How to Speak Football

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NBC did a fine job presenting the English Premier League to us last season. A fine but very … Anglo job. There were occasions in the past 12 months when recent converts to the beautiful game would have been forgiven for furrowing their brows and wondering what, exactly, were NBC’s Arlo While, Graham Le Saux, Robbie Earle, Robbie Mustoe and Rebecca Lowe talking about. That clean-cut quarterback-looking Kyle Martino seemed to be the only one speaking American.

And so this somewhat useful, hardly comprehensive, occasionally tongue-in-cheek list of words and phrases might be of some help in translating the Premier League-isms of Lowe, Earle, Mustoe and co. It can also help you do the reverse, should you find yourself across the pond. There are also a few continental phrases thrown in, just for fun. And if you look carefully (OK, not too carefully) you can guess who I support.

Feel free to add more in the comments!

Argy Bargy/Aggro/Handbags: Varying degrees of on-field scuffles. Generally not amounting to anything. Handbags was coined pre-Political Correctness, but we seem to be stuck with it now.

Back Pass: When a defender intentionally passes the ball back to his keeper. Pre-1992, the keeper could pick it up. In 2014 he most definitely can not. So defenders better not do this unless the coast is clear.

Baggies: Nickname for the West Bromwich Albion team. Much easier to say than “West Bromwich Albion.”

Ball Watching: What over-paid, under-motivated players do instead of, you know, playing the ball to a teammate, defending, or scoring.

Blinder: To “play a blinder” is to perform exceptionally well in a match. The opposite of a “howler.”

Booked: To be shown a yellow card. So-called because the referee will write the offending player’s name down in his notebook. Yellow is a warning, and two of these makes a red, which gets you sent off.

Catenaccio: An incredibly boring style of play often associated with the Italian national team. The word literally means “door bolt” or “chain.” As in, “Lock the door, they’re not scoring on us and we’ll win 1-0. Or go to penalties. That’s OK, too.” See: “parking the bus.”

Challenge: Not in the “to a duel” sense. A challenge is synonymous with a tackle, and is the way a player can gain possession of the ball from an opponent. Usually performed vertically, but brave souls with good timing will go for the horizontal “slide tackle.”

Citeh: A somewhat derogatory term for Manchester City, primarily used by Man United supporters.

Clean Sheet: A shutout.

Derby: Pronounced “darby,” it is a match between (usually) local teams. Often, but not always, fierce rivals. For example, the “Northwest Derby” between Liverpool and Manchester United is a major fixture. A London Derby between West Ham United and Crystal Palace, less so. See “El Clásico.” Personally, I can’t wait for the Red Bulls/NYCFC derby!

Draw: When a match ends with the score being even. Not to be confused with “tie.”

Double: To “do the double” over a team is to win both matches against them in a season. As in “Liverpool did the double over Man United this season.” Also used when a team wins two major trophies in a single season.

El Clásico: Derby fixtures in Spanish-speaking countries. In Spain and the U.K., “El Clásico” is generally used to refer to the derby between Spanish clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Fergie Time: the idea that Manchester United, when managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, received exceedingly generous excessive added time when they were losing, particularly at home. (They did.)

Friendly: A match that has no bearing on a club or national team competition. Generally played in the pre-season (if a club match) or throughout the year (if between national teams.)

God: The Liverpool nickname for Robbie Fowler. Google him.

Group of Death/Group of Cake: The former is a term used for the most difficult group in a tournament. The latter is the opposite. Thank Eddie Izzard.

Hammers: Nickname of West Ham United.

Hand of God: The nickname for the “goal” that Diego Maradona “scored” with his hand against England at the 1986 World Cup.

Hollywood Pass: A long-range pass that looks amazing, but rarely actually achieves its intended goal. Unless it’s made by Steven Gerrard.

Hoops: Queens Park Rangers or other teams who wear striped tops. See “Kit.”

Hospital Pass: A poorly-made pass which causes a player to alter his stride or slow up, allowing an opponent to not only issue a strong challenge but also may result in an injury.

Howler: A particularly egregious blunder which results in disaster. Usually applied to a goal keeper.

I didn’t see it: What Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger usually says in post match press conferences when his team gets away with murder.

Injury time: (archaic) Time added on at the end of each half of a match by the referee due to delays in play caused by injuries and substitutions. Now generally called “added time.” See “Fergie Time.”

Jammy Bastard: A player deemed by opposing fans to be unfairly lucky. I have absolutely no idea what luck has to do with jam, though. And neither of the Robbies nor Rebecca is allowed to say this on any NBC channel.

Kit/Strip: A football uniform.

Kop: A steeply sloping stand at the end of a stadium. Primarily used to refer to the area of Anfield, the home stadium of Liverpool Football Club, where the most vocal supporters are.

Kopites: Those wot sit (or mostly stand) in the Kop.

Magic Sponge/Water Bottle: The liquid that is used to instantly heal a player who five seconds earlier was writhing on the ground in pain, certain never to walk again.

Manc: A derogatory term for someone from Manchester. Almost exclusively directed as Manchester United supporters who, ironically, are often not actually from Manchester. See “Prawn Sandwich Brigade.”

Number 9: Often used to refer to a team’s main goalscorer, even if he doesn’t actually wear number nine.

Number 10: Often used to refer to a team’s most creative player, even if he doesn’t actually wear number 10. (I secretly believe that 99 percent of pundits who throw these two phrases around have no idea what they’re talking about.)

Nutmeg: To play the ball through an opposing player’s legs, thus getting past him and embarrassing him.

Parking the Bus: To play many men in a defensive position. Essentially playing for a draw or the hope to score on the counter-attack. What Chelsea do. See “catenaccio.”

Pitch: The field.

Pitch invasion: When fans rush the field. Happens very rarely in top division matches.

Poacher: A gifted striker who has an instinct to capitalize on mistakes by the defense and who is skilled at maneuvering inside the penalty area.

Prawn Sandwich Brigade: Wealthy, often corporate “fans” who don’t really care about or understand the game. Made famous by Roy Keane in reference to those who enjoy Manchester United’s corporate hospitality but have no genuine interest in the game.

Promotion and Relegation: What happens to teams that do very well or very badly in pretty much all football outside of the United States. The main thing MLS is lacking. For example, each year the bottom three teams in each league are relegated to next division down, while the top three in that lower division are promoted. It often makes for exciting ends to the season and means that even the teams at the bottom of the table have something very important to play for.

Sin Bin: The British term (borrowed from rugby) for the proposed concept of adopting a “penalty box” for players who have been booked, as is used in ice hockey.

Squeaky-bum Time: The exciting and nerve-wracking last minutes of a tight match or last few weeks of a closely-fought season. Attributed to Sir Alex Ferguson.

Studs Up: When a player makes a sliding tackle with the studs (cleats) of his boots showing, potentially injuring the object of the tackle. Often results in a card, either red or yellow in color.

Testimonial match: A friendly match played for charity in honor of a long-serving player, usually towards the end of his career.

Tie: Match. Game. When, as in the latter stages of a tournament, a tie consists of home and away matches, it’s referred to as a “two-legged tie.” Not to be confused with “Draw.”

Tifo: From the Italian, a particularly elaborate display of support from a team’s die hard fans. Often including songs, choreographed movements and banners. See “ultras.” The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers fans are particularly excellent at this.

Tiki Taka: A style of possession-based football, characterized by short passes combined with a high-rate of player movement. Made famous by FC Barcelona.

Toon Army: Newcastle United fans.

Total Football: A style of play wherein each player (keepers excepted) can take over the role of any other player on the pitch. Pioneered by the Dutch team Ajax in the late 1960s and practiced by the Dutch national squad in the 1974 World Cup. Almost always misused by modern pundits and announcers. See “Tiki-taka.”

Transfer Window: The period of time (usually from June to September and for the month of January) when it is permitted to transfer players between teams. Murky and confusing to even the most die-hard fan (not to mention club and league officials). Don’t think too hard about how it works. You’ll only hurt your brain.

Treble: Winning three major trophies in the same season. For example, in the 1998-99 season, Manchester United won the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League.

Ultras: The most die-hard supporters of a team. Generally seen in continental Europe and often, although by no means always, associated with left or right-wing political ideology.

We: The way Europeans refer to their football teams, as opposed to the North American “they.” As in “We beat Man U, today!”

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