A Sniff – in this short podcast on the language of football we explain the phrase ‘a sniff’ and how it is used to talk about football. You can access the transcript of the show below, and also check out our huge glossary of footballing phrases here. We have hundreds of previous posts and podcasts too on our website. Teachers of English can use the audio and transcript to provide practice for their students: Try a gap-fill activity for example. Learners of English can use all our resources for free.  If you have any suggestions or questions then you can contact us at admin@languagecaster.com.

Learn English Through Football

DB: Hello there, everybody. Welcome to languagecaster and our football language podcast. My name is Damon and I’m originally from the UK but now I live in Tokyo, Japan. The other half of the team, Damian, is based in London. We are both supporters of Premier League sides: Liverpool for me and Tottenham for Damian. And our two teams will be meeting next weekend in the languagecaster derby! Who will have bragging rights I wonder?

Both of us are hoping our teams can book a place in the Champions League for next season by finishing in the top four. I don’t think Liverpool have much chance of getting a place though. They will definitely need to beat Tottenham next week!

The football language we are looking at today is connected with talking about chances. The phrase is ‘a sniff’. More after this message.

sniffStinger: You are listening to languagecaster.com (in Dutch)

DB: Yes, you are listening to languagecaster and that message was in Dutch.

(a) Sniff

DB: OK, let’s take a look at our phrase for this podcast – a sniff. To sniff is a verb and it means to smell something; to use your nose to detect a smell. There is a slight difference between the two verbs to sniff and to smell. To sniff is the positive action of trying to catch the smell or fragrance of something. To smell is a little more passive, you just understand the smell. It’s a little bit like to listen vs to hear. the first needs effort.

OK, but what has to sniff or a sniff got to do with football. Well, we need to think about hunting for this. Imagine hunting with dogs. The dogs are used to sniff for animals like rabbits, birds, deer, etc. When they catch the scent, when they sniff something, the hunt can start. Of course, there is no guarantee that the hunter will catch the rabbit, but there is a chance.

The dog’s sniff leads to the chance, and we can use a sniff to mean a chance.

I saw an absolutely fantastic compilation of football players, managers and pundits using the phrase on twitter – thank you @bryansgunn. Check it out by following the link on our site – languagecaster.com – or check out @bryansgunn on twitter.

Here is a little piece of the audio from the tweet (audio).

Give them a sniff

Mostly, a sniff is combined with the verb ‘give‘, so to give a sniff. In the examples in the tweet I mentioned, it is mostly used in the negative. For example as a warning to team to not give their opponent a chance: Don’t give them a sniff.
Or, still in the negative form, to say the defence was strong and didn’t give any chances away: We didn’t give them a sniff.

Of course, if your defence was not so good, you may allow the opposition chances to score, so you give them a sniff.

A little sniff

If you only give small chances, you can say give a little sniff – you give the opponent a small chance. Often, we can praise a striker who only needs a small chance to score: we say the player is so good that they only need a little sniff and they can score. Instead of a little sniff, half a sniff could be used, in the same way that a chance becomes half a chance.

DB: So, the noun ‘sniff‘ basically can be used to mean a chance when talking about football. So, let’s return to the start of the show when I was talking about Liverpool and Tottenham’s chances of finishing in the top four in the Premier League. Well, I think Tottenham are in with a sniff, while Liverpool don’t even have half a sniff!

Stinger: You are listening to languagecaster.com (in Italian)

Thank you for that message and that was in Italian. Contact us if you want to ask any football-language questions or have comments at admin@languagecaster.com. You can also use the forum on our site languagecaster.com. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Follow and retweet, etc. Spread the word please!


DB: That’s it for now. We’ll be back soon. Enjoy all of the football. Ta-ra!

Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football

Free football language podcast for learners of English brought to you by Damian and Damon. Interviews, match reviews, predictions all with full language support for football fans around the world who wish to improve their English language skills.

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I was born and brought up near Chester in the north west of England. I have always loved playing and talking about sport, especially football!
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Football GlossaryEpisode 1060