American Football Vs. European Football: What's the Difference?

Article: American Football Vs. European Football: What’s the Difference?

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By Jonathan Lewis | 1st DEC 2021

American Football Vs. European Football: What's the Difference?

Many people confuse American football with European football, but they differ greatly. The confusion comes from people using the same name to describe different sports. American football is a sport played mainly with the hands, while European football emphasizes the feet. In fact, you can’t use your hands at all in European football.

What people around the world call football is known to Americans as soccer, and both sports have dedicated fans who spend hours tracking their favorite sport. Fantasy American and European football are popular among fans, with many dedicating significant time to playing the best fantasy football with friends, family, and online acquaintances. Keep reading to learn all about the difference between the football Americans and Europeans play.

Tracing Football’s Roots

Mesoamerican cultures developed the precursor to what we now call football, a team game involving a ball over 3,000 years ago. The Aztecs called the game Tchatali and played it with a ball made from rock. Different versions of the game spread throughout various parts of the Americas.

When the game was played on a ritual occasion, the ball represented the sun, and the winning team would sacrifice the losing team to the gods. In an alternate version of this history, the winning team’s captain was sacrificed, with many seeking out the honor because their religion demanded it. Mesoamericans also developed versions of the game played with a bouncing ball made of rubber. A resource other early cultures didn’t have access to.

Different Rules

American Football Vs. European Football: What's the Difference?

If you’ve watched American football and European football matches, you’ve probably wondered how anyone confuses the two. The confusion comes from using the same name for very different sports.

Feet vs. Hands

As we mentioned in the introduction, European football is played with the feet. The only player allowed to use their hands in a European football match is the goalkeeper. American football is an entirely different story. You may wonder how it got the name football, given most of the action takes place with the hands. Kickoffs, punts, and field goals are among the limited times the feet come in contact with the ball during an American football game.


When it comes to points scored during a game, American football runs circles around the European version. Teams can post big numbers with scores as thirty or forty points during a single game. A high-scoring match for European football would be 4 or 5 goals. It has nothing to do with American footballers being more talented than their European counterparts, it’s just incredibly difficult to score in European football, and sometimes no goals at all are scored during a match.


Ever get tired of seeing the same teams play over and over again? European football’s solution to this problem is called relegation. In many leagues, three new teams enter the division each year, replacing the three teams with the worst record. The poorly performing teams are relegated to the second division.

Relegation prevents the same teams from finishing at the bottom of the league every year and gives new teams a chance. There’s no equivalent in American football, so you’ll often see the same teams miss the playoffs year after year yet remain in the NFL. Relegation isn’t a perfect solution because a team that’s relegated can return in two years, then get relegated again, making relegation redundant at times.

Divided Attention

Americans divide their attention between professional football (NFL), baseball (MLB), and basketball (NBA). Although major league soccer or the MLS is the leading soccer league in the US, it ranks far behind the other sports in popularity.

In contrast, Football towers above all other professional sports in Europe. While there are other professional sports, their popularity doesn’t come close to football. England’s Premier League, made up of 20 of the country’s best clubs, is hugely successful. Across Europe, fans cheer for their favorite club as well as their country during international competitions like the World Cup.

Jonathan Lewis is an MFF sports writer