Football Vocabulary: Playing the Game

In this post we take a look at some of the words and phrases that players use while playing the game.

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.
playing the game

Overseas players moving to an English-speaking environment often feel frustrated at their lack of communication skills. However, one area where they can improve quickly is with the language on the field of play. 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 John, 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‘.

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. So, though you might know the meaning of the words ‘head‘, ‘out‘ and ‘time‘ away from the football pitch, on it they tend to have different meanings.

Below 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?

Vocabulary: Playing the Game

Man on

A warning given to a team mate with the ball that an opponent is nearby; be careful there is someone 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 shortened to feet.


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.

On my head

This is used by one of your team mates when he/she wants 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.


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.


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.

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 own goal. It is often used to catch people offside. Similar to the phrase get out.

Through ball

A through ball is one played quickly (usually first time) in order to a team mate who is running in on goal. An effective weapon to break down a defence.


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 ball as your team wants to keep possession. Don’t give away the ball!

Get out

Often shouted by one of the defenders to the rest of his defence to try and push back the opposing attackers or to catch them offside. This is similar to push up.

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 get close to them.

First time

Don’t trap or control the ball, hit it when it arrives.


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.


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.

  • These are only some of the words and phrases used on the football pitch. We would be interested to hear of any more that you have heard about, please post a comment below and let us know.
  • Playing the Game: Multi-choice quiz pdf
  • You can also check out languagecaster’s football glossary which has a huge selection of football vocabulary.
  • On many of the pages of languagecaster’s site you can find language connected to football, such as cliches and phrases.

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  • ‘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.