A game by any name

Football or soccer? I take another tack, favoring — narrowly — the Portuguese futebol to the Spanish fútbol, out of immense respect for Pelé, Garrincha, Sócrates, Rivaldo, Neymar and Ronaldinho.

Stroll by my little cottage and “Mas Que Nada” (Sergio Mendez) or “Nem Vem Que Não Tem” (Wilson Simonal), or some such bossa nova, will be heard as frequently as anything in English. 

That the U.S. hardly embraces the world’s most popular sport is one matter, although its attraction seems to grow by the year. That this country implements the s-word is borderline sacrilege. I concur with Aussie hoopster Andrew Bogut, who calls American gridiron football “throwball” and says there is only one “football” — the one played with a round ball, no hands allowed.

All of which leads me to “Soccernomics,” the book by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski that contains several lines that have puzzled me since its 2009 publication.

It’s there on Page 158. Many people, the authors posit, “both in America and Europe, imagine that soccer is an American term invented in the late 20th century to distinguish the game from gridiron.

Indeed, anti-American Europeans often frown on the use of the word. They consider it a mark of American imperialism. This is a silly position. Soccer was the most common name for the game in Britain from the 1890s until the 1970s.”

They say when the North American Soccer League began in the U.S. in the 1970s, Americans “quite reasonably” adopted the English word — the s-word — and “the British stopped using it and reverted to the word football.”

So, until the seventies the s-word was in vogue in England? Rubbish, says 47-year-old handicapper Nigel Seeley, who hails from Bromley, England, and is one of my expert sources on the sport. He says that s-word is one of the dirtiest in Britain, whose national list of actual vulgarities is rather short.

“Never, ever referred to as soccer, in my youth or in many peoples’ lifetimes,” Seeley wrote in an email. “Always football. It is frowned upon to call the sport soccer.”

Longtime pal and Manchester United supporter Patrick Littlejohn, the 51-year-old black-tied GM of Il Mulino New York at Caesars in Vegas, often heard fitba growing up in Scotland.  

“There was no mention ever of the word soccer,” he says. “My understanding is soccer was a slang name. You kick a ball with your foot — hence, it’s football. Besides, 'footballer' has such a better ring than 'soccer player.'”

As another example, Sir Geoff Hurst, whose 1966 hat trick against West Germany clinched the World Cup for England on its own soil, was born near Manchester in 1941. In his 2001 autobiography, the s-word never appears over 417 pages.

If it were so common throughout his first 30 years, wouldn’t one of the country’s paragons have employed it? In his 2006 book “The Ball Is Round,” David Goldblatt refers to the s-word only in a derogatory manner.

The British FourFourTwo magazine, the game’s monthly bible, taps “Britannica” to trace the s-word to the University of Oxford in the 1880s, to distinguish “rugger” (rugby football) and “assoccer” (association football). The latter term was further hacked to the s-word, “Which never became much more than a nickname in Great Britain."

In 1913, a United States Football Association was formed, which was altered to United States Soccer Football Association in 1945. In 1974, it dropped the f-word. It dropped the wrong word.

Friday

Udinese at Sassuolo -115: Udinese sports the worst team goal-keeping save percentage (38.9%) in the Big Five. The home side has a superb attack that is fourth in B5 shot-creating actions (29.50) and fifth in goal-creating actions (4.50). SASSUOLO

Saturday

Bayern Munich -128 at Borussia Dortmund: In goals-plus-assists rate per match above 1, Munich has Robert Lewandowski (3.20, best in B5), Leroy Sané (1.57), Thomas Müller (1.41) and Joshua Kimmich (1.06). Dortmund has only Erling Håland (1.63). BAYERN MUNICH

Fiorentina at Parma Calcio 1913, Total 2.5 Ov -153: The past six Fiorentina matches have involved 24 goals; 23 in the past six Parma tilts. Parma has conceded at least two to seven of its past eight Serie A opponents, Fiorentina to its past five league foes. OVER

Sunday

Napoli at Bologna, Total 3 Ov -121: These two have combined for 22 goals in their past six meetings. The visitors’ 30.80 shot-creating actions top the B5’s 98 squads, their 4.60 goal-creating actions are fourth—Bologna’s 28 SCAs are ninth. OVER

Last week: 0-3-1

Season: 12-16-2