Clean and DirtyOn today’s football language listening post we look at football phrases connected to the words clean and dirty. How many expressions with dirty or clean in them are used in football? For this audio report there is a transcript which is great for learners and teachers of English. If you have questions or comments about this, or any other football phrase, you can email us at:

Football Language Podcast: Clean and Dirty

DF: Hello everyone, this is Damian from the Learning English Through Football team – we hope you are all well and in this short football language podcast, I am going to look at some language connected to the words ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’.

Stinger: You are listening to (in Greek).

Dirty/Clean Tackle

DF: OK, let’s start with a couple of phrases connected to tackling. A dirty tackle is used to describe a really bad foul by a player trying to win the ball in a tackle, sometimes known as an x-rated tackle because it is so bad. There is a suggestion that the player – the tackler – has deliberately tried to hurt the opposing player, maybe they have left their foot in or gone over the ball, which is an over the top tackle. Similarly, we might also hear the phrase ‘the defender cleaned out the forward‘ which means that the defender has hit the ball and the player at the same time meaning there is no way that that attacker is getting past that defender!

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In addition to the phrase ‘dirty tackle’ we can also use ‘clean tackle’ which is one where the defender takes the ball away from the attacker without committing a foul or sometimes we use it to say that the ball was taken away so cleanly that the defender didn’t even touch the attacker. Another phrase that we can sometimes hear is ‘a dirty player‘ which is used to describe a player who commits a lot of dirty tackles. We might sometimes hear the phrase ‘a clean player‘ but it’s not so common though the phrase ‘not that type of player’ is often used by a manager or fans to defend a player who might have committed a dirty tackle.

Clean through

Now the next phrase is clean through and this phrase means that a player is through on goal after breaking clear of the defence and finding themself ‘one on one’ with the keeper. The player with the ball then has some options: they might then smash the ball home, dink it over the goalkeeper or go round the keeper and then slot it home.

Cleanly struck

OK, so to hit the ball cleanly or to strike the ball cleanly means to hit the ball very well or to hit it sweetly. There is a suggestion that the player has used great technique to hit the ball in this way, so we can hear the phrase a ‘cleanly-struck shot’ to describe a powerfully and beautifully hit shot.

Clean sweep of wins/trophies

So a clean sweep is when a team wins everything there is to win: maybe all the competitions they enter in a particular season or when one team defeats all the other teams in a group. So, for example, Belgium completed a clean sweep of wins in their 2014 World Cup group matches when they beat Algeria, Russia and South Korea. Another example is when Bayern Munich won the treble in 2020 – the treble of league, cup and Champions League – they won a clean sweep of trophies.

Clean sheet

Now the last phrase is clean sheet and we use this phrase to describe when a team does not concede a goal – they do not allow the opposition to score a goal and so they have kept a clean sheet.

Stinger: Hello my name is Marcelo and I am from Brazil. I’m a fan of Vasco da Gama and you are listening to

DF: Thanks everyone for listening – we hope you enjoyed our little look at phrases involving clean and dirty in football. If you can think of any more or if you can think of some phrases used in your own language using those terms then we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line at Don’t forget there is also a transcript for this report and you can access that for free at OK, we’ll be back soon with some more football language. Enjoy all the football. And we’ll speak to you soon. Bye bye.

Check out our glossary of footballing phrases here. If you have any suggestions, contact us at
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Learn English Through FootballWelcome to the website that helps students interested in football improve their English language skills. Football fans can practise with lots of free language resources, including football-language podcasts and our huge football-language glossary.

CEpisode 943