Football Phrases 2008-09

2006-07 Football Phrases

Each week Damon and Damian explain a football phrase on the weekly languagecaster podcast. Below is a list of these English for Football expressions from the 2008-09 season in order of when they appeared on the show. Click on the audio link to hear them, while there is also a pdf of the transcript and a link to the podcast in which it appeared. If you have questions or comments about this or any other phrase then email us at:

Week 42: The Chickens come home to roost

This week’s English for football is, ‘the chickens come home to roost‘. This expression is used to say that something bad has happened because of mistakes, or bad behaviour, in the past. Someone did something wrong in the past and now trouble has come, or there is a big problem. It is close to the idea of ‘karma‘ in many Asian religions, or the phrase, ‘you reap what you sow‘. last weekend, Newcastle United were relegated from the premier league and many people think the chickens have come home to roost, that Newcastle’s past mistakes have resulted in their failure. For example, they first hired Sam Allardyce as manager and then soon sacked him, hired Kevin Keegan and forced him to leave, and have since had two more managers this season. They also bought expensive players with big wages but with little impact on the pitch. Their actions meant that the chickens came home to roost. The chickens come home to roost.

Week 41: To Clinch

This week’s English for Football expression is the phrase to clinch which means to grab or in football to win, to attain. We use this expression when talking about winning prizes, awards, competitions and cups. So, as we approach the end of the season in Europe, we can see that teams like Barcelona, Manchester United and Inter Milan have all clinched their respective league titles. Last week, Steven Gerrard clinched the Player of the Year Award, while next week Burnley are hoping to clinch promotion to the Premier League in the play-off against Shefield United. To clinch.

Week 40: To Lose Your Grip

This week’s English for football is to lose your grip. To grip is the action of holding something with your hand tightly, or firmly. If you have a strong grip, you have a strong hold, you control something. To lose your grip means you lose control. In football, teams can lose their grip of the game, which means they have lost control and the other team has become stronger. If you are a manager and you lose your grip, you have lost control of the direction of the team, you do not know what to do. Many people think that Arsene Wenger, the manager of Arsenal has lost his grip and his team have started to lose direction. He has no idea how to stop their bad results, he has lost his grip. To lose your grip.

Week 39: Men against Boys

This week’s English for Football expression is the phrase men against boys. In football, this refers to when one team is much better than another team mainly due to the fact that they have more experience, thus, men against boys. It can also refer to the gulf, or gap, in class between the two sides. So, last night’s Champions League semi-final second leg at The Emirates was described by the British media as being a game of men against boys as the more experienced Manchester United easily defeated the inexperienced Arsenal team. Men against boys.

Week 38: To Park the Bus

This week’s English for football is ‘park the bus‘. Many people say that this phrase was first said by Jose Mourinho when he was Chelsea’s manager. He was describing a negative Tottenham team who played very defensively in a meeting between the two London clubs some years ago. To park the bus, means to play very defensively, to get a lot of players behind the ball, to have no attacking play. Imagine a bus parked in front of the goal. It is almost impossible to score, so people use ‘to park the bus‘ to mean one team was very negative, boring and defensive. This week’s Champions League semi finals were not very exciting and Barcelona have accused Chelsea of playing very negatively, of ‘parking the bus‘ in front of goal. To park the bus.

Week 37: Sucker Punch

  • Sucker punch mp3

This week’s EFF is ‘sucker punch‘. Punch means to hit, and this phrase originally comes from boxing. it means to hit, to punch, someone when their guard is down, when they are not ready. In football a sucker punch means a goal that is scored when the other team wasn’t prepared: they give an easy goal away. In the 4-4 draw between Liverpool and Arsenal this week, Arsenal made a quick break from a Liverpool corner and scored a sucker punch goal – there were few Liverpool defenders to stop Arsenal. The goal was scored quickly and easily by Arsenal. It was a sucker punch. Sucker punch

Week 36: The business end of the season

This week’s English for football expression is the phrase the business end of the season which simply means the most important part of the season or the the run in at the end of the football year. We use the term business as it suggests that vital matters are to be decided. So, at this time of year in the football world important issues such as becoming champions, winning trophies, getting relegated or qualifying for Europe are all focused on. In most European leagues there are only 6 or 7 games left to play meaning that teams are focused on the business end of the season. Business end of the season.

Week 35: 12th man

This week’s English for football is ‘twelfth man‘. This term is used to refer to the fans of a team. Each team in football has 11 players on the pitch, but if the fans are particularly loud in their support they can help their team, they can encourage them. When this happens the fans are called the twelfth man – they have the effect of an extra player: the game is now 11 vs 12. Before the Liverpool v Chelsea game in the Champions League John Terry, Chelsea’s captain, said he wasn’t going to let Anfield’s 12th man affect their performance – he was right. This time Anfield’s twelfth man, the fans, couldn’t help their team to victory. Many teams refer to their fans as the 12th man, and fans themselves will also carry banners calling themselves the 12th man. The twelfth man.

Week 34: One foot in

This week’s English for football is ‘to have one foot in‘. This phrase is used when you are close to achieving, getting something. In football, it is usually used when a team is close to qualifying, getting in, a competition. For example, the team has one foot in the final, or the team has one foot in the World Cup. This week saw World Cup qualifiers taking place all around the world. Some teams are close to qualifying for South Africa next year, they have one foot in the finals. So, Holland and England in Europe, and Australia in Asia have one foot in the finals. They have nearly qualified and it will be a big surprise if they don’t. To have one foot in.

Week 33: To be ruled out

This week’s English for Football is the expression to be ruled out which means that a player is unable to play for some reason. He or she may be ruled out through injury or ruled out because of suspension. In the upcoming World Cup qualifying matches, Scotland face a crisis before their game with Holland as many of their top players have been ruled out through injury. To be ruled out.

Week 32: Fixture Pile Up

This week’s English for football phrase is ‘fixture pile up‘. First, let’s look at the word ‘pile‘. This noun means a lot of something: for example, a pile of books is a lot of books, a pile of rubbish, means a lot of rubbish. Pile also has the meaning of a disordered amount, not carefully put somewhere, in chaos. To pile up, means to make a heap or pile of objects. So, a fixture pile up means a lot of fixtures, or games, in a short period of time. Usually teams play one game a week. They might sometimes play twice a week if they are in a cup competition, but if they have to play three times in a week, for example, they have a fixture pile up. Manchester United are in the FA Cup, won the Carling Cup, are still in the Champions League and are facing a fixture pile up at the end of the season. They have a lot of games to play in May. Fixture pile up.

Week 31: Run in

This week’s English for football phrase is the expression run in which is a noun and means the last few matches or remaining games of a season. Usually it is associated with excitement or tension and is often preceded by the words relegation, relegation run in, or title, title run in. There are only ten games left in the Premier League and the relegation run in is still an exciting affair with many teams facing the drop. Some feel that Newcastle have the most difficult run in among the teams at the bottom with games against Arsenal and Liverpool to come. At the top, Manchester United are clear favourites but Chelsea have a much easier run in and so may still threaten. Run in.

Week 30: To stutter

Week 29: To throw the towel in

>This week’s English phrase for football is to throw in the towel. Now, this phrase comes not from football but from another sport – boxing. If a boxer is being hurt badly by his opponent and the boxer has no chance of winning his corner; his team, throw a towel into the ring. This means they give up. They stop fighting. When used in football, it means almost the same thing: a team may concede the title to another team, say they cannot win, or they may pick a weak side in a competition because they think they cannot win. In the news recently many people connected to Chelsea and Arsenal have thrown in the towel in the championship race – they think they cannot stop Manchester United, while in the UEFA Cup, Aston Villa and Tottenham’s managers have both thrown in the towel in that competition picking weak sides for this week’s games to concentrate on the league. To throw in the towel

Week 28: To Write off

This week’s English for football is write off. The phrase is used in the accounting or business world and means to reduce the value of something – usually to nothing. In football it is used to describe something or someone that is not performing as well as people had expected. So, this season has been a write-off for Tottenham – nothing like the one Spurs’ fans had hoped for. The phrase can also mean to dismiss or not take seriously. So, to write off another team’s chances means you do not fear them at all. Many experts had written off Chelsea’s chances of winning anything this season but now they have Guus Hiddink in charge only a fool would write them off. Write off.

Week 27: To be upbeat

This week’s English for football is ‘upbeat‘. The phrase originally comes from music. It refers to a conductor raising his or her arm as a signal to the orchestra. More informally, it is used to say you feel positive about something: you say you are upbeat about something. The phrase is also used often when news has been bad recently, but you are still optimistic and positive. So, this week England lost to Spain 2-0 and never really looked like competing. This was bad news. However, their coach Capello, remained upbeat about his team’s performance, saying it was good practice for their next world cup qualifying game against Ukraine. He was upbeat about the performance.

Week 26: To stay in the hunt

This week’s English for football is ‘to stay in the hunt‘. To hunt of course means to try to catch something, usually an animal like a rabbit, deer or fox etc. When hunting, sometimes you can be close to catching your target only to miss it at the end. If the target escapes, it has ‘slipped though your fingers‘. These phrases are used in football a lot. Now, this week in Europe, Liverpool beat Chelsea in a top-of-the-table clash, and they stay in the hunt for the championship. They still have a chance of winning. Are Chelsea still in the hunt? Many people think they have lost their chance. Likewise in La Liga, Real Madrid beat Numancia 2-0 to stay in the hunt behind Barcelona. Although they are a huge 12 points behind, they are the only team with a real chance of catching the leaders. To stay in the hunt.

Week 25: To be in free fall

This week’s English for football expression from languagecaster is the phrase to be in free fall which means to have lost control and in football is used to describe the situation when a team loses many games in a row and dramatically drops down the table. So, Hull City in the Premier League have lost six games in a row and are in free fall, while Newcastle are also in free fall after a winless run of 8 games. To be in free fall.

Week 24: To play out of (your) skin

This week’s English for Football expression is the phrase to play out of your skin, which means to do something extremely well, to be outstanding. In football it usually means that a team or a player is playing far better than they usually perform. We sometimes use this expression when lower league teams or players raise their game against higher-ranked teams, they unexpectedly play extremely well. So, in this week’s Carling Cup semi final second leg, Burnley from the Championship played out of their skins against Premier League side Tottenham while in this weekend’s FA Cup 4th Round matches non-league Kettering will have to play out of their skins to defeat Premier League side Fulham. To play out of your skin.

Week 23: A (potential) banana skin

This week’s English for football is the expression banana skin which is often preceded by the word potential, so potential banana skin. This means there is a chance of slipping up, falling or making a mistake and it is used in football when a bigger club is worried about playing a smaller club, usually in a cup competition. So when a team is not playing very well and is drawn away against a side from a lower league then there is a chance of an upset, that the bigger team will slip up, that is, they face a potential banana skin of a game. Portsmouth manager Tony Adams saw his side’s visit to Bristol City in the FA Cup as a potential banana skin game, while many saw Chelsea’s trip to League 1 Southend as another potential banana skin match. Luckily for both of these teams they avoided any shocks or slip ups this time. Potential banana skin.

Week 22: To be held (to a draw)

This week’s English for football is ‘to be held‘. In football this phrase is usually followed by ‘to a draw‘ – ‘to be held to a draw‘. Now, to be held, means you can’t move, you are stuck, and in football if one team ‘holds‘ another, it means that they have stopped them winning. Usually the weaker side holds a stronger side to a draw. In this year’s FA Cup third round, Chelsea were held to a draw by Southend. The weaker, less-famous side, Southend, held the stronger side, Chelsea, to a draw. To be held to a draw.

Week 21: To give a roasting to

This week’s English for football is to give a roasting to. This expression is used to indicate that someone is criticising someone harshly. They are pointing out what someone has done wrong. It is often used when managers criticise their players – the manager gives them a roasting. Other expressions include to give a dressing down to, or to give the hairdryer treatment. This last phrase is almost always used to describe Alex Ferguson’s style of criticising his players. Last weekend, Hull City’s manager Phil Brown kept his players on the field and gave them a roasting in front of their fans. He was so angry with their poor performance. To give a roasting to.

Week 20: To be in the running

This week’s English for Football phrase is the expression to be in the running, which usually means to have a chance of doing something, such as getting a job or winning an award. We are almost halfway through the seasons in Europe and some clubs are thinking about making managerial changes, for example, Sunderland are looking for a new manager and it seems that first team coach Ricky Sbragia has a good chance of getting the position – he is in the running for the job. The World Player of the Year award is soon to be handed out and it seems that Manchester United’s Ronaldo is in the running to win this award, while his club are in the running to retain their Premier League title. To be in the running.

Week 19: To get the boot

This week’s English for football phrase is to get the boot. The meaning of this expression is to be dismissed from your job, to be kicked out, to be sacked or fired. Being a football manager is a precarious job as there is always a possibility of getting the boot due to poor results and this is what happened to Paul Ince who was fired by Premier League side Blackburn this week. He got the boot for the 11 match winless run his team produced though I am fairly sure he will not be last manager to get the boot this season. To get the boot.

Week 18: No pushovers

This week’s English for Football expression is no pushovers. The basic meaning is when a team suggests that it will not be beaten easily despite what many people think, i.e. they are weak. If you can push someone or something over then it means that it is something easy to do. In the FIFA Club World Cup, Mexican side Pachuca and Egyptian team Al Ahly are certainly no pushovers and will make life hard for Manchester United and LDU Quito. No pushovers.

Week 17: To come off the bench

This week’s English for football is to come off the bench. An easy phrase and one used when a substitute comes off the bench, they were not a starting member, and have an impact on the game, they change the game usually in a positive way. The bench literally refers to the seats – it used to be a long seat or bench – where players not in the starting eleven sit. You often hear this phrase when a substitute comes off the bench and scores a goal, or helps their side by setting up a winning goal. They are often called ‘super subs’. We have already heard how two players came off the bench in the Portsmouth v Blackburn game and scored. Other examples of super subs who have come off the bench include Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for Manchester United, who scored the winner in the Champions League final in 1999 in injury time. To come off the bench.

Week 16: Household name

This week’s English For Football phrase is the expression household name which simply means very well known. In football when we talk about household names we mean very famous players, players that are well known by people who may not have any interest in football, for example David Beckham is a household name. Most successful teams have one or two household names in their side, Christiano Ronaldo, Raul, Lionel Messi and Steven Gerrard but sometimes a team does well with a group of players that are not well known at all, so for instance there are no household names in the MLS Cup winning Columbus Crew team, nor in Bundesliga-topping Hoffenheim or Hull City in the Premier league. Household names.

Week 15: To shoulder the blame

This week’s English For Football is to shoulder. To shoulder is a verb used to indicate that something difficult is being done. It is often followed by blame, to shoulder the blame, or responsibilty, to shoulder the responsibilty. To shoulder something originally meant to carry something, usually heavy, on your shoulders – like a heavy bag. So, to shoulder the blame means you say it was your fault that something bad happened. And, to shoulder the responsibilty means to lead in a difficult situation. This week’s friendly games saw John Terry shoulder the blame for Germany’s equalising goal in their friendly with England. He said it was his fault, not the goalkeeper’s. To shoulder the blame.

Week 14: To be on a run

This week’s English for Football expression is the phrase to be on a run. We use this phrase in football to describe something that has happened in consecutive games. So, for instance if a team wins three or four or more matches in a row we can say they are on a winning run. Of course if a team loses three or four or more matches it is a losing run. We can also use the expression when talking about knock out competitions, if a team is progressing in the cup then it is described as a cup run. At the moment Barcelona are on a nine match winning run in La Liga while West Ham in the Premier League have not won for a month – a winless run of six matches. To be on a run.

Week 13: On a roll

This week’s English For Football phrase is to be on a roll. To be on a roll means that you are having a long period of increasing good fortune, things are continuing to get better and nothing bad is happening. We might use it in gambling, when someone keeps winning for example. In football if a team is on a roll, they are having a run of good results. If a player is on a roll maybe they are scoring a goal every game. Tottenham Hotspur and Hoffenheim are both teams on a roll at the moment. The Premier League side, Tottenham have won three out of their last 4 games. Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga are doing even better with five victories in five games. I wonder if they can continue to be on a roll this weekend? To be on a roll.

Week 12: Kick It Out

This week’s English For Football is the expression Kick It Out which is a phrasal verb that means to eliminate, to get rid of or to finally stop something. Here the pronoun it represents racism which of course means discrimination against people of different colour. So, this expression is now being used by an anti-racism in football organisation for its slogan. The Kick It Out campaign has been battling to eliminate (kick out) racism from football for the past fifteen years in the UK. Kick It Out.

Week 11: Bicycle kick

This week’s English for football phrase is bicycle kick. Now this phrase refers to a special shot. The player volleys the ball high off the ground. Instead of heading the ball, the player jumps into the air and as he or she falls to the ground kicks the ball at head height so that the ball travels over the head and towards the goal. It is also sometimes called a scissors kick because the legs resemble scissors snapping shut as the ball is hit. It is a spectacular goal when it is successful, but is very difficult to do. This week, Zaki, for Wigan, and Kuyt for Liverpool both scored with bicycle kicks. Bicycle kick.

Week 10: The end justifies the means

This week’s English for football phrase is the expression the end justifies the means which has the general meaning of to do whatever it takes to reach a goal or target. In football this phrase is often used by managers or fans to describe a performance that may have not been the best or most exciting yet the team has won. So, in last night’s World Cup qualifier between Ireland and Cyprus the victory was more important than how the team played. Indeed this term dominated the Irish media the next day. The end justifies the means.

Week 9: To rule out

This week’s English for football is to rule outto rule something out. This phrase means to eliminate, not choose, or exclude. It is used in football in a variety of situations. For example, the England defender John Terry has an injury that may rule him out of the game against Kazakhstan. His injury is bad, therefore he may not play. Michael Owen was not chosen for England’s team this weekend, but that doesn’t rule him out from appearing in the future. He may be chosen next time. Recently there has been talk about Liverpool and Everton sharing a ground, but most people rule this idea out, they don’t think it will happen. But with the current economic situation we can’t rule out some clubs having major financial problems. To rule out.

Week 8: To be on target

This week’s English for football is to be on target. Now, target is an object used in sports like archery or shooting. Someone aims a gun or fires their arrows at it, trying to hit the target. If you are on target, you hit it, you succeed. So in football, if a team or a player is on target they score a goal. This week two ex-Tottenham strikers were on target for their new teams. Manchester United’s Berbatov was on target against Aalborg in the Champions League, while Robbie Keane was also on target, scoring against PSV for Liverpool. To be on target.

Week 7: Howler

This week’s English for football phrase is make a howler. A howler is a big mistake, a huge error. The mistake is so bad it makes people laugh in disbelief: people howl with laughter. In football, this phrase is usually used to talk about a striker missing an easy chance, a goal keeper letting in a goal or a referee making a terrible decision. This week, referee Stuart Attwell, after advice from his assistant awarded a goal to Reading in a match against Watford. The decision was a howler as, everybody, the players and fans, managers and ball boys, all saw that the ball was at least a metre from the goal and had simply crossed the line for a goal kick. No one could believe the decision, but the goal was given. The referee made a howler.

Week 6: Come from behind

This week’s English for football is come from behind. Now, this phrase is quite simple as it originally means to win after being behind in a race. This season Liverpool’s opponents have taken the lead three times in the last five games, but Liverpool have won the matches. they have come from behind three times. The phrase is sometimes used to say that a team is lucky, but also to say that a team has a good spirit and never gives up. To come from behind.

Week 5: Below par

This week’s English For Football is the expression to be under par or below par which generally means to be disappointing or second best. Though it has a positive meaning in golf in football we use it to describe a poor performance from a player or team particularly when they are expected to do better. So England’s performance against Andorra was below par as was Switzerland’s at home to Luxembourg but perhaps the team most below par was France in losing to Austria. To be below par.

Week 4: To come a cropper

This week’s English For Football phrase is to come a cropper. Originally this phrase was used by people riding horses. It meant a heavy fall, coming off the horse. Nowadays it is used to mean to fail badly at something. This week there are many World Cup qualifiers around the world and some of the big teams are sure to come a cropper, some will probably be beaten by smaller teams. For example, Scotland travel to Macedonia. Scotland are ranked 16th in the world by FIFA while Macedonia are a lowly 56th. However, it is easy to see Scotland coming a cropper against the east-European side. Or how about Ireland against Georgia? Will the Irish come a cropper? To come a cropper.

Week 3: By the skin of your teeth

This week’s English For Football is by the skin of your teeth. You use this phrase when you want to say someone has escaped a disaster narrowly. They have only just avoided something bad. It implies that someone has not deserved the escape or have been lucky to escape. In the past two weeks Liverpool have won three matches in the dying minutes of the match. Most dramatically they scored on the 118th minute, 2 minutes before the end of extra time in a Champions League qualifier against Standard Liege of Belgium. They scraped into the group stages by the skin of their teeth!

Week 2: To seal a deal

This week’s English for football expression is to seal the deal. Now this term comes from the business world and means that a deal or transaction has been completed – something has been bought or sold. In football we use it when talking about player transfers, the movement of players between clubs. With the deadline of the transfer window approaching more deals are being sealed as clubs attempt to improve their squads for the season. So, currently, Manchester United are trying to seal a deal with Tottenham over Dimitar Berbatov while in turn, Spurs, are attempting to seal the transfer of Russian star Andrey Arshavin. To seal a deal.

Week 1: To tap up

The season’s first English for football phrase is to tap up. This phrase is used mostly with football but sometimes in business. It means to illegally, or secretly, approach another team’s player, and try to persuade them to join your club. Earlier in the show, Damian was talking about the long transfer stories of the summer. One of those stories involves the Tottenham player, Berbatov. Tottenham have accused Manchester United of tapping up their player. They think Manchester United didn’t follow the rules about buying a player and met Berbatov secretly. To tap up.

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  • this site is really interesting and useful to me. i’m keen on football and this has helped me a great deal in understanding football commentators . thanks a lot.
    I hope the site’ll offer more useful things

  • Hello Vahid,

    Thanks for your comments. We’re glad you like what we are doing. You said you recommend we e-mail these phrases – do you mean like a mailing list? An email we can send to subscribers? That sounds like a good idea.

    By the way, who is your favourite team? Let us know about it and maybe we can focus on your team in our next show.

    Thanks again


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