MaradonaIn this short football language podcast, we talk abut the phrase ‘not at the races’, along with some other football language. Check out our football glossary and football cliches pages for hundreds more explanations of the language of soccer. If you have any questions, suggestions or comments then please email us at:

Listening Report: Not at the Races

DB: You’re listening to Hello there and welcome to this Learn English Through Football Podcast. My name’s Damon, one of the langaugecaster team, the other being Damian. We both hope you are all well and that you have been enjoying the start to 2021 and all the football that has been taking place. In England the FA Cup third round has just been played, while in Japan, where I am based, they have just had the All-Japan high school tournaments, which are always big events matches here.

Talking of big  events, well, in South America the Copa Libertadores has reached the semi-final stages with the second legs being played when this podcast goes out. Will it be River Plate or Palmeiras from the first semi final and which of Boca Juniors or Santos will progress?

Stinger: You’re listening to (in Cantonese)

Not at the Races

Yes, you are listening to, and that was in Cantonese. OK, on today’s show I’ll be talking about the phrase ‘not at the races‘, which is a phrase from the world of horse racing.

So, the ‘races‘ in this phrase originally means horse races, so the day’s races at a horse racing event. Some famous races in England would be Cheltenham Races, Ascot Races, and so on. To not be at the races means to perform badly, to have no chance. Sometimes a horse in a race just does not want to run. The horse may have even been fancied, which means one of the favourites, but just does not perform.

In football, the race is the match and if a team is not at the races, they, like the horse in the original phrase, does not play well and are usually beaten. This team’s fans will complain that ‘they just weren’t at the races today‘, or the commentator might also point out the team doesn’t seem to be at the races.

Here’s an example taken from a picture title on “Lacazette’s equaliser gave the Gunners hope, but they were just not at the races.”

The match was Arsenal versus Manchester City in the League Cup, a game that the Gunners lost 4-1 because they played so poorly. They just weren’t at the races.

Stinger: You’re listening to (Zaragoza fan)

Out of the Traps

DB: Another phrase, which is also about describing performances and is also from the world of gambling sports is ‘out of the traps‘. This phrase is from greyhound racing, dog racing. The traps are the cages the dogs wait in at the start of the race. The race starts, the traps open, and the dogs spring off chasing a fake rabbit. 

If the dog is slow out of the traps – they start badly. If the dog is fast or quick out of the traps, they have a good start. In football, this phrase is used to describe how a team starts a game – well or badly. Usually the phrase is shortened a little from – out of the traps to out the traps. Here’s an example from the Liverpool Echo: “The Reds came flying out the traps and forced Kasper Schmeichel into a handful of saves before they had their lead in strange circumstances.”

Here, the example uses ‘flying’ to emphasise this was a really good start. Liverpool played with speed, passion, and intensity. We should note that if a team is slow out of the traps, it does not mean that they lose the game or that they play badly all match. This phrase simply describes the kind of start a team has. It is very possible for a team to be slow out of the traps and still win the game, or visa versa.

Good bye

OK, two football phrases that talk about how a team is playing. The first, not at the races, usually means a team loses the game because they play so badly. The second, out the traps, describes how well or badly a team starts the game, or half.

Thanks for listening. Stay safe, enjoy the football, and we’ll be back soon with some more football language to talk about.


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

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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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