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Football Phrases 2009-10

2006-07 Football Phrases

Each week Damon and Damian explain a football phrase on the weekly languagecaster podcast. Below is a list of these English for Football expressions from the 2009-10 season in order of when they appeared on the show. Click on the audio link to hear them, while there is also a pdf of the transcript and a link to the podcast in which it appeared. If you have questions or comments about this or any other phrase then email us at:

Week 32: To thump a team

This week’s English for football phrase is ‘to thump a team‘. If you thump a team it means that one team has beaten another team easily – other words that can be used include, thrashed, hammered and destroyed. The word thump actually means to strike or beat someone or something so we can suppose that if a team is thumped they feel battered and bruised, as if they have been beaten up. For example, this week Liverpool easily beat Portsmouth in the Premier League – in fact the BBC suggested that they thumped the team from the bottom of the league. To thump a team.

Week 28: To prove to be a handful

This week’s English for football expression is the phrase to be a handful which means that something or someone is difficult to handle or control. In football this is used when one team has difficulty controlling or defending against a player from the opposing team. The phrase often collocates with the verb to prove as in ‘… Chris Maguire proved to be a handful for Celtic with his vigour‘ which means that the Scottish side Celtic were unable to control Chris Maguire because of his power or pace. The phrase can also be used without the verb to be in it. So, recently, Wayne Rooney has been playing very well for his club Manchester United and in this week’s Champions League game against AC Milan he scored twice and proved a real handful for the Rossoneri defence. To prove to be a real handful.

Week 27: I’ve seen them given

This week’s phrase for football is ‘I’ve seen them given’. This phrase is used when there is a tackle in the box, or a ball hits a player’s arm. It looks like the referee might give a penalty but decides not to. This is when commentators use the phrase – ‘I’ve seen them given’ meaning they would not have been surprised if the referee had given a penalty. There is a further nuance. A person who says ‘I’ve seen them given’, perhaps also feels it would be a ‘soft’ penalty, perhaps an unfair one.

Week 26: To slide towards relegation

This week we look at the English for football phrase, ‘to slide towards relegation’. To slide means to skid, to slip, to move uncontrollably -  like a car on ice. Relegation is losing your place in a league and dropping to a lower one. In football, we use this phrase to talk about clubs that are losing a lot of games and are ‘sliding’ down the table towards relegation. The feeling is that they cannot escape. So, in the Premier League this weekend, Portsmouth visit Manchester United and will surely lose, and slide further towards relegation. Burnley host West Ham – can the Burnley side halt their slide, stop their slide, which has seen them drop into the relegation zone?

Week 25: To take to the cleaners

This week in our look at English phrases used in football we focus on ‘to take to the cleaners’. The original meaning of this expression is to take all of somebody’s money, usually by tricking or cheating them. They have no money, they are stripped clean of money, they are cleaned out of money – therefore the phrase, to take to the cleaners. In a football context, it is used to mean defeat or beat a team, or to dominate a player. The image is of a team or a player that has been stripped naked or bare of its or their skill, they look vulnerable, they have been taken to the cleaners. This week, Martin O’Neill, Premier League side Aston Villa’s coach, said that his player, Ashley Young, had taken Arsenal’s left back to the cleaners, meaning he had completed dominated the Arsenal defender.

Week 24: To hoof the ball

This week’s English for Football is ‘hoof’. Hoof is used to describe an animal like a horse’s foot, so a horse has four hooves. Now, a horse has a powerful kick when it’s angry, and the noun hoof can be used as a verb in football, to mean kick with a lot of power. When we say someone hoofed the ball we mean they kicked it, usually from defence, a long way into the opposition half with no purpose. It is not an elegant pass, or a clever way to start an attack. It is simply a long kick. Some teams play a style of football called a long ball game which involves hoofing the ball into the other team’s half. In the Premier League, Stoke City have a reputation for a long ball game, of hoofing the ball. To hoof the ball.

Week 23: To put a game to bed

This week’s English for football expression is the phrase to put a game to bed. We use this expression when one team wishes to finish off another so that they cannot come back into the game and it usually needs one more goal to guarantee or ensure victory. Last week in the FA Cup 3rd Round replay between Liverpool and Reading the Reds failed to put the tie to bed when they were leading 1-0 and in the end Reading came back to shock them with a 2-1 victory. To put the game to bed.

Week 22: A drubbing

This week’s English for Football is ‘a drubbing‘. A drubbing means a beating, losing by a large margin, being thrashed. Now, in November last year Wigan received a nine goal drubbing at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur – they lost 9-1. The drubbing, or defeat, was so bad that Wigan refunded the price of the tickets to their fans. A drubbing is an embarrassing loss by a large number of goals.

Week 20: Over the top tackle

This week’s English for football is ‘over the top tackle‘. Now, ‘over the top tackle‘ has two meanings. Firstly, over the top means too much, more than necessary, more than needed, so an over the top tackle is a tackle with too much force, and it often draws a yellow card from the referee’s pocket. Secondly, over the top tackle can mean, literally, a tackle over the ball, a tackle where a player lunges at the opposing player and not the ball. He goes over the ball and strikes the other player. This kind of over the top tackle often draws a red card as it did last week when Mascherano for Liverpool was sent off after an over the top tackle against Tal Ben Haim of Portsmouth – although, as a Liverpool fan, I didn’t think it was over the top. An over the top tackle.

Week 18: Be in the frame

This week’s English for football is ‘to be in the frame‘ or ‘to put yourself in the frame‘. The frame here refers to a picture frame or a photo frame – and if you are ‘in the frame‘, you are in the picture or in the photo and people can see you. When the phrase is used in football it means that a player is playing well and may be considered, or chosen, to play in a big game, for the national side, or a big competition – they are in the frame for the competition. Of course, next year is World cup year and many players will be trying to put themselves in the frame for a place in the national squads, they want to be chosen. Michael Owen scored a hatrick in the Champions league last week and is in the frame for a call up to the English national team.

Week 17: To have a low centre of gravity

This week’s English for football is the cliche, ‘he has a low centre of gravity‘. It is used to describe a player that is rather small yet very difficult to push off the ball – mainly due to having good balance. This player invariably has very good close control but at the same time is also very strong. Perhaps the greatest example of a player with a low centre of gravity was the Argentinian star, Diego Maradona who combined both talent and toughness in equal amounts.  Currently, the Barcelona side has not one but three examples of players with low centres of gravity: Xavi, Iniesta and Maradona’s compatriot, Leo Messi who once they have the ball are very rarely pushed off it. To have a low centre of gravity.

Week 16: All bets are off

This week’s English for football is the expression All bets are off which has a general meaning of a prior agreement no longer being applied. In football we use the expression when talking about a game that is difficult to predict – not because the teams are evenly matched but because of other factors such as it being a local derby game. Form counts for nothing as each team really wants to win the local bragging rights and so there is nothing certain in the game, it would be unwise to bet on the result – so all bets are off.

Week 15: On the trot

Week 14: To hang up your boots

This week’s English for Football is ‘To hang up your boots‘. Of course, boots refers to the footwear you need to play football – interestingly, they are not called shoes but boots even though they are not large like boots. To hang up means to tidy away or to suspend from a peg or hook. the full phrase to hang up your boots means to retire from playing football, to finish playing football. When you stop playing, you don’t need your boots anymore. This week the ex-Czech national team and Liverpool, Bordeaux, and Slavia Prague player, Vladmiri Smicer, hung up his boots, he retired from the game of football. We wish him well.

Week 13: To hang by a thread

This week’s English for football is ‘to hang by a thread‘. A thread is a thin, delicate piece of string – like cotton, and to hang is to be suspended from something, especially over an empty space. If you hang by a thread, you are in a dangerous position because a thread is weak, and you are hanging in the air over an open space. So this phrase, to hang by a thread, is used to indicate when a team is in a dangerous or precarious position: perhaps they face elimination from a competition, or they are near relegation. Their chances are hanging by a thread. This week, Liverpool could only draw against Lyon in the Champions League and they are in third place in their group. Their chances of making the next round are slim, their hopes are hanging by a thread.

Week 12: Smash and grab

This week’s English for football expression is the phrase smash and grab. Now this phrase is usually associated with a type of robbery – one where a shop window is smashed which then allows someone to take the goods from inside. It is not very subtle but can be very effective as there exists an element of surprise. Now, in football we use this when one team dominates another but still does not get the victory, rather the team that has been under pressure all game breaks out from defence and scores a goal to secure an unlikely victory. Now this happened last weekend to my team Spurs who completely dominated Stoke City in the Premier League – hitting the post, having penalties turned down, watching their reserve keeper play a blinder and generally dominating possession only to see Stoke score the winner late on. A real sickener but a classic case of a smash and grab victory. Smash and grab.

Week 11: The kiss of death

This week’s English for Football is kiss of death. This phrase is used to talk about the relationship between two people or things. If something is the kiss of death to something else, it will result in terrible or bad things happening. In football, often a chairman will support a manager publicly, but soon afterwards sacks them. Their words of support are the kiss of death, they are a sign that the manager’s job is about to end. This week, George Gillet of Liverpool made a big public announcement that he supported Benitez. Is it the kiss of death for Benitez? Will he lose his job soon?

Week 10: Flat-track bully

This week’s English for football expression is the phrase ‘flat-track bully’ which is often used in the sport of cricket when describing a batsman who performs well on slow, flat pitches. In football we use this term to describe a player or team that plays well against inferior players or sides. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has often been described as a flat track bully as he scores lots of goals but not always against top opposition, while both France and Portugal, after struggling to score goals throughout the campaign, had big victories in their World Cup qualifiers this week against lowly-ranked sides and have been accused of being flat-track bullies.

Week 9: To take the draw

This week’s English for Football is, to take the draw. This phrase means to be happy with a draw: to take the draw, to be happy with a draw. Often in qualifying groups for competitions like the World Cup or the Champions League, two teams meet and both teams need to avoid losing. one point is enough for both teams to put them in a strong position. This week, Ireland meet Italy in a World Cup qualifier in Dublin and both teams would take the draw. A draw would mean both would probably qualify or go to the next round. To take the draw.

Week 8: Collector’s Item

This week’s English for football is the expression Collector’s Item which refers to something that is both interesting and at the same time quite rare. In football we often use this phrase when someone who does not usually score a goal manages to get one. Last weekend Manchester United’s John O’ Shea scored his first goal for the club in two years – a real collector’s item. We can also use it when referring to team runs, Portsmouth have lost their first seven Premier League games on the trot, so if they were to win this weekend it would be a real collector’s item, A Collector’s item.

Week 7: Sleeping Giant

This week’s English for football expression is ‘sleeping giant’ which means that someone or something has not yet demonstrated the full extent of its powers. In football we often use this phrase to refer to a big club that maybe has not performed as well as it used to do but has lots of potential to do so again in the future. This week, Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager called Wolves a sleeping giant because it used to be the top team in England in the 1950s and after some years in the lower divisions is slowly recovering though not yet to its former glory. Sleeping giant.

Week 6: To throw the book at someone

This week’s English for football is to throw the book at someone. Now this phrase is not exclusive to football but it is used when a team, player or manager is guilty or in trouble because they have broken the rules and then have to face a punishment of some sort. This week Manchester City’s Adebayor faces an FA, the Football Association in England, charge for both his bad tackle on an opposing player and then his provocative goal celebration in front of the away fans. The FA are expected to throw the book at him for these actions and he will probably get a four-match ban. To throw the book at someone.

Week 5: Streaky

This week’s English for football expression is ’streaky’. This word in football has two main meanings. The first is used to mean lucky. So for example, ‘It was a bit of a streaky goal’ – meaning it was very lucky, it wasn’t a ‘clean’ goal. The second is related to the patterns ‘winning streak’, ‘scoring streak’ etc. These phrases mean to go on a run, to have consecutive wins or goals. If a striker is described as ’streaky’ it means they score a lot of goals for a short period, then score none. Their form is up and down. They are not consistent. Recently, Jermain Defoe has being scoring lots of goals for Tottenham and England, but he is often described as ’streaky’ – people are waiting for the goals and his luck to run out. Streaky

Week 4: Nip and tuck

This week’s English for football is ‘nip and tuck‘. The phrase means a game, or a race, or a competition is too close to call, it is difficult to decide who will win. It is very similar to neck and neck from horse racing. While most of the leagues in Europe have just started and it is too early to talk about winners, the world cup qualifying groups in Europe are nearly finished. Every country wants to get through to the finals and the results in many groups are ‘nip and tuck‘. For example, it is ‘nip and tuck‘ in group 3 where Slovakia, Northern Ireland, Slovenia and Poland can all qualify. It’s ‘nip and tuck‘.

Week 3: To Kick Off

This week’s English for Football expression is the phrase to kick off. In football this is the term used to describe the start of the game and it can also be used when describing the start of a league campaign, for instance, this weekend La Liga kicks off. However, this phrase also has a negative connotation in that it can be used to describe the start of a violent situation between fans from opposing teams. This week saw violence kicking off between Millwall and West Ham fans in the Carling Cup though few were surprised as it always seems to kick off between these two sets of supporters. To kick off.

Week 2: Be sidelined

For this week’s English for football we have the phrase ‘to be sidelined‘. This phrase is a passive construction: that means it is made with the ‘be’ verb and the past participle of the verb, in this case ‘to sideline‘. The passive construction is used when someone or something has something happen to them. To sideline means to put on the side, to remove from the centre or the main action. To sideline someone means to keep them out of the main action. In football, players are often sidelined by injury: they get an injury and cannot play. This week, Fulham played in the new Europa competition and their striker, Andrew Johnson picked up a bad injury – he dislocated his collar bone. He will be sidelined for two months. He was sidelined by the injury.’To be sidelined

Week 1: Suffer a blow

This week’s English for football is, ‘to suffer a blow‘. This expression combines ‘to suffer‘ – to have something bad happen to you – with ‘a blow‘ – a punch, a strike, a physical stroke with a hand or weapon. If you suffer a blow, you are hit by someone or something, you are punched. However ‘a blow‘ also means a setback, or a disappointment, so to suffer a blow can mean to have some bad news, to have your chance of doing something reduced. This week, Ben Foster, Manchester United’s number two goalkeeper, was injured before the England v Holland game. people thought he had a good chance to become England’s number one goalkeeper. However, his chances suffered a blow with the injury; he may have missed his chance to become England’s main goalkeeper.

Check out our glossary of footballing phrases here and if you have any suggestions, contact us at

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