Students of the language network Verbalisti at Kings Colleges in London
Back of the net! A reflection on the language of football
Have you ever stopped to think about some of the language we use to describe the world of football or soccer as it is also known? The word ‘soccer’ comes from ‘association’. Association Football was the full name of the sport in its early years. The ‘association’ part of the name differentiated it from rugby football, which, following the same pattern as ‘soccer’, is sometimes called ‘rugger’.
The language used to describe football can sometimes be a little impenetrable (difficult to understand), even if you know how the game is played and have some experience of watching or playing it. Take this description of a passage of play (a short section of a game), as an example of how tricky football language can be.
“Frank dribbled around four players, threaded the ball through to the striker, who was brought down in the area by a defender (who was sent off, for an early bath). From the spot kick, he hit the woodwork before nutmegging the keeper with the rebound.”
If you followed that, well done! For those who are still trying to work out how you can ‘thread’ a ball or what nutmeg has to do with football, here’s a rather long, but I hope slightly clearer ‘translation’.
Association football (more commonly known as football or soccer) was first codified in 1863 in England, although games that involved the kicking of a ball were evident considerably earlier.
“Frank propelled the ball along the floor, using a series of light taps of his foot to subtlety control and adjust the speed and direction of the ball. By so doing, Frank was able to avoid the challenges of four members of the other team. Having successfully eluded the would-be tacklers, he kicked the ball in such a way that its trajectory bisected a number of opposition players and it ended up at the feet of one of the attacking players from his own team. The attacking player was then unfairly challenged (resulting in him falling to the ground). As this illegal challenge (or ‘foul’) happened in the opposition’s penalty area, Frank’s team were awarded a penalty kick and the player who committed the foul was sent off the field of play by the referee and could take no further part in the game. When the penalty was taken, the ball was kicked against the goal post, bounced back and was then kicked, between the goalkeeper’s legs, into the goal.”
Here are three more terms used when describing a football match; what do you think the mean? ‘Route one’; ‘hoof’; ‘a sitter’. There are many different ways of attacking in football. The ball can be passed (kicked) between the players as they move closer and closer to the opposition’s goal. Alternatively, the ball can be given to one player, who then runs with it, avoiding challenges from the other team. The most direct form of attack, however, is known as ‘route one’, which involves the goalkeeper kicking the ball high into the air, so that it lands inside the opposition’s penalty area and is then, hopefully, kicked into the goal.
When the ball is kicked high and hard, with little consideration of where it will land (as in ‘route one’) it is known as a ‘hoof’. ‘Hoofing’ the ball (it is also used as a verb) is usually a defensive tactic; putting as much distance between the ball and your own goal as possible.
Finally; imagine that you are playing football. You are standing on the opposing team’s goal line, with the ball at your feet. All you have to do is tap it over the line to score a goal… surely you couldn’t miss… this is ‘a sitter’.
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