Some of the soccer words, names and phrases on this list are 100 percent wrong and you need to stop saying them yesterday. Others have entered common usage and are now perfectly acceptable in polite soccer society. But all are technically incorrect.
I’m not here to tell you off—most of the items on this list are word crimes I’ve committed myself, and at least three of these I’ll accidentally commit again before the year is out. I’ve tried to include explanations for how and why certain misunderstandings have come to be and, for those determined to avoid these mistakes in future, I’ve included some suggested punishments to keep you on track.
If you think of anything else that should be on this list, please feel free to add in the comments.
Believe it or not, there is no such thing as the “English Premier League.” When the league debuted in 1992, it simply took the name “Premier League,” partly out of arrogance and partly as a stroke of marketing genius. Other leagues that have since rebranded—think Scottish Premier League, Ukrainian Premier League, Russian Football Premier League—have included the name of the country in the title, but the Premier League got there first and so didn’t need to differentiate.
Your punishment: None. Carry on. Unless you’ve been saying “BPL,” in which case you have already sold your soul to the Barclays banking corporation and will never get it back.
2. “Sporting Lisbon”
I was shocked to hear this one, but the famous Portuguese team that wears green and white hoops is actually named Sporting Clube de Portugal, or just Sporting for short. Yes, the club is based in the city of Lisbon, but no, the team is not called Sporting Lisbon by anyone who lives there.
Your punishment: Portuguese people might look at you funny, but no one else will care too much. Knock back a nice glass of Ginjinha and carry on.
3. “Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers”
Similar to the Sporting team mentioned above, neither of the big Glasgow teams actually has the word Glasgow in their name. It’s “The Celtic Football Club” and “Rangers Football Club.” Saying the word Glasgow before either name marks you out as someone who’s trying way too hard to prove they know something, simultaneously revealing your ignorance.
Your punishment: Do it one more time, and you’ll be forced to stand in front of a John Guidetti free kick.
4. “The MLS”
Just because you see three letters, doesn’t mean you can put “the” in front of it. “The NFL” is “the National Football League,” “the NBA” is “the National Basketball Association,” so that’s all good. But MLS stands for Major League Soccer, so you’re saying “The Major League Soccer,”—as in “Thierry Henry plays in the Major League Soccer”—which is a grammatical atrocity. We all either are someone or know someone who commits this atrocity on a regular basis, but that doesn’t make it OK.
Your punishment: All your money will be removed from the ATM machine and set on fire.
5. Pronouncing it “Reel Madrid”
It’s spelled Real Madrid and you speak English. But Real Madrid is a Spanish team, and “Real” is Spanish for “royal,” pronounced “ray-al.” The clue is the giant crown on top of the club crest. Same goes for Real Salt Lake, despite them operating out of Utah.
Your punishment: You will be forced to support Real Oviedo until you get it right.
6. “Athletico Madrid”
Do you know what Spanglish is? It’s the mingling and mangling of Spanish and English to create an entirely new language. And when you say “Athletico Madrid” you are speaking Spanglish. Diego Simeone’s team is actually called Club Atlético de Madrid (note the absence of the “h”), but you can just about get away with calling them Atlético Madrid in this case.
Your punishment: Ten laps of the athletico track for every time you get it wrong.
7. “Tottenham Hotspurs”
I know, I know. It sounds right. Maybe because the team’s nickname is Spurs, maybe because you are used to hearing about the NBA’s San Antontio Spurs or maybe because it just seems natural that all team names should end with the letter “s.” But, in this case, it’s just Tottenham Hotspur, singular. Why? Because the club takes its name from medieval knight Sir Henry Percy, better known as Sir Harry Hotspur.
Your punishment: Mandatory attendance at Harry Redknapp’s book club.
When I canvased Twitter and collected suggestions for this list, “offsides” was the No. 1 response. There were a couple of tolerant souls arguing that the phantom plurality wasn’t a big deal. But I’m siding with the majority. If you’re offside, then you’re offside, singular. The mystery here is where “offsides” even comes from. I checked with the NHL and the NFL and both officially use the singular.
Your punishment: When you least expect it, an irate linesman will attack you with his flag.
9. Pronouncing it “Ay-jax Amsterdam”
The famous Dutch team takes its name from Ajax, the Greek mythological hero who appears in Homer’s The Iliad. His name is pronounced with a “j” as soft as Johan Cruijff’s first touch, so it’s more like “eye-ax.” You wouldn’t want to upset Homer, so start pronouncing it correctly.
Your punishment: Read the entirety of The Iliad, in the original Ancient Greek, and send a book report to Edwin van der Sar.
10. “Inter Milan”
You’ve got three options when talking about Italy’s premier blue-and-black striped team. You can go the entire name, F.C. Internazionale Milano. You can get on first name terms with Internazionale. Or you can get cozy with a nickname, like Inter. “Inter Milan,” though common, is off target because the team deliberately chose the Italian spelling, Milano, in 1908 when splitting from the red-and-black Milan, which was founded by an Englishman, hence the English spelling.
Your punishment: If you’re determined to use the English version for both teams, you will be forced to attend the San Siro wearing the wrong colors and see what happens.
11. Saying, “It’s called football, not soccer”
It’s both. Soccer is short for “association football.” So shut up and go away.
Your punishment: No one will like you.