Learn English Through Football Language Podcast: (to) Pen In

In this podcast on the language of football we explain what the phrasal verb to pen in means and how it used in soccer. Remember, you can access the transcript of the show below, which is a great way for learners of English to practice.  Make sure you also check out our huge glossary of footballing phrases here. We have hundreds of previous posts and podcasts too on our website. If you are a teacher of English, why don’t you use the audio and transcript to provide practice for their students: Try a gap-fill activity for example. And learners of English can access all resources for free.  Let us know if you have any suggestions or questions then you can contact us at admin@languagecaster.com.


Learn English Through Football

DB: Hello everyone. My name’s Damon and you are listening to languagecaster.com’s football language podcast. This is the podcast for all lovers of the beautiful game – football – and for those interested in learning English, too. Damian, the other member of the languagecaster team is based in London and he has been busy on our forum site answering questions on the language of football.

One of those questions was about the phrase ‘to pen in‘, and that is what we will focus on today.

trebleStinger: You are listening to languagecaster.com (in Turkish)

DB: Yes, you are listening to languagecaster and that message was in Turkish.

To Pen In

DB: OK, let’s explain that phrase. This was a question in our forum – come along to the site languagecaster.com and leave your own questions – @hyuna27g_ asked. ‘What does “pen” mean in this sentence? Liverpool are penning Wolves into their own half.’

Noun and a Verb

Right, let’s start with a noun ‘a pen‘. Now ‘a pen‘ in football is usually a casual way to say penalty: for example, Milner’s great at pens – meaning James Milner is a good penalty taker. But in this case ‘a pen‘ refers to an enclosure to keep farm animals like sheep. Usually just a square of land with fences all around.

The noun was used as a base to make a verb, ‘to pen‘, which is the action of putting animals, usually sheep, in an enclosure, in a pen. So a farmer pens the sheep in the enclosure: he or she puts them in an enclosure and closes the gate, so they cannot escape.

Embed from Getty Images

The Phrase in Football

DB: OK, so that’s the original meaning. Let’s get back to the question and the sentence: ‘Liverpool are penning Wolves into their own half’. In football, to pen in, notice the use of in – to pen in – so, in football this means to keep the opposition in their own half or even their own defensive third. They are unable to progress up the pitch. They are penned in.

In the example sentence, Liverpool are pressing high up the pitch and not allowing Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wolves, to move the ball beyond the half way line.

Here is another example from punditfeed.com: “In the first half we saw their attacking intent and creativity, pressing Spurs to keep them penned in their own half and then capitalising on their mistakes,” Shearer said.

So, the pundit, Alan Shearer describes how Arsenal pressed Tottenham and kept them from crossing the half way line, they kept them penned in their own half.


To finish, let’s look at another football phrase. This is also connected with farming and sheep. Remember to pen in is originally when a farmer puts sheep in an enclosure and keeps them from escaping.

The verb ‘to hook‘ in football means to substitute a player; to take them off the pitch. but the nuance is quite negative. It implies the manager was unhappy with the player’s performance and angrily takes them off.

And this verb, to hook, originally comes from sheep farming, when the farmer would use a hooked stick, called a crook, to grab a sheep around its neck and pull it back.

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

DB: Thank you for that message and that was in Cebuano.

OK, that brings us to the end of this show, and we looked at two phrases – to pen in and to hook – both connected originally with sheep farming and now used in football.

Contact us if you want to ask any football-language questions or have comments at admin@languagecaster.com. You can also use the forum on our site languagecaster.com. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Follow and retweet, etc. Spread the word please!


DB: OK, thanks for listening and enjoy all the football where ever you are. Ta-ra!

Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football
Hosted by

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!
Google | Facebook | Twitter | Mail | Website

Join the discussion

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

More from this show