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All the English football terms you need to know

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The birthplace of football has brought us the beautiful game itself, but also a whole host of words and expressions – a football dictionary of sorts – that you need to master in order to enjoy the game.

Here’s our comprehensive list of all the English football terms you need to know:

All ball

This is said when a player attempts to tackle the ball, and connects with the ball rather than the player’.

Back of the net

A commentator favorite to describe the ball crossing the line and hugging the net, in other words, a goal.

Ball-to-hand

The claim that the contact between the hand and the ball is inadvertent, therefore it shouldn’t warrant a free kick.

Bicycle kick

The movement by a player where they jump up, throw both feet in the air and hit the ball in a pedaling motion to send the ball in the opposite direction they’re facing. Also known as the overhead kick.

Boot it

An instruction given by the teammates of a player for them to kick the ball with full power to get it away.

Box-to-box player

A player that can successfully play both sides (defensive and offensive) of the game. See: Radja Nainggolan, Yaya Touré, Patrick Vieira.

Brace

A word to describe the achievement of a player that scores two goals in one game. “Scoring a brace” is the way to go when using it in a sentence.

Chip shot

A shot that is kicked from underneath the ball to provide some arc for it to go over the opponent. See: Lionel Messi.

Class act

A player/manager that deserves praise especially with their attitude and manners off the field.

Clean sheet

The accolade a team/goalkeeper earns when a full game is played without conceding a goal.

Cleats

The plastic or metallic bumps on the sole of football shoes. Also used for the shoes themselves.

Clinical finish

A top notch shot that leads to a goal. The scorer of this goal is called the clinical finisher. See: Ruud van Nistelrooy, Harry Kane, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima.

Cracker

A breathtaking football match or an outstanding goal, mainly from a long distance.

Dive

The exaggerated falling move of a player to deceive the referee in order to win their team a foul call.

Dummy run

An off-the-ball run made by an offensive player to create space for his teammate with the ball. Used to trick opponents by pretending to move towards the ball.

Feint / Flip Flap

The dribbling of the ball in one direction after faking the dribble in the other direction with a bogus body movement. Also known as the snakebite for being resembling a snake’s agile attack on its prey.

First-time ball

Transferring the ball to a teammate with one single touch when a pass is received.

Flick-on

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.

Game of two halves

A cliché that commentators resort to when a match has consisted of two halves with huge disparities in character and score.

Hairdryer treatment

The hard scolding of players by their manager, usually taking place in the changing room. Popularized by the former Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson.

Hard man

A player notorious for their tough, physical, and assertive style of football. See: Roy Keane, Gennaro Gattuso, Graeme Souness.

Hoof

Purposelessly kicking the ball towards the opposite goal with power.

Hospital ball

A reckless pass that’s within reach of two players from opposing teams that can give rise to injuries.

Howler

An inexplicable mistake by a player that generally proves costly.

Hug the line

The instruction given to wing players to stay closer to sidelines, especially when dribbling forward.

In his/her pocket

Refers to one player having dominated an opposition player.

Line-o

One of the nicknames for the assistant referees that work on the sidelines.

Lost the dressing room

A phrase to describe a situation in which the manager has lost control over and the respect of the players.

Man on

The loud cry to inform a teammate with the ball that an opponent is approaching or dangerously close by.

Midfield anchor

A reliable defensive midfielder with the primary assignment of staying close to the defensive line and nipping attacks in the bud. See: Daniele De Rossi, Michael Essien, N’Golo Kanté.

Minnows

A small team from a lower-level league with limited resources.

Nutmeg

Kicking or putting the ball through an opponent’s legs.

Off the line

The act of saving the ball from crossing the line, clearing the ball.

On paper

Indicates how the events should play out in theory, the expected scenario based on pre-existing statistics and conditions.

Park the bus

Playing ultra-defensive not to concede any goals, chiefly applied by team with the edge on the scoreboard.

Play on

A potentially controversial possession where the referee does not blow their whistle after concluding there’s no reason to stop the game.

Pea roller

A feeble shot attempt that doesn’t present any threat to the defensive team.

Poacher / Fox in the box

A cunning and skilled striker that’s extremely dangerous in the penalty area. See: Andy Cole, Miroslav Klose, Mario Jardel.

Put in a shift

The situation where a player fulfills their given tasks but fails to make a strong impression on the pundits or put their fingerprints on the game.

Row Z

The row in the stands that’s the farthest from the pitch. Usually said when a player tries to shoot and they hit the ball so hard and off target that it goes high into the stands. Predominantly used as hyperbole to underscore how far the ball’s traveled.

Run it off

An instruction for a player that’s suffered a minor injury to carry on playing.

Sacked

It means fired. Used for managers that lose their jobs.

Showboat

Showing off for fans after cementing a safe score, accompanied by unnecessary displays of frivolous pieces of skill.

Sitter

A shocking miss by an attacker that was considered to be immensely easy to convert.

Switch play

Moving the ball from one flank to the other in an abrupt fashion, mostly by a long pass.

Target man

A tall striker that’s often targeted by crosses, long balls, and high passes for their aerial superiority and prowess as a finisher. See: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Didier Drogba, Romelu Lukaku.

Theatrical

An adjective to describe a player’s tendency for over the top reactions.

Treble

Winning three major competitions in a single season.

(Hit the) woodwork

Having the ball strike one of the sidebars of the goal.

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