There are hundreds of terms and phrases in football, but here’s our top 100 list that will elevate your expertise.
The world of football terminology is a fascinating one. Whether it’s professional, amateur, school/college, or 7s or 5s in your backyard, football is one of the most popular games in the world.
If you have ever been confused while watching a football game, then you are not alone. It can be hard to understand the lingo if you are not familiar with the sport, but we are here to help. Check out a list of most used terms and jargons you might hear around the pitch, and soon you’ll sound like a pro yourself!
If Liverpool gets a guy sent off and then loses to Chelsea, then you would say Chelsea beat 10-man Liverpool.
The Roman numeral for 11, which is how many players are on the pitch. But they use XI to say things like “They have a strong starting XI but their bench is shit.”
A player whose role in the team is to play the ball forward towards the opponent’s goal area to create an opportunity to score.
Against the run of play
When a goal is described as being scored “against the run of play” it means it was scored by a team that has not been in control of the match.
Football is commonly referred to as ‘The Beautiful Game’, so anti-football is when a team’s style of play is cynical, defensive and, in some cases, violent. The term is understood to have been first used to describe the performance of Argentine club Estudiantes in the 1968 Intercontinental Cup final against Manchester United.
Defense – you generally have four guys back there.
A ball kicked using the back (heel) of the foot.
A pass that a player makes back towards their own goal, usually made back to the goalkeeper. This is considered as a defensive move to restart a new phase of play.
The player in possession of the ball.
Bending the Ball
Striking the ball off-center so that it makes a parabolic motion, ideally for shots at goal.
A very innovative move in which a player jumps in the air in a backflip motion, kicking the ball back over their head. The jargon comes from action which imitates their legs moving as if pedaling a bicycle.
A big-game player is one who routinely performs well in a highly pressurized environment such as a final, a heated derby match or a decisive league fixture. Big-game players are not overwhelmed by nerves or the occasion and are capable of affecting the outcome of big games.
A signal given by the teammates of a player for them to kick the ball in the air with full power to get it away.
Bottling / Bottled it
If a team is accused of ‘bottling it’ it means they have thrown away a game from a position of (usually significant) advantage. While the term ‘to have a lot of bottle’ refers to an individual possessing boldness of spirit, ‘to bottle it’ in football is to show a weakness of character.
A player that can successfully play both sides (defensive and offensive) of the game.
A terminology to describe the achievement of a player that scores two consecutive goals in the same game. “Scoring a brace” is a phrase that is often used by commentators during a match.
A shot that is kicked from underneath the ball to provide some arc for it to go over the opponent. A shot in which the legend, ‘Lionne Messi’ has mastered.
A player/manager that deserves praise especially with their attitude and manners off the field.
The accolade a goalkeeper earns when a full game is played without conceding a goal.
The plastic or metallic bumps on the sole of football shoes. The jargon is also used for the shoes themselves.
A top-notch shot that leads to a goal. The scorer of this goal is called the clinical finisher.
A breathtaking or nail-biter football match or an astounding goal scored by a player mainly from a long distance.
A ball from “out wide” that goes “into the box.” Also known generally as a delivery or service.
The Cruyff Turn is the name of a dribble technique which was popularized by Netherlands star Johan Cruyff when he used it to evade Sweden’s Jan Olsson at the 1974 World Cup. The move involves feigning a pass and switching the ball to the standing foot by performing a 180 degree turn.
A player who plays the most crucial role in the team. A Defender tries to stop the opposition attacking players from goal scoring.
Pronounced “darby,” this means a local rivalry game like Man City vs. Man U.
Direct Free Kick
A terminology used in football in which a goal may be scored by the player taking the free-kick.
A dead-ball specialist is a player who is particularly skilled at striking a ball when it is stationary, such as during a free kick or corner kick.
Keeping control of the ball while running. It requires a lot of consistency and training to master the skill.
A run by a player without the ball, to lure defenders away from the ball carrier.
End to end
A wide-open game, both teams “going for it” is “real end-to-end stuff.”
The goalpost farthest from the ball.
The ‘false nine’ is a player who takes up the position of a central forward in a team, but performs a more withdrawn role than a traditional ‘number nine’ striker. A false nine is not as advanced as a conventional striker and drops deep to drag center-backs out, allowing the left and right wingers to get in behind.
If Sheffield United score five in a win, they are the “five-star Blades.”
The dribbling of the ball in one direction after faking the dribble in the other direction with a spurious body movement. The jargon is also known as the snakebite for being resembling a snake’s agile attack on its prey.
Transferring the ball to a teammate with one single touch when a pass is received.
A move where the offensive player hits a moving ball with their foot or head when it’s passing by them without controlling it first.
Fox in the box
A ‘fox in the box’ is a phrase which describes a striker whose movement within the 18-yard box is clever enough to elude markers so that he can score goals. The term evokes the idea of cunning which is commonly associated with foxes.
Game of two halves
One of the most famous idioms which commentators resort to when a match has consisted of two halves with huge disparities in character and score.
A ghost goal is a goal that has been awarded despite the whole of the ball not crossing the line. Ghost goals are now increasingly unlikely thanks to VAR and goal-line technology, but can still occur.
The GOAT means ‘Greatest Of All Time’.
A really amazing goal. Golazzo is a Spanish word which is used to describe a spectacular goal. The word is made up by applying the suffix ‘-azo’ to the world gol (meaning goal).
Group of Death
A Group of Death is used to describe a group in a tournament (such as the World Cup) that is made up entirely of teams who are considered very strong.
A goal kick is awarded to the defending team when the ball is played over the goal line by the attacking team. It can be taken by any player though it is normally taken by the goalkeeper.
The two boundary lines are located at each end of the field.
The area in front of the goal.
The specialized player who is the last line of defense, who is allowed to control the ball with his hands when in the goal area.
When one player scores three goals in a single game it is known as a hat-trick. A perfect hat-trick involves the three goals being scored with the left foot, right foot and head.
The hard scolding of players by their manager, usually taking place in the changing room. Popularized by the former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.
The holding role describes a midfield position where the main objective is to protect the defense by breaking up play with tackles before initiating counter-attacks. Famous examples of a holding midfielder include Sergio Busquets, Claude Makelele, N’Golo Kante and Roy Keane.
A ‘Hollywood pass’ is a pass which looks impressive, but doesn’t necessarily achieve much, such as a cross-field diagonal ball. A Hollywood involves more risk than a short pass.
Hoofing the ball
To ‘hoof the ball’ is to aimlessly clear the ball out of defence instead of carefully picking a pass.
A ‘howler’ is an embarrassing mistake, usually made under little pressure. Goalkeepers are most associated with howlers, but it can happen to any player on the pitch.
Using the head to pass or control the ball.
A reckless pass that’s within reach of two players from opposing teams that can give birth to injuries/niggles.
Hug the line
The instruction given to wing players to stay closer to the sidelines, especially when dribbling the ball in the forward direction.
Indirect Free Kick
A free kick awarded to a player from which a goal may not be scored directly.
A shot that curves in toward the goal.
In his pocket
When a player is deemed to be in another player’s pocket, they are being kept under control. The term ‘in his pocket’ is normally used to indicate when a defender has marked an attacker well.
Normal time in football is 90 minutes, but a referee can add on time at the end of the match based on stoppages for injuries and so forth. This is known as injury time. Other names include stoppage time and added time.
The kickoff is taken from the center spot at the start of play at the beginning of each half and after a goal has been scored.
One of the nicknames for the assistant referees that work on the sidelines.
Lost the dressing room
A phrase to describe an instance in which the manager has lost control over and the respect of the players.
The loud shout to inform a teammate with the ball that an opponent is approaching or dangerously close by.
A reliable and consistent defensive midfielder with the primary assignment of staying close to the defensive line and nipping attacks in the bud.
Man to Man Marking
A defensive system where defenders are designated one attacking player to track continuously.
Man of the match
The ‘man of the match’ is the player who is judged to have played the best or had the most influence on a game.
The midfielders are responsible for keeping the defensive and offensive lines connected and moving smoothly.
The goalpost nearest the ball.
A nutmeg is a football skill move whereby the ball is put through the legs of a player.
Causing obstruction, which is blocking an opponent with the body, is penalized by awarding an indirect free kick to the opponent team.
A technique used by defenders to put attacking players in an offside position, by quickly getting away from their own goal to leave attackers offside.
Passing or shooting the ball with one touch.
A kick that swerves away from the goal.
Off the woodwork
When the ball is said to ‘hit the woodwork’ or ‘come off the woodwork’ it means it has hit the post or crossbar. The term is a throwback to a time when goalposts were made out of wood.
If one team gets somebody sent off, or just isn’t nearly as good as the opponents, then it’s going to be one-way traffic towards their goal all day long.
On the front foot
A team going for it, having the momentum.
On a cold, wet night in Stoke
If one posits that a player cannot play ‘on a cold, wet Wednesday night in Stoke’ it means they would struggle to perform in England. The phrase, since embellished, was first uttered in 2010 by pundit Andy Gray, who suggested that Barcelona star Lionel Messi would find it difficult to play well in the rain-sodden, wind-swept pitches of the Premier League.
An own goal happens when a player puts the ball into his own net. An own goal is often a source of deep disappointment for a player and can haunt them through the remainder of a game, particularly if their team loses.
The Panenka is the name for a penalty kick that is chipped delicately into the back of the net. Named after Czech footballer Antonin Panenka, the technique has been deployed by the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Andrea Pirlo among others.
Parking the bus
When a team ‘parks the bus’ it means that they played a completely defensive game with little or no intent of attacking. The term was coined by Jose Mourinho in his first stint as Chelsea manager when he accused Tottenham of ‘bringing the bus’ and leaving it in front of goal. Ironically, the term would later come to define Mourinho’s tactical style.
The rectangular area in front of the goal in which the goalkeeper may handle the ball. The term is also known as the 18-yard box because of its dimensions.
The marked spot 12 yards from the goal line from which a penalty kick is taken.
A ‘poacher’ in football is a striker who is opportunistic and takes their chances. Similar to the ‘fox in the box’, a goal poacher scores a lot of goals in the box, but is generally not very active in other areas of the pitch.
Put it on a plate
To ‘put it on a plate’ for a team-mate is to create an easy chance for them to score.
A ‘rabona’ is a skill move which involves kicking the ball with one’s legs crossed by wrapping the kicking leg behind the standing leg. Rabona is the Spanish term for skipping school and the move involves a level of deception.
A red card prevents a player from playing for the remainder of the match and as a result reduces the number of players that are available to a team. The player sent off by the referee cannot be replaced.
Remontada is the Spanish word for ‘recovery’ or ‘comeback’ and it is used to describe a remarkable turnaround in fortunes by a team that had been on course to lose.
A spectacular, long-range goal which involves the ball moving rapidly through the air.
Second season syndrome
When a promoted team performs well in its first season in the new division then flounders in the second, it is known as ‘second season syndrome’. It can also be applied to individual players who dazzle in their debut year at a club only to endure a downturn in fortunes.
A ‘sitter’ is an easy chance, usually one which seems almost impossible to miss.
The skipper of a football team is the captain.
The stepover is a dribbling technique which involves stepping over the ball with one or both legs in order to confuse an opponent. Long a tactic of technical players, it is notably associated with Brazil icon Ronaldo and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sweeper is the name given to a central defender whose job is to ‘sweep up’ trouble and then use the ball in an intelligent manner by passing to a team-mate or carrying it out of defence. The role of the sweeper, or libero, is not as rigid as that of a traditional centre-back. Notable examples of sweepers include Franco Baresi, Bobby Moore and Franz Beckenbauer.
In simple terms, a sweeper keeper is a goalkeeper who controls the space behind the defensive line by pushing up and staying as close to it as possible and actively participating in his team’s play when they have the ball thereby operating as an eleventh outfield player.
A ‘through ball’ is a pass which is threaded through the opposition’s lines of defence to a team-mate who has made a well timed run.
What you get for a win. If you lose, you get nothing. A draw is one point, and you’ve then “dropped points.”
The 12th man
The 12th man in football is a term of endearment for a team’s supporters. Each team is made up of 11 players so, when supporters are so loud enough to influence the game, they are said to be the 12th player.
A tifo is a colorful, coordinated display by supporters, usually inside a stadium, but also outside. Tifo is the Italian word for the typhus fever.
Tiki taka is a tactical style of football which involves dominating possession and passing the ball quickly in order to overwhelm the opponent and unpick their defence. It is associated with Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team of 2008-2012 and the all-conquering Spain team that won Euro 08, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012.
When a team wins three trophies it is described as ‘doing the Treble’. Generally speaking, a treble requires a team to win their domestic league along with two important cup competitions. Lesser competitions are often disregarded.
The term ‘ultras’ is used to describe a branch of football fans who demonstrate great fervor in their passion for a club by creating loud, colorful displays during matches. While it is not always the case, some ultra groups have a tendency towards hooliganism and are associated with organized crime.
The term has two meanings in football. One is when a player is described as being ‘unplayable’ it means that they are performing so well that they cannot be contained. And the other one is when a football pitch is in such a bad condition that a game of football cannot be played on it.
A ‘worldy’ is another term a goal that is considered to be of world-class quality. Worldliest tend to be long-range shots, but they can also be difficult monoverse such as bicycle kicks.
A yellow card is held up by a referee to signal caution for a minor contravention.
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