What Americans invariably call “soccer” is, in the U.K., most appropriately called “association football”. It is the game which is played according to association rules.
There are other forms of “football”. There is “rugby football” This is a game which is chiefly played in the U.K, in Ireland, in France, in the Republic of South Africa, and in New Zealand and Australia.
Believe it or not, there are two forms of rugby football played in England. There is the internationally played rugby – technically known as “rugby union”. This is a 15 person a side game.
But there is also “rugby league”. This game has 13 players on each side. It is mostly played in the north of England, especially in Yorkshire and Lancashire.
In the “olden days” rugby league was a semi-professional game, whilst rugby union was strictly for amateurs. Rugby league was blue collar/working class. Rugby union was white collar/prep school/middle class. Issues of “class” were important (see below).
Lest I should appear to be myopic I add that in the world of “football” there are two football sports other than soccer or rugby.
There is “Australian rules” football, of which I understand not a thing, but which seems to have an “earthy passion” and “gutsiness” which is missing in so many other games.
And there is “American football” – which to me is so pathetically boring that it makes my dreariest sermon seem like divine poetry.
Back to class.
“Class” used to reign in the U.K. Thus when I was a teenager the British fans of football (soccer) were strictly working class/blue collar. They supported a local team which had players who had grown up in local schools.
“Supporters” ( a.k.a. “fans”) would arrive by ‘bus at their local football ground for a 3:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon game. Most of them would stand for the 90 minute game, ( a few would have grandstand seats) Most of them were men, wearing cloth caps and overcoats, shivering in the middle of winter and smoking up a storm.
They knew the players by first name. Any player who achieved “star” status might retire in his late 30’s and perhaps run a pub where he could trade in his fame.
There were a few mid-week evening games. There were no Sunday games. There were no enormously expensive transfers of players from one team to another. There were no super-stars.
And those old days were fine, just as these new days are fine. Everything changes and we would be unhappy were the clock to be turned back.
Hence these are but memories, shared with you without judgment.
(But I will scream bloody murder if England does not thrash Germany!)