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Football Language: (to) Cough Up

In this football language post for learners of English who love the beautiful game, we look at the phrase ‘to cough up‘. Check out our glossary of footballing phrases here and if you have any suggestions or questions, contact us at

(to) Cough Up

This phrase is mostly used when describing a mistake by a goalkeeper. If a keeper fails to catch the ball and the ball falls out of their hands, we say they coughed the ball up. This is exactly what happened in England’s game against Germany in the Nations League (2022) – a match that ended 3-3 with a late equaliser by Germany. Here is The Guardian describing the error:

Example: “Pope had to do better with a routine shot from the substitute, Serge Gnabry. Instead he coughed it up to Havertz, who had a tap-in for the equaliser.” (The Guardian, September 2022)

So, Pope, the England keeper had an easy shot from German player, Gantry. However, he did not catch the ball and instead the ball fell out of his hands in front of Haverts. The striker then had an easy shot at goal.

The England keeper coughed up the ball – dropped the ball. We can also say the keeper spilled the ball, which is used in the same way.


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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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