Learn English Through Football Language Podcast: Vocabulary – Playing the Game

Play episode

In this post we take a look at some of the words and phrases that players might use while playing a match, the kind of language that you can hear – or use – on the pitch. There is also a quiz to help you practise the vocabulary below. Check out our glossary of footballing phrases here and if you have any suggestions or questions then contact us at admin@languagecaster.com.

Embed from Getty Images

Learn English Through Football Language Podcast: Vocabulary – Playing the Game

DF: Hello everyone, this is Damian from the Learning English Through Football team. I hope we are all doing well. Now on this short football language podcast we take a look at some of the words and phrases that we might hear on the football pitch while we were playing the game.

I remember playing football in Spain and then in Japan and Hong Kong and sometimes finding it difficult to communicate with team mates as I simply didn’t know the words that were used on the pitch while we were playing the game. Sometimes I could use an English phrase like ‘time‘ which was understood by all but it was not until I knew other words and phrases that I became more comfortable playing.

As you can imagine, players do not have much time during a game, so quick and clear communication with your team mates is key. For example, when you see an opponent coming towards one of your own players, you are not going to shout, ‘Be careful, there is a member of the opposing side approaching’. Instead, the phrase ‘man on‘ is used to warn your team mate. How about if you want to tell one of your players that he or she is free and has time to look up and pass or dribble with the ball? You could explain all of that to them but it’s much better to simply shout ‘time‘.

So, many of the phrases used by players in a game are similar to these expressions in that they are made up of only one or two words to help with this rapid communication; these kind of football instructions on the pitch need to be short and clear. One other thing to mention is that although you might know the meaning of the words ‘head‘, or ‘out‘ and ‘time‘ away from the football pitch, on it they tend to have different meanings.

Stinger: You are listening to languagecaster.com (in French).

DF: Yes, you are listening to languagecaster.com and that message was in French. Before we move on to describe some of the language you hear while playing, a quick reminder that there’s a transcript to this podcast which you can access by coming along to our site. And you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or you can drop us a line at: admin@languagecaster.com.

Right, here is a list of some of the more common expressions you might need when playing football in an English-speaking environment. Next time you play a game how about trying to use some of them with your team mates?

Playing the Game

  • Man on: This is a warning given to a team mate with the ball that an opponent is nearby; the meaning is to take care as someone is near you.
  • To feet: This is used by one of your team mates when he/she wants you to pass to their feet, a simple pass on the ground. Sometimes it is simply shortened to feet.
  • Chest: This is used by one of your team mates when he/she wants you to give them the ball on their chest. This expression might be heard at a throw-in, for example.
  • On my head: This is used by one of your team mates when they want you to give them the ball on their head. This expression might be heard at a throw-in and sometimes it is shortened to head.
  • Time: This is what you can say to one of your team mates when he/she receives the ball and has time to move with the ball – it is the opposite of man on. Sometimes we might use the word ‘free‘ which has the same meaning – you are free to turn or move forward with the ball.
  • Square: This is what you say to a team mate when you are standing to their left or right, i.e. beside them and you want them to pass to you. You can also say square it, where ‘it’ means the ball.
  • Push up: You can hear this phrase when one of the defenders tells the rest of the defence to move forward and away from their goal. It is often used to catch people offside. This is similar to the phrase get out – another instruction from a defender to their team mates.
  • Through ball: A through ball is one played quickly to a team mate who is running in on goal. Usually this is hit first time and can become an effective weapon to break down a defence.
  • One-two: This is sometimes known as a wall pass and means to give and then quickly receive a pass from one of your team mates. It can be an effective tactic in crowded areas to allow players to get free.
  • Easy ball: This expression is used to tell your team mate to play a simple rather than a difficult pass as your team wants to keep possession. Don’t give away the ball! Don’t lose it!
  • Get out: Often shouted by one of the defenders to the rest of their defence to try and push back the opposing attackers or to catch them offside. This is similar to push up or push out and is sometimes simply used as ‘out’.
  • Mark (up): This is said by players when defending a corner, free kick or other set piece and means to ensure that an opponent is not free, in other words the instruction here is to get close to them.
  • First time: Don’t trap or control the ball, hit it when it arrives. Again this is an effective instruction as it allows the player with the ball to make a quick decision – maybe to hit a first-time ball or pass to a team mate.
  • One-touch: Similar to first time in that the player usually has no time to control the ball so he or she needs to pass it or shoot quickly.
  • Have a pop: If you hear this instruction from a team mate it means that you can shoot – maybe your team mates can see that you are in space and have time to shoot. Sometimes we might just hear the word ‘shoot‘ instead.
  • Hold: This is said to a team mate who has the ball that he or she should keep it a little longer, don’t pass it just yet. This is particularly used for telling a centre forward to hold on to possession. Sometimes we hear the phrase ‘hold-up play‘ or ‘hold up the ball‘, which is when a forward, with their back to goal, keeps the ball to allow their team mates to move up the pitch.

Stinger: You are listening to languagecaster.com (in Irish).

Good Bye

DF: OK, that’s it for this short podcast – we hope you have enjoyed our look at some of the words and phrases from the pitch. Let us know if you hear any of these phrases or maybe if you know how to say them in another language – drop us a line at: admin@languagecaster.com. You can also post any of your examples in the comments section below – we’ve got quite a few already there. You can also check out languagecaster’s football glossary which has a huge selection of football vocabulary. And we’ll have more football phrases to talk about in our next podcast. Enjoy all the football this week and we’ll see you again soon. Bye bye.


Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football

Welcome to the website that helps students interested in football improve their English language skills. Soccer fans can enhance these skills with lots of free language resources: a weekly podcast, football phrases, explanations of football vocabulary, football cliches, worksheets, quizzes and much more at languagecaster.com.

Google | Facebook | Twitter | Mail | Website

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Hello everybody,
    I would like to ask you about two situations:
    1) a high cross is sent into the box and keeper is sute he/she will have the ball. Here they shout “me“ or “mine“ to let teamates know not to try to clear the ball.
    2) during an attack a team give the ball away and since most players are high there is a possibility of an dangerous counterattack. Her e they shout at the teamate who is close to the ball carrier “stop it!“ or “intercept“, in fact asking him to commit a tactical foul to halt the counterattack.
    My question is: is it the same in English, or are they some other instructions in these situations?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Ivan,

      Thanks for the question.

      1. I think most keepers would say ‘keeper’ when they come for the ball. Alternatively, you might hear someone use their name.

      2. This is an interesting question! I don’t think a player would be ‘allowed’ to shout ‘foul’ or ‘stop the player’, while ‘intercept’ is more to do with the ball – a defender cutting out an attacking pass for example. Maybe a call to ‘get back’ might be used? Some other phrases you might hear would be ‘close down’ which would mean to get close to an opponent or maybe ‘shape’ which means the team needs to quickly get into their positions or team shape.

      Hope that helps and thanks again for the question.


    • Hi Damian,
      thank you very much, it helps a lot., appreciated.
      And many thanks for this fantastic site!

  • Hi Damian, I can share a bit of Italian vernacular on this topic. For instance the equivalent of ‘man on’ is ‘uomo’, ‘time’ is ‘solo’ (lonely), feet chest and head are respectively ‘piede’ ‘petto’ e ‘testa’, first time is ‘di prima’, hold is ‘tienila’, have a pop is ‘provala’ (try it), one-two is ‘uno-due’, mark is ‘marcare’, push up/get out is ‘sali’ (go up), a through ball is a ‘passaggio filtrante’ and square is ‘a destra’ (on the right) or ‘a sinistra’ (on the left). Hope that it helps 🙂

  • Thanks heaps, it’s so handy to know this phrases where playing in an English-speaking country or with people from other countries!

  • ‘Bounce’ is one we use in game, it’s pretty much the same as one-two but easier and quicker to say

  • How do you call a player that holds the ball for himself and doesn’t pass it along? that one that likes to play alone?

  • “channel ball” same as through ball- but in a more specific area “channels”
    “get out wide” stretch the game -use the width of the pitch
    “Push on” means a player can let go of his man and close down the ball- as you are picking up his man
    “close him” put pressure on the opposition player with the ball- forcing him to pass quicker
    “show for him” means to give some support to the player with the ball- move in to space to receive the ball
    “you’re ball watching” if a player is static – not influencing the game with his/her movement
    “switch it” means the ball should be moved across to the opposite side of the pitch

  • “Watch your house” in pantomine terms, he’s behind you. Can be shouted by a colleague or supporters.
    “Have a gink” Irish colloquialism to urge a colleague to have a shot on goal.

  • Nice post! How about the expression ‘turn’ meaning when you get the ball you have time to turn and go forward.

More from this show