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Football Language: (be) Toothless

In this football language post we explain the football expression ‘to be toothless‘, which is an adjective used when talking about a team’s attacking threat. If you have questions or comments, email us at:

  • You can also find many more examples of soccer vocabulary by going to our football cliches page here and our huge football glossary here.

Football Language: (be) Toothless

The expression ‘toothless‘ is often used to describe a team that has no attacking threat. The team is not dangerous and does not look likely to score. The phrase uses the noun ‘tooth’ combined with ‘less’. When we add the suffix ‘-less’ it gives the meaning of ‘none’. Therefore, nerveless means having no nerves, being very calm. Toothless means having no teeth. If an animal has teeth, they could be dangerous – think lion, tiger, wolf, snake etc. Having no teeth means the opposite of dangerous: the team that is toothless will not be able to hurt its opponent.

Example: Benfica, finalists in 2013 and 2014, were largely toothless although it required a dramatic last-minute save by Kevin Trapp to deny the Portuguese leaders.  (BBC 19 April 2019).

Example: Having dominated the first half against Arsenal in terms of possession and territory, United found themselves heading in at the break still level – and having put in what was a largely toothless display in an attacking sense. ( 16 Sept. 2018)

Check out our glossary of footballing phrases here. If you have any suggestions or questions, contact us at

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Learn English Through Football
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  • What is the meaning of the phrase “a late dagger hearts”? And what does “wielded” mean in this context?

    A late, late dagger to Fulham hearts wielded by Adama Traore settled an otherwise dreary but occasionally controversial spectacle

    • Hi Dwi,
      The phrase ‘a dagger to the heart’ suggests that something bad has happened to a team – usually in heart-breaking circumstances. In this example, the Wolves player Traore scored a late (very late) goal against Fulham to prevent them from winning or drawing. The verb ‘to wield’ here means to hold and to use the knife (or dagger). A dagger to the heart of a team would mean something like conceding a late goal after a brave performance.

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