Football glossary: Backs to the wall

In this football language post we look at the phrase ‘backs against the wall‘ when used in football. You can read a transcript for this post below, while you can also check out our glossary of footballing phrases here and visit our site to access all our previous posts and podcasts. If you have any suggestions or questions then you can contact us at

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Backs to the wall

If a team has their backs to the wall it means they are in a difficult situation, and they need to defend desperately. When a team is under real pressure from an opposing team we can say that they have their backs to (or against) the wall.

Example: That was proven in their stunningly effective, backs-to-the-wall performance at Anfield on Saturday evening ( August 29 2021)

Example: Allardyce praise for West Ham’s backs to the wall defending ( 16 December 2012)

Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football

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  • What is the meaning of the phrases “into their stride” and take in stride”

    West Ham were into their stride early on, pushing Arsenal back in the opening exchanges and getting a number of dangerous crosses into the box.

    17 min Almost Iniesta-esque from Busquets as he clips a reverse pass forward which almost picks out Perez in the area. The youngster misjudges it, though, and cannot take the ball in his stride

    68′ GOAAAALLLL!!! MANCHESTER UNITED 2-3 LIVERPOOL – United grab a goal back as Rashford takes Cavani’s pass into his stride before rolling the ball past Alisson and into the bottom corner. Fernandes played his part as he and Cavani made their way forward, but it was the former Paris Saint-Germain that split the defence with his pass, allowing Rashford to convert.

    • If a team gets into their stride it means that they are playing well and that they have started well – they have found their rhythm.

      In the second example the phrase has a slightly different meaning – as Cavani was running he received the ball without having to change his running pattern at all.

BEpisode 59