. In fact this has never happened in any sport EVER in North America.

Point UK.

Score: UK-5 USA-3

Broadcast Awesomeness

football broadcast

It must have something to do with the culture and being home to Hollywood, but American sports absolutely dominate in this category. The broadcasts are so extensive and lavish it’s like watching a Hollywood production for every game.

They have cameras on wires, 360 degree matrix effects, dynamic replays, extensive CG graphics and effects and sometimes advertisements actually worth watching (or here for a classic). After watching a series of NFL games on an American feed, watching a European football game can feel almost flat.

Some people argue that all this extravagance actually detracts and distracts from the sport, but this category is for broadcast awesomeness, so clearly this is an American win.

Score: UK-5 USA-4

Game Flow

football flow

With the exceptions of an occasional stoppage for penalties, time outs and whatnots, European football games start and are played until the time expires. The game is almost entirely based around the concept of flow. If your team doesn’t have flow, your team will almost certainly be crushed.

American Football on the other hand has anything but flow. Each play lasts just a few seconds, after which there is 30 seconds or more of waiting until the next play even begins. Unless you’re into the setups and line formations this is all dead-time to the casual fan.

In short, American football has no flow what-so-ever. Point UK.

Score: UK-6 USA-4


football scores

While it’s absolutely riveting to watch the dying minutes of a tight fixture, it simply can’t come close to the frequency and depth of nail-biting finishes found in the NFL. By design the games almost always end with a final rush down the field, the game’s outcome based purely on a single play.

The majority of American football games end with the score within a single touchdown, and almost all of those come down to the result of the final play. American’s simply can’t accept a draw in any sport, they won’t do it. Regardless of the sport or situation, every game needs to have a defined winner and a loser. This creates more drama, as playing for a draw is no longer an option.

Matching your opponent’s score by the end of regulation just puts you into over-time, with the ball in your opponent’s hands. These reasons alone give this point to the Americans.

Score: UK-6 USA-5


football plays

It could be argued that coaching and play selection take a larger part in American football than in any other single sport. While it’s possible for one player to take matters into their own hands and make some magic happen in both sports, it's almost impossible for this to happen in American football without an entire team coming together for one play.

A team’s ability to win or lose in a game of American football is almost entirely based on the coaches’ ability to predict the plays of their opponents, and coordinate counter attacks. While this is the story in all sports, having every play starting from a stand-still puts this factor of the game into focus. Once again, America takes the point.

Score: UK-6 USA-6

Display of Super Human Skills

football skill

Regardless of the sport, when you get to the professional level it will be filled with people who do super-human things on a regular basis. Professional athletes anticipate, react and perform skills to a degree of perfection that is almost incomprehensible to the average Joe.

To fully understand how incredible these feats actually are, you need to understand one very important fact: when a star footballer does something incredible, he did so while playing against some of the strongest opponents the world has to offer.

Any professional footballer could make you or me look like a pylon with little effort, but being able to do that to another professional is something else altogether. While highlight worthy plays do happen frequently in European football, the truly outrageous plays tend to happen away from the important competitions.

For example, no goalkeepers are making scorpion kick saves during the World Cup Final.

But in America these sort of super human plays tend to happen more often in the important games than not. The fact that an American footballer can catch an 80 yard pass, fully laid-out with one hand while under cover (and hold on to the ball), or jump clean overtop of a defender looking to kill him means I have no choice but to give this point to the USA.

Score: UK-6 USA-7


football tackles

The term tackle has a completely different meaning for each version of football. While the best tackles in European football cleanly steal possession at a critical moment, the best American football tackles see players get nearly killed in an explosion of might, muscle and bone-crunching energy.

A big NFL tackle can see a player hit so hard it knocks the wind out of the fans, yet they (often) manage to hold on to the ball. There is clearly no contest here, and America makes it four-in-a-row with this point.

Score: UK-6 USA-8

Injuries/player lifespan

football player career lifespan

Almost entirely as a result to the tackles discussed above, the injury rate in the NFL is astronomical. The average player career length in the NFL is just 3.5 years. While the average player career length for professional footballing is only around 4 years, it’s for a very different reason.

The majority of football players who drop out of the big game do so because they simply aren’t good enough to continue. A top player will play anywhere from 5-20 years depending on how healthy they can stay.

In the NFL only quarterbacks (who rarely take hits) have a lifespan anywhere close to that. Unless you’re throwing the ball, you’re not going to last long in the big leagues. Point UK.

Score: UK-7 USA-8

Global Reach/World Impact

global reach

American football is (without a doubt) the biggest sport in the USA. European football is (without a doubt) the biggest sport in the world. No more needs to be said. Point UK.

Score: UK-8 USA-8

How Much of the Game Actually Involves your Feet

football cleats

Possibly the most important category of them all, this one alone deserves to be the final decider. We come into this category tied, which means the winner of this one topic will take the cake, forever earning the right to the name football.

Since football is a compound word comprised of foot + ball, it only makes sense that the game should have something to do with a ball and your feet.

While the American Football does have kickers who kick the ball, 95% of the game is played with the ball in player’s hands.

European Football on the other hand is the other way around. 95% of the game has the ball being directly controlled or in contact with feet.

This is another no brainer: point = UK.

Score: UK-9 USA-8

There we have it, it was close but the UK came through with a decisive 9-8 victory, forever earning it the right to the name football. That and football was invented and played long before America created their game of grid-iron. That alone really should settle the argument.

This blog should be considered conclusive and can be freely referenced by any scientific papers at will.


More articles by Sean Lind