Football Words, Phrases, Slang & Terminology Explained
As is the case with many organised sports, football words and phrases can be mind-boggling to the untrained eye
But fear not - We’re here to highlight and explain some of the most popular football words, phrases and slang terms used across the globe, from the sidelines to the mainstream media. These words and phrases are also often called “jargon” and “lingo”, essentially fancy terms for expressions used by participants of a sport or group.
Football Terms Explained & Made Simple to Understand
3 PM Blackout
This is a reference to a broadcasting rule in Britain that bans live television broadcasting of football matches on Saturdays between 2:45 pm and 5:15 pm. Enforced since the 1960s, this was brought in to avoid impacting attendance numbers at lower-league games that often don’t get television coverage. It’s interesting to note that this rule only applies to television, not radio.
The 12th Man
This is a term of endearment used to refer to loud fans of a football team. Sometimes, crowds can be so vocal and supportive of their side that it can influence players’ performance and, ultimately, the game’s outcome. Therefore, the term “12th man” implies that the supporters of a club can be considered as important to the match as the players on the pitch.
The 50+1 Rule
The 50+1 Rule is a controversial element of the German Football League that states that fans (or “members”) must have majority ownership of a club instead of multi-million-pound investors. Although it is regularly cited as an issue in Germany, it is a rule that many English fans have expressed a need for over the past few years, especially regarding Manchester United and the Glazer Family, who have come under significant fire for their perceived mishandling of the club’s affairs.
Quite a simple football phrase to understand, a 50/50 challenge is when two players on opposite teams compete for control of the ball when no other players are on it. This phrase refers to the 50% chance that each player has of winning the challenge.
Against the Run of Play
This football phrase refers to goals scored by teams that aren’t generally considered to be “in control” of the match. For example, team A might dominate at the start of a game, but if they slip up and concede a goal through a careless pass to team B, this would be considered “against the run of play”.
In a sport where fair play is paramount, “anti-football” is a phrase used when the style of play is aggressive, heavy-handed, and generally against the idea of “the beautiful game”. A perfect example of “anti-football” occurred during the 2022 Qatar World Cup when the Netherlands faced off with Argentina in the quarterfinals; During the match, tensions were flaring up until Argentina’s Leandro Paredes kicked the ball into the Dutch dugout, causing a fight to break out on the pitch.
Away Goals Rule
This football phrase is used when an away goal will count as double. For example:
Team A 3 – 2 Team B
Team B 2 – 1 Team A
The score on aggregate is 4-4, but as Team B scored more goals when they were the away side – they’re determined as the winners
Back of the Net
Quite simply, this football phrase refers to a fantastic goal that has been scored with lots of power and speed, so much so that the ball hits the back of the net rather than just crossing the line. This phrase was popularly coined by Steve Coogan’s famous comedy character Alan Partridge.
Behind Closed Doors
This is a football phrase that refers to matches played without supporters (or “spectators”) in the stadium. This can be done for several reasons; Sometimes, it is used to punish a team if there have been instances of misconduct or racism from a team’s fans, or it may be due to a broader issue such as health concerns like Coronavirus (virtually every football match that was played during the global Covid lockdowns were played “behind closed doors”).
A popular football phrase refers to a pass or shot attempted by a player where they jump and kick the ball over their head. Often referred to as an “overhead kick”, the phrase originates from the fact that players look like they are riding a bicycle in the air when pulling off this legendary move.
This football phrase refers to a particular player that consistently performs well in most matches, especially when under pressure or against their team’s rivals. Some fantastic examples of big-game players include the likes of Lionel Messi, Mo Salah, and Erling Haaland, to name a few.
This football phrase refers to a landmark case in 1995 between Belgian player Jean-Marc Bosman and the Belgian Football Association. The ruling decided that once a player’s contract has expired, they can transfer to another club without a transfer fee. This is otherwise known as a “free transfer”.
Bottling / Bottled it
This football phrase is also used often in day-to-day life, especially in the UK. To “bottle” is to avoid doing something out of fear. For example, this might be used in a football context if a team gets close to scoring but doesn’t have the confidence to pull it off completely.
Quite simply, this football word is another way of saying "two goals". For example, "Team A needs a "brace" to come back from 1-0 down to win the match".
This was a nickname given to the Manchester United squad during the 1950s and 60s when the club was under the management of Sir Matt Busby. They were called “babes” because the squad was relatively young. This phrase also inspired the term "Fergie's Fledglings" in the 1990s.
This football word is a reference to Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo, with C.R. being his initials and the number 7 being his regular shirt number. In recent years, this has become the sportsman’s brand, selling merchandise from underwear to aftershaves with the CR7 logo.
This Italian football phrase is used to describe a style of play with a particular focus on strong defending. Directly translating to “door bolt”, this style of play was most used by the Italian club Inter Milan during the 1960s.
This football phrase is used when a player or team has lacked concentration or hasn’t been paying enough attention to the ball, often leading to the concession of a goal. Other synonyms for this phrase include “switched off” and “caught napping”.
This football phrase is used when a team hasn’t conceded a goal in a particular match or a set of matches. In North America, this is also referred to as a “shut-out”.
This football phrase refers to a rule that says a player cannot play for two different clubs in the same competition during the same season. For example, if a player starts playing for Team A in round 1 of the FA Cup but later transfers to Team B (also playing in the FA Cup), they will be “Cup-Tied” to Team A for the remainder of the competition.
This football phrase refers to a player that is particularly good at striking the ball whilst it’s stationary, such as a corner kick, penalty or free kick.
A designated player plays for an MLS (Major League Soccer) club in the United States that does not need to adhere to the club’s salary cap, allowing them to be paid more. This rule occurred in 2007 when David Beckham famously transferred to LA Galaxy from Real Madrid.
This football phrase is used when a team wins two trophies in a given year, usually a cup trophy and a league trophy. For example, if a team finishes top of the Premier League and wins the FA Cup in the same year, the team has “the double”.
Dive / Diving
Diving is when players deliberately throw themselves to the ground to trick the referee to gain a free kick or penalty. However, this is a punishable offence - if they can’t fool the referee, the player might be given a yellow card for their actions.
This football phrase refers to a player perceived as having “given up” on making an effort on the pitch for their club’s manager.
A football phrase commonly used in everyday life, “early doors”, describes the early stages of a football match. For example, if a team scores within the first couple of minutes of a game, this goal has been scored “early doors”.
A “false nine” is a player that has been assigned to the centre-forward position but plays a more reserved role than a usual “number 9” forward. For example, during the game, a false nine is more likely to hang around midfield and drop back to their half often to assist defenders and allow the wingers to get up the pitch.
Inspired by the football phrase “Busby Babes”, this term was used to describe the Manchester United squad that graduated from the team’s academy during Alex Ferguson’s career as a manager. This cohort included the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Phil Neville, also commonly referred to as the “Class of ‘92”, which is also the name of a 2012 documentary about the players’ rise to fame.
A football phrase that originated back in the 1990s, this phrase refers to the supposed psychological impact that then-manager of Manchester United Alex Ferguson had on the referee, giving his players just enough extra time at the end of a 90-minute match to score one more goal.
Fox in the Box
A Fox in the Box is a player that is known for being quick and skilful at evading players that try to mark them, making them a brilliant player to pass to bag a goal for the team. The term "poacher" is also used in a similar context.
The phrase “football pyramid” describes a league system wherein teams can be promoted and relegated. For example, non-league teams in England can progress up to the Premier League, and the same goes for Premier League teams.
Quite simply, this football phrase is a slang term for the manager of a club. It is also commonly used in the workplace to describe a boss or manager. It’s also worth noting that this football word has a neutral connotation (i.e., It can be used positively and negatively) and should not be confused with "skipper".
A Spanish football word that directly translates to “Galactic” in English is a term of endearment used to refer to a world-class player that transfers for a ridiculously high fee. It was popular in the early 2000s when Spanish club Real Madrid signed the likes of David Beckham, Ronaldo Nazario and Zinedine Zidane for large sums of money.
Game of Two Halves
This football phrase is often used to describe a match where one team dominates the game in the first half, but the other team then dominates in the second half.
Getting Stuck in
To "get stuck in" means to put in lots of effort and determination during a football match. This is also commonly used in the workplace and everyday life.
This football phrase refers to a goal that has been scored (and allowed) without the ball having entirely crossed over the goal line. However, with the recent introduction of goal-line technology, the likelihood of a Ghost Goal being awarded is much slimmer than before.
This football phrase is used when a smaller club heavily defeats a much larger club widely considered more successful. In tournaments like the FA Cup, where English teams from both low and top-level leagues go up against each other, giant killing is something that big teams need to look out for.
A popular football phrase also used in American sports, GOAT is an acronym for “Greatest of All Time”, used to describe a legendary player considered to be better than the rest. The likes of Lionel Messi, Pele and Ronaldo have all been called “the GOAT”, but it depends on whom you ask!
This football phrase refers to a way of determining who the winning team of a match is, with the next goal scored being the winning one. This phrase goes hand-in-hand with “next goal wins”.
Group of Death
A football phrase often heard during a major tournament like the World Cup, a “group of death” is made up of (usually four) strong teams. For example, if England were placed in a World Cup group with Spain, Brazil, and France, this would be considered a “group of death”.
This football phrase is used to describe a negative verbal tirade given by the manager of a club towards one or all their players. It derives from the idea that players have ‘hot air’ blown in their faces.
Hand of God
This football phrase refers to the infamous goal scored by Diego Maradona for Argentina during the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals against England, in which the player used his hand to push the ball into the net. With the goal being awarded by the referee, this has proven to be one of the most controversial decisions made by a football official to date.
When a single player scores three goals in a single match, this is referred to as a “hat trick”.
Heavy Metal Football
This football phrase describes a style of play made famous by Jurgen Klopp’s career as a manager at the German club Borussia Dortmund. This style of play is fast-paced and intense, with lots of counterattacking going on.
A player described as having the “holding role” is assigned to the centre-midfield position but focuses primarily on protecting their defensive line. They will often do this by tackling opponents before pushing forward with a counterattack.
This football phrase describes a pass that looks great on the surface but does not affect much when making good quality chances for their teammates.
Hoofing the Ball
This football phrase refers to a type of kick wherein a player kicks the ball high up and far out of play. Defenders often use this tactic to clear the ball from their goal area. Another phrase used to describe this is "kicking the ball into row Z".
This football phrase describes a type of pass that puts the receiver in immediate danger or at risk of injury, often due to poor judgement from the passer.
This football word refers to an embarrassing mistake made by a player on the pitch. Although this word can be used for a player in any position on the pitch, it is most used against goalkeepers.
In his Pocket
If a player is asserting control and dominance over another player on the opposite team, he is described as having the other player “in his pocket”.
At the end of a standard 90-minute football match, extra time may be added to account for time lost during the game due to injuries. This can also be referred to as “stoppage time”, referring to pauses that have taken place during the match.
In the Hole
This football phrase describes an area of the pitch between midfield and the attacking line.
Into Row Z
Similar to “hoofing the ball”, this football phrase refers to a type of kick that sends the ball way out of the area of play, referring to the back rows of seats in the stadium.
This is the name of Barcelona FC’s youth academy, known for producing new players for the team.
Lost the Dressing Room
A manager that is said to have “lost the dressing room” is considered to be someone that has little influence over how well their players perform, either due to disagreements with one or more players or because of a lack of confidence from players in their manager’s abilities.
This is a jokey football phrase describing minimal medical treatment given to a player on the pitch after an injury, where staff may use a wet sponge to ease a player’s pain.
Quite simply, a “man manager” is a football phrase used to describe a manager with particular skills in uplifting and motivating individual players in the team.
Man of the Match
“Man of the match” is a football phrase that describes an individual player who has gone above and beyond during a particular match. Often, this is given to the player that has scored the most goals on either team.
This is a football phrase used to describe the act of influencing the result of a match to benefit someone else financially. Whether it’s done for a particular player, a group of players or an organisation, match fixing is a serious offence that can lead to prosecution in most countries.
Mickey Mouse Cup
This football phrase is used in a derogatory context, often used to describe a tournament or competition deemed less important than others, especially if the financial reward for a cup is considerably lower than it is for others.
A classic football word, this describes when a player kicks the ball through their opponent’s legs. If this happens to a player, he is described as having been “nutmegged”.
Off the Woodwork
This football phrase describes a shot wherein the ball has bounced off the goalpost or crossbar.
On a Cold, Rainy Night in Stoke
This viral football phrase was popularly coined by commentator Andy Grey in 2010. He used it about the harsh conditions teams often play through in England, claiming that Lionel Messi would perhaps struggle “on a cold, rainy night in Stoke” when playing away in the country.
An “own goal” is when a player accidentally kicks the ball into their net, awarding a goal to their opponents.
Named after Czech player Antonin Panenka, this football word is used to describe a style of penalty kick where the taker lightly chips the ball into the back of the net.
Parking the Bus
This football phrase describes a tactic that can be used by a team on track to win a match. When teams “park the bus”, they make more of an effort to retain the ball, hold a strong defensive line and withdraw from pushing for more goals.
This football word describes a player (usually a striker) that takes as many opportunities as possible to score. Like the Fox in the Box, the Poacher stays in-and-around the opposing team’s goal area but isn’t keen to venture back down the pitch.
This football phrase describes a celebration that supporters use to taunt their opponents. For this celebration, fans turn their backs to the pitch, link arms and jump up and down whilst singing a team chant. The reason for turning round is symbolic - The supporters know that their team will do well, so they don’t need to watch the match!
This football phrase is used cynically to describe a tactic wherein a player will obstruct or even foul an opponent to prevent them from scoring a goal, even if they run the risk of getting a yellow or red card from the referee.
Put it on a Plate
If a player puts the ball “on a plate” for their teammate, it means they are setting them up with a great chance to score.
A “rabona” is a skill wherein a player crosses their kicking leg behind the other to kick the ball, often deceiving their opponent by doing so.
“Remontada” is a Spanish football word that translates to ‘comeback’ or ‘recovery’ in English. It describes a team’s efforts to come back from losing a game to being in with a chance of winning by scoring some much-needed goals.
A fast-paced style of play that focuses heavily on attacking whilst keeping possession of the ball, this Italian football phrase is named after coach Maurizio Sarri, who has brought this style of play to clubs he’s managed such as Chelsea, Napoli and Juventus.
This football word is used to describe a goal that has been taken from a long distance. English players like Steven Gerrard and David Beckham were famous for being spectacular at taking these kinds of shots in the early 2000s.
An Italian football word that translates to “little shield” in English, it is a nickname for the Italian football championship. The winners of the Serie A (Italy’s top-level league) get to play their next season with the Scudetto emblem on their shirts, which consists of a shield with an Italian flag inside it.
Second Season Syndrome
This is a football term used to describe a team that received a promotion and performed well in the previous season but hasn’t performed as well in their second.
This football word is simply used to describe an easy chance that would be near impossible to mess up.
A football slang term used to describe the captain of a team. This isn’t to be confused with the term “gaffer”, which is used to describe a manager.
St. Totteringham’s Day
A celebratory football phrase used by Arsenal fans, describes a time in the season when the team’s biggest rivals, Tottenham, cannot finish above them in the league table regardless of what happens in their remaining games.
Stay on your Feet
This football phrase is often directed at players who are quick to make rash decisions. A player may be advised to “stay on their feet” if they are tempted to prematurely go in for a tackle against an opponent when doing so may be a wrong decision.
This football word describes a tactic wherein a player continuously steps over the ball with both legs to confuse their opponent.
A football word often used to describe a player in the central defensive position, a “sweeper” is a player skilled in sweeping up opponents using the ball before passing it to one of their attacker teammates, giving them a clear run towards their opponent’s goal area.
This football phrase is used when another club approaches a player whilst under contract with another, usually without express permission from the player’s club. Despite being against football association rules, “tapping up” is a common occurrence in leagues worldwide.
A “testimonial” is a football match played in dedication to a legendary player who has spent most of their career at a club. The money raised from testimonial matches was often used to fund the player’s retirement. Still, since most players today earn a huge sum of money from football, the money is often used for charitable causes. Players like Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney had testimonial matches played in their name when they retired from their respective clubs.
“Through ball” is a football phrase that describes a pass that cuts through the opponent’s attacking or defending line.
A “Tifo” is a colourful and coordinated display by a club’s fans, either inside or outside the stadium.
This football phrase refers to a style of play wherein a team will pass the ball quickly and often to confuse and tire out their opponents.
This is a football phrase popularly coined in the 1970s about Dutch club Ajax’s style of play, wherein all players on the pitch could fulfil any role when needed, no matter what position they were assigned to before the match began.
This football phrase is used to describe teams that win three separate trophies in one season. For example, if Liverpool FC aims to win the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in a given year, they would be described as “going for the treble”.
This football word is used to describe passionate and dedicated football club fans. However, despite being a term of endearment, it is often used by media publications instead of the word “hooligans”, often wrongly suggesting that these kinds of fans are only out to cause trouble at matches.
Under the Cosh
A football phrase that means “under pressure”, a team may be described as being “under the cosh” if they face a constant wave of attacks from their opponents during a particular match.
Despite sounding like a negative football phrase, this is used to describe a player performing so well that no opponents would stand a chance against them on the pitch.
This football word is an acronym for “wives and girlfriends” of football players. UK readers may remember a landmark case that went to court in 2022 fought between Colleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy, aptly coined “Wagatha Christie” by British newspapers.
This football word refers to a goal that has been scored with world-class quality and finesse.
Well Known Football Phrases You Need to Know
Despite so many football phrases and words out there, some of them you will hear more often than others. Look at the most common football phrases used by commentators, pundits and spectators at the pub: