This posts explains the phrase ‘to shepherd the ball‘, a phrase which originates from farming and means to protect the ball. If you have questions or comments, please 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: (to) Shepherd the ball

To understand this phrase, we need to understand a word from farming. A shepherd is someone who looks after sheep or goats. They stay close to the herd of sheep and keep them safe. The word can also be used as a verb, so a shepherd can shepherd the sheep – although it would be very strange to say something like that! When used as a verb it means to direct the sheep, by pushing them in the direction you want them to go – perhaps using a stick or a sheepdog.

In football, this phrase, ‘to shepherd the ball’ is used to describe a player allowing the ball to go out of play, to cross the line, while at the same time, keeping another player from stopping the ball going out of play. To shepherd the ball out of play, means to shield the ball with your body, to protect the ball, so the opponent cannot reach it. The ball then goes safely out of play, and the team wins a throw-in, a corner, or a goal kick.

Here is an example from the Telegraph (28 Nov. 2018)The imperious Silva does brilliantly to come across and deny Salah, shepherding the ball to safety in the process. 

Check out our glossary of footballing phrases here
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Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football

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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 955