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- Soccer vocabulary
- Football expressions
- Football-related idioms
match: two teams playing against each other in a 90-minute game.
pitch: the area of a field where footballers play a match.
goalposts: markers used to determine where it would count as a goal.
penalty area: rectangular area marked out in front of each goal, outside of which the goalkeeper cannot handle the ball.
a draw, a tie, an equaliser: an even score at the conclusion of a game or match
extra time: a further period of play added on to a game if the scores are equal, and a draw is not an option i.e. in the final match of a tournament.
half-time: the time at which half of a game is completed, especially when marked by an interval.
full time: after the allocated time for a match has passed and the referee has blown the final whistle.
penalty shootout: a method of determining a winner in a match that would have otherwise tied or drawn. Thirty minutes extra time is usually played before it gets to this stage.
penalty kick, free kick: a free kick at the goal from the penalty spot (which only the goalkeeper is allowed to defend), awarded to the attacking team after a foul within the penalty area by an opponent.
goalkeeper, goalie: a player whose special role is to stop the ball from entering the goal.
striker, attacker, forward: a player who is considered in terms of ability to strike the ball into the goal area.
midfielder: a player who is positioned to play in the middle part of the playing field / pitch.
defender: a player whose task it is to protect their own side’s goal, and prevent the other team from scoring.
captain, skipper: the leader of a team.
substitute: a sports player nominated as eligible to replace another after a match has begun.
manager: a person responsible for controlling a team and training new players.
referee: an official who watches a match closely to ensure the rules are adhered to, and to arbitrate on matters that may arise during a game.
linesman, assistant referee: an official who assists the referee or umpire from the touchline, especially in deciding whether the ball is out of play or not, or if a player is offside.
foul: an unfair or invalid action, especially one involving interference with an opponent. A violation of the rules.
penalty: a punishment or disadvantage imposed on a player for infringement of the rules.
touchline, by-line, sideline: the boundary line on each side of the field, within which, the ball must remain during a game.
goal, net: a pair of posts linked by a crossbar and typically with a net, forming a space into which the ball has to be sent in order to score.
a booking: a yellow card shown to a player for a serious foul. Two yellow cards result in a red card, which means the player gets sent off (unable to continue playing).
injury time, stoppage time: added minutes at the end of the regular playing time, to account for any time out of play during the match. Entirely at the referee’s discretion.
score: the record of goals that indicates who is winning. The final score indicates who has won the match.
offside: a position which is not allowed by the rules of the game – when a striker is closer to the opposing team’s goal area than the last defender, when the ball is passed to him/her.
goal: A successful attempt at scoring achieved at the instance of sending the ball into the goal of the opposing team.
own goal: a goal scored accidentally by a member of the defending team that counts in favour of the attacking team.
kick-off: the first kick of the game when two players from the same team in the centre circle play the ball and start the game.
to shoot: to kick the ball towards the net in an attempt to score a goal.
a corner: a kick from the corner flag awarded to the attacking team when the ball has passed the by-line after last being touched by a player from the defending team.
a throw in: a throw is taken from the sideline after the ball has gone out of play. This is the only time a player can handle the ball without committing a foul.
a header: a shot that occurs when a player touches and guides the ball with his or her head.
a hat-trick: when one player scores three goals in one game.
national anthem: an uplifting or rousing song that identifies a nation. Usually sung at the start of an important match for each country.
If you’re talking to your friends about football, you might hear them using some of these phrases. Here are their explanations so you can understand and respond accordingly!
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Back of the net! to score a goal
- You should’ve seen it, it was such a great goal. Back of the net!
Man on!this is usually shouted out during a match to warn someone that a player of the other team is right behind them. Often a call to pass the ball.
- Quick! Man on! Pass the ball to Jones!
We were robbed: a phrase used to express that a defeat was unjust, possibly due to an injustice committed by somebody else.
- The referee didn’t see that foul. If he’d given that player a yellow card he wouldn’t have scored that goal. We were robbed!
He’s (she’s) got a sweet left foot: referring to a player who is very skillful at kicking the ball with his / her left foot (most players use the right foot)
- She’s one of the best players on the team, and she’s got a sweet left foot.
He (she) pulled off a great save, what a save!referring to a very quick, acrobatic stop of a shot by the goalkeeper.
- What a save by the goalie. That was fantastic!
Hit the woodwork: when a player intends to shoot into the goal but hits the crossbar or the post of the goal instead, and was very unlucky not to have scored.
- He almost had it, but unfortunately it hit the woodwork.
They got stuck in: referring to a team whose players showed a lot of determination to succeed.
- They got stuck in right from kick-off and truly deserved to win.
Ran the defence ragged: referring to an attacking player who made the defenders from the opposing team look uncomfortable or incompetent.
- He deserves to be Man of the Match. He scored a hat-trick and ran the defence ragged!
He (she’s) got a lot of pace: avery fast player
- Jones is definitely a great player, he’s got a lot of pace.
The goalkeeper made a howler: used when the goalkeeper makes a very basic mistake (and probably lets the other team score a goal).
- They were in the lead, but then the goalkeepermade a howler and the other team scored.
It’s a game of two halves: an expression referring to the fact that a football match can change unexpectedly throughout the 90 minutes. Especially between the first half and second half of the match.
- Well, they may be losing now, but it’s a game of two halves!
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Idioms are different from the above expressions because they can be used in conversation about any topic and not just football. Even people who do not follow football enthusiastically use these idioms in everyday speech, like me!
Get the ball rolling: to get something started. Begin a process.
- We need to have everything ready for the party by next week, so if you could please get the ball rolling by inviting everyone, that would be really helpful.
Get a kick out of something: to enjoy watching or doing something.
- If you get a kick out of horror movies, then you’ll love the new Quentin Tarantino film!
To kick something off, to kick-start something:to begin or cause something to begin.
- We’re going to kick-startthe summer with a lovely weekend trip to the countryside.
To keep one’s eye on (or take one’s eye off) the ball:to keep (or fail to keep) your attention focused on the matter at hand.
- If you want to be a successful businessman, you need to keep your eye on the ball all the time.
- He took his eye off the ball when he shouldn’t have done, and the rival company managed to snatch the deal from him.
To watch from the sidelines:a position where someone is observing a situation rather than being directly involved in it.
- You never supported me when I needed you. You just watched from the sidelines!
To move the goalposts:to unfairly change the rules or conditions of a procedure during its course.
- Jessica quit her job because her boss kept moving the goalposts about her promotion prospects.
To be on the ball: someone who is very quick to respond and very aware of new ideas and methods.
- What’s wrong with you? You used to be on the ballwith your work all the time.
A political football:a topical issue that is the subject of continued argument or controversy.
- Retirement age is a big political footballin the European Union’
At this (late) stage in the game:this simply means ‘at this point’.
- There’s nothing we can do at this stage in the game. You should’ve told me earlier.
To kick someone around:to treat someone roughly or disrespectfully.
- I don’t think it’s fair the way you kick him around all the time. He deserves some respect.
To score an own goal:an act that unintentionally harms one’s own interests.
- Unfortunately, Sarah scored an own goal by quitting her job before signing her new contract.
To take sides: to support one person, or stand against another, in a dispute or contest.
- I’m not taking sides. I think you’re both wrong, so I’m not getting involved!
League: a class or category of quality or excellence.
- When it comes to achieving perfection, John is in a league of his own.
To blow the whistle on someone:to bring an illicit activity to an end by informing on the person responsible.
- She was offered a lot of money as a bribe, because she threatened to blow the whistle on the company’s illegal activities.
A game plan: a strategy worked out in advance
- We need to come up with a better game plan; this idea will never work!
Know the score:to be aware of the essential facts about a situation.
- I don’t need to explain anything else to my boss, he knows the score.
A game changer: an idea, procedure or event that significantly changes the current way of doing or thinking about something.
- The new software had become known as the new ‘game-changing’ entertainment experience.
Clichés crowd the mind whenever we try to speak meaningfully about the things we love, but the congestion is especially thick around discussions of soccer. The beautiful game seems to mock our best efforts to describe its beauty. In-game commentators, who have the unfortunate task of trying to capture the sport’s nuances in real time, resort to formulas, bleated and bawled with gusto (“It’s a game of two halves,” “End-to-end stuff,” “What a goal!”), that are hopelessly incommensurate to the action they are supposedly describing. Those who regularly watch Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, widely regarded as the contemporary game’s greatest player, will have observed a note of candid helplessness creeping into the announcers’ patter. These days, every time Messi scuttles through a thicket of defenders and, looking less like a striker than a golfer pensively lining up a putt, slots the ball neatly home, the commentators tend simply to acknowledge that they have already exhausted all possible terms of approbation.
Martin Amis has some fun with soccer punditry’s verbal torpor in “London Fields,” when the otherwise hyper-inarticulate petty thief Keith Talent delivers an impromptu summary of a game he has recently attended between West Ham (“the Hammers”) and Queens Park Rangers. In a few sentences, the speech gathers together the whole bouquet of soccer’s most withered stock phrases:
During the first half the Hammers probed down the left flank. Revelling in the space, the speed of Sylvester Drayon was always going to pose problems for the home side’s number two. With scant minutes remaining before the half-time whistle, the black winger cut in on the left back and delivered a searching cross, converted by Lee Fredge, the East London striker, with inch-perfect precision. After the interval Rangers’ fortunes revived as they exploited their superiority in the air. Bobby Bandavich’s men offered stout resistance and the question remained: could the Blues translate the pressure they were exerting into goals? In the seventy-fourth minute Keith Spare produced a pass that split the visitors’ defence, and Dustin Housely rammed the equalizer home.
Commentators ought to be cut some slack, however, since they are talking off the cuff, and to an audience watching the same events unfold. It’s not as though a great deal depends on their finding the perfectly modulated cadence, the best words in the best order. When the ball goes in the net, no one is paying much attention to what they’re saying. The job of the soccer writer is thornier. Unlike a literary critic, say, who can quote from the text under discussion, the soccer writer is profoundly alienated from his subject matter. His prose must do double-duty, at once vividly describing the game and analyzing its subtleties, the strata of activity that hovers just beneath the surface of our perception.
[#image: /photos/590953daebe912338a37333b]Few writers rise to this challenge as admirably as Simon Kuper, whose sprightly, skeptical, and vastly informative “Soccer Men: Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World’s Most Popular Sport,” has just appeared from Nation Books. Kuper is explicitly concerned with the incommensurability of language and experience in sport, though it is the players’ more than the commentators’ shortcomings on which he dwells most.
In his essay “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” David Foster Wallace wonders if “those who receive and act out the gift of athletic genius must, perforce, be blind and dumb about it—and not because blindness and dumbness are the price of the gift, but because they are its essence.” Most of the players with whom Kuper speaks would seem to bear out Wallace’s theory. Not only do the men Kuper interviews have nothing to say about anything soccer-unrelated (Michael Owen “has never read an entire book and only once seen an entire film…he has no outside interests”), they have nothing to say about soccer itself. “I want to win everything again,” drones the affable Brazilian wunderkind Kaka. “World Cup, and Champions League, championship and Golden Ball, Wolf FIFA Player of the Year, and…” In most cases, Kuper writes, the burnished demi-gods “turn up hours late, say, ‘I hope we’ll win on Saturday,’ and then drive off again.”
Of course, it isn’t for their table talk that we turn to these men, and it would be naïve to expect them to distill their brilliance in a few finely turned phrases. This is the soccer writer’s job.
Style, in soccer as in prose, is less the product of “personal expression” than of poise, discipline, patience, and infinite care. Most people who kick a ball, like most people who put words down on paper, do so with little distinction: they could be anyone. The more one masters the impersonal demands of technique, however, the more a personal style begins to emerge. Beckenbauer, Cruijff, Pele, Zidane: these figures are as unmistakable on the pitch as are Joyce, Woolf, Nabokov, and Updike on the page. Just as it’s difficult to imagine a writer before Joyce who would think to describe the night sky as “The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit,” it’s difficult to imagine a player before Cruijff who would think to pass the ball with the outside of his foot, or a player before Pele who would attempt a dummy as audacious as this.
It is this personal style that Kuper proves himself to be so adept at pinpointing. Again and again he deftly articulates the experience of watching the great players at work—or rather, at play. Here he is on Messi:
The overwhelming sensation when you watch Messi is still this: He’s a child. The nerd with the flowerpot hairdo looks like a kid who has won a competition to spend a day with [Barcelona]. His physique seems to mock all the man monsters and fitness rooms and ‘food supplements’ of modern sport. When Messi receives a ball and doesn’t bother touching it, but just sets off running and lets it trot alongside him, he looks like a boy out with his pet dog.
And here he is on Frank Lampard, the greatest English midfielder of his generation
One of the delights of soccer is watching Frank Lampard prepare to shoot. He stands almost perfectly upright, and raises his head for a good look at the goal. The right arm is held out for balance, the left arm is flung out for power, and the inside of the right foot strikes the ball just off center, so that its swerve will confuse the keeper. Lampard kicks only as hard as he needs to. Rarely do you see him trouble the crowd in the second tier. In short, he could be a photograph in a training manual.
Watching Messi or Lampard (or any of the players included in “Soccer Men”) after reading Kuper is a bit like going back to Shakespeare’s sonnets after reading Helen Vendler’s book on them. He turns us into more alert, more intelligent, more grateful spectators of the beautiful game.