helpful football terms english soccer slang

Here are some English soccer terms you might want to know if you’ll be watching British football, aka soccer.

Not all of these are technically football parlance, but these are definitely British football terms and soccer slang which the average American won’t be hearing any place else.

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Of course, this list is an ongoing process, so if we missed any terms that you’ve heard, please leave a comment below. And for you English folks reading, perhaps you can make suggestions for new ones and/or correct me where I’ve got any of this wrong.

We’ve broken them up into categories, so you can click on one of those or just scroll on down. Enjoy!

NumbersOn the PitchBeing CrapPeopleGeneralLeagues and Clubs

British Football Terms: Numbers

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10-man

If Hull gets a guy sent off and then loses to Chelsea, then you would say Chelsea beat 10-man Hull. Funny thing is, the Hull man could be sent off in the 90th minute with Chelsea already ahead, 2-0, and commentators would probably say “10-man Hull.”

40 points

The supposed gold standard in points for staying in the Premier League. Lower and middling teams are always thought to be shooting for this first, then perhaps “climbing the table” and shooting for a “European place,” or else “making a Cup run.”

Back four

Defense – you generally have four guys back there.

Brace

Two goals scored by the same player in a game.

british football terms doing the double

Me with (replicas of) Manchester City’s League and FA Cup trophies at the National Football Museum in Manchester.

Double

Winning two titles in the same season, say the League and FA Cup. Could also mean beating a league team twice in a year (league double) or, even better, beating your rivals twice (a derby double). Also, if a team beats another twice in a league season, they “did the double” over them.

Five-Star

If Sheffield United score five in a win, they are the “five-star Blades.” If they score five and lose, they are shite.

Hat Trick

Three goals scored by the same player in a game.

Numbers

Your team gets the ball and heads upfield with five or six players instead of one or two? You now have numbers going forward.

Three points

What you get for a win. If you lose, you get nothing. A draw is one point, and you’ve then “dropped points.”

Top Four

The top four teams in the league get to play in the Champions League the following year, and for years this was always Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool. Kind of like Ohio State and Michigan being the “Big Two” in the Big Ten of American football. Here’s our guide to all the leagues and cups in England.

Treble

Winning three titles in the same season. Last done in England by Manchester United (League, FA Cup, Champions League) in 1999. Man City won a domestic treble in the 2018-19 season: League, League Cup, FA Cup.

XI

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.”

English Soccer Terms: On the Pitch

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Added time

A half is 45 minutes, so if you spend two minutes dealing with an injured player, the ref adds two minutes to the end of the half. He also generally won’t stop the half during an attack by one of the teams.

Against the run of play

Let’s say that Aston Villa starts off well (brightly) and is dominating possession, “asking all the questions,” etc. — but then West Brom scores “from nothing.” Folks would say that goal came against the run of play.

Appearance

Game played. You’ll hear “He had 21 goals in 60 appearances for club and country.”

As you were

If, at the end of the weekend, the top four in the table are the same as before the weekend, then it’s “as you were” at the top of the table. This is related to having normal service resumed.

At the back

In defense, as in, “United are shit at the back.”

At a canter

When I was headed to Sunderland to see them play Arsenal, my Sunderland friends assured me Arsenal would win the game “at a canter.” And they did, 2-0.

Away to

How they say “at,” as in “Crystal Palace are away to Spurs this weekend.”

Ball

The thing they kick, of course, but also what they call a pass — as in, “That was a great ball from Gerrard.”

english soccer terms penalty area

They are in the box, or the area, not the 18!

Box

The 18-yard penalty area which, sadly, many American announcers refer to as “the 18.” This needs to stop.

Bright

Doing well. You’ll even hear something like “Cardiff started the brighter in the first half.”

Cap

An appearance for your national team; they used to actually get caps.

Challenge

An attempt to stop or tackle a player.

Chance

A near goal, something which is “created” and, if not “taken,” is said to be “wasted.” There are also half-chances, where you kind of could have scored. Not to be confused with no chance; see below under “crap.”

Clattered

Ran into, clumsily.

Clean sheet

Not conceding a goal, what Americans call a shutout.

Clear their lines

Get the ball the hell out of their end.

Clinical

Well done, as in a “clinical finish.”

Comprehensive

Complete, as in “A comprehensive 5-1 trashing.”

Consolation

Late goal in a loss. You’re down 3-0, you get one with a minute to go, that’s a consolation goal.

Cracker

Really good one. Could be a game or a shot.

Cricket score

Cricket, a game that I don’t think anyone truly understands, often ends with fantastic scores like “India 159/7 (20/20 ov); Australia 86 (16.2/20 ov).” I don’t know what the hell that means, but if two soccer teams with crappy defenses and/or unstoppable offenses play each other, you just might get a “cricket score.”

Cross

A ball from “out wide” that goes “into the box.” Also known generally as a delivery or service.

Cruel

Say Sunderland is leading Newcastle 1-0 with five minutes to go in a pretty even game, and then Sunderland gets two more to win, 3-0. Commentators would say this scoreline was “cruel” to Newcastle. Sunderland fans would disagree.

Dangerous area

An area somewhere in front of the goal, a place hard to deal with when balls are “whipped into” it. And balls are always “whipped into” a dangerous area.

Delivery

Getting the ball to somebody in a scoring position, such as a cross. This is also called service, generally.

Derby

Pronounced “darby,” this means a local rivalry game like Man City vs. Man U. Here’s a list of all the top derbies in English soccer this season. There is also a club called Derby County.

Draw

Two meanings: a tie (like 2-2) and also how Cup fixtures are determined. So the FA Cup fourth round draw is where they randomly select who is playing where in the fourth round.

english football terms end

The Holte End at Villa Park, home of Aston Villa

End / stand

Most of the stadiums are in sections called ends (behind the goals) or stands.

End to end

A wide-open game, both teams “going for it” is “real end-to-end stuff.”

Equalize

Tie the game. The tying goal is also called the equalizer.

Eyeballs out

As Urban Dictionary puts it, this is a “more polite version of balls out.” It means really going for it.

Fair result

This is something Americans would never say. Everton is better in the first half and gets a goal, then West Brom is better in the second and gets a goal, it finishes 1-1 with no real controversy … that’s a fair result.

Fightback

A comeback.

Finish

Same as in basketball; the act of scoring.

Formations

How the players line up. They use numbers like 4-4-2, which is four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers or forwards. This gets incredibly complex and I will never try to explain it any more than this, except I’ll add that the numbers always add up to 10, because you have 11 players (shown as XI) and the goalkeeper isn’t included in the formation.

Fortress

When a team is unbeatable at home, you would call their home stadium a fortress. 

Free header

Defender loses his man, the man gets to head it without being hassled; that’s a free header, which you’re expected to put in the back of the net, or at least “on target.”

From nothing

If your team hasn’t done crap the whole game, never even threatened the other team’s goal, and then all of a sudden you score when nobody saw it coming, that goal is said to have come from nothing.

Full Time

End of the game. When Americans see F (for final) on the scoreline, they know the game is Final. When English see FT, they know it’s Full Time.

Full Value

You pay a guy to play for you and he delivers, you got full value for him.

Get into the game

Stop playing like shit – but not in the “get your act together” command sense from America. More like, “Everton were asking all the questions for the first half-hour before Swansea started to get into the game.”

Giant-killer

A little team that beats a big team in a cup game.

Goal return

A striker’s rate of return on investment. “We paid millions for that wanker, and his goal return is shit.”

Goalazzo

A really amazing goal.

Going forward

On the attack. As in “They have a lot of options going forward.”

Great Escape

This means avoiding relegation when it looked like you were doomed. One of the more famous was by West Bromwich Albion in 2005; they won their last game at home, then had to wait several minutes for the score of another game to ensure they “stayed up.”

british football terms ground

The Emirates, home of Arsenal FC in London, is not a “ground.”

Ground

This is like saying “field” in the US but also kind of means stadium. It’s a little vague to me, though I try to explain ground vs stadium here. I think it’s like the stadium plus the pitch equals the ground.

Harsh

Pete bumps into Joe and Joe falls down. Pete is whistled for a foul. Now, if you’re a neutral and you think it shouldn’t have been a foul, you’d say that was harsh. If Pete is on your team, Joe is a cheat and soft and needs to get the fuck up. If Joe is on your team, Pete should be sent off.

Head for the corner

There’s this really annoying thing teams do to kill time when they are winning late in a game: they dribble into the corner, then put the ball right by the corner flag and turn their backs on the field. When defenders come, the guy with the ball can hold them off, then bounce it off them and out of bounds for a throw-in. Or wait for a foul. Or just wrestle with them and waste time.

Hoof it

Just boot the ball high and upfield, towards your attackers. Part of “playing long ball,” an old but direct way of attacking the defense. Announcers will often say at this point, “Anywhere will do.”

Hour mark

The 60th minute of game, when it’s very common to make substitutions.

Impose themselves

Get into the game (quit playing like shit).

In packs

The way a team “on the front foot” is attacking.

Injury time

Same as “added time.”

Kit

Jersey or uniform. Most teams have three: home, away, and a “third” which doesn’t even match the colors of the other two. It’s hard sometimes to even figure out who you’re looking at.

Knock

A small injury.

Know about

Let’s say you take a shot and the goalie doesn’t see it but it hits the post. Somebody would say the keeper didn’t know a thing about it and you were unlucky.

Leg

In some competitions you play twice to determine the winner, like the League Cup semis. One game at each stadium, total goals wins. So each game is called a leg, and the whole thing is called a tie.

Mark

Guard a player.

Massive

In the States, we would just say huge, as in a huge game.

Masterclass

Impressive outing, generally in terms of tactics, ie a “tactical masterclass.”

british football terms minnows

Chichester City’s team and supporters after their historic 2019 FA Cup run ended.

Minnows

A wonderful term for a really small team that dreams of being giant-killers in a cup. Chichester City are an example I got to see.

Normal service resumed

If, for a period of time, a usually good team is bad, and then they become good again, that’s “normal service resumed.”

Off the line

The keeper missed it but a defender on the goal line cleared it “off the line.”

Off!

What they yell at cheats or people who they think deserve a red card. Or at their own players when they play like shit.

On frame

At the goal.

On the bounce

In a row, as in winning three games on the bounce. I think this is always positive; you don’t lose three on the bounce. Then you just “suck.”

On the front foot

A team going for it, having the momentum.

Open play

There are three ways to score a goal: a set piece like a corner kick or free kick, a penalty, or in open play, which is the rest of the game. Or a howler by the keeper.

Open up

When a game has been bogged down and then starts to flow, with lots of chances, it’s said to be opening up.

Pace

Speed, which a player usually possesses “bags” of.

Pearler

A cracking good shot or goal.

Pegged back

If you have a lead and the other team equalizes, you’d say you’ve been pegged back.

Professional foul

If a man is about to get past you and onto a breakaway, you drag him down and take your deserved yellow card without complaint.

Pulsating

Really fun, referring to a game. Manchester City beat Chelsea in a “pulsating affair.” Use of this word alone makes me love English football.

Purple patch

A fine run of form; doing well. I have no idea where this comes from!

Put in a shift

He worked hard, did his job, didn’t do anything spectacular for good or ill … He put in a shift.

Quality

Skill, as in “Man City has so much quality!” Or, “Come on lads, show some fucking quality!” More or less the same as class.

Questions

If your team is attacking and creating chances, then it’s “asking questions” of the defense.

Ran out

Won the game, as in “Ran out 2-1 winners.” When it’s an away game in a derby, they probably run faster than usual. No one ever runs out as losers.

Red card

Immediate expulsion from the game, which opposing players deserve every time one of your lads lands on his arse.

Results

The scores.

Row “zed”

In the UK, the final letter of the alphabet is “zed,” so the last row of the seats is Row Z(ed). This is where a shot goes if they player has “gotten it all wrong.”

Save from

If Pete takes a shot and Alex makes a terrific save, then the English would say one of two things: Pete drew a fine save from Alex, and Alex’s save from Pete was exceptional.

Score goals for fun

Remember that year Tom Brady and the Patriots were called the “video game” offense because they were just scoring touchdowns for kicks, long after the game was settled? The English equivalent of that is “scoring goals for fun.”

Scoreline

Score. You might say West Brom beat Villa by a scoreline of 1-0. Also, they would print that as West Brom 1-0 Aston Villa, with the home team coming first, no matter who won. If Hull wins 2-0 at Southampton, it would be Southampton 0-2 Hull.

Sent off

Got a red card.

Service

Same as delivery. “He’s got an eye for goal, but they’re not getting him any service.”

Set pieces

Free kicks or corner kicks.

Skin him

Your lad has the ball in the other team’s end, facing one defender, and you want him to juke that fool and go past him? You would yell, “Skin ‘im!”

Space

Similar to its usage in American Football, as in a player getting into space. Basically means being unmarked.

Spot kick

A penalty kick, taken from the “spot” after the referee points to it to indicate a penalty.

Stonewall

No doubt about it. Generally used in regard to a “penalty shot.” If you think it was a clear foul in the penalty area, you’d say, “For me, that’s a stonewall penalty.”

Stoppage time

Another way of saying injury time or added time.

Strike

A shot on goal.

Suck the goal in

Occasionally, these terms cross over into the genuinely weird-sounding, but “sucking a goal in” refers to when the fans are so enthusiastic that they will their team to score.

Support

A verb with obvious meaning, but also a noun meaning your collective support. A common song: “Your support, your support, your support is fucking shit!”

Tactics

Your strategy for the game: who plays, what formation, how you go about it.

Tails up

Same as being on the front foot. Don’t you just love that?

Team selection

Teams have 25 or so players to choose from, so their starters plus the subs available for the day — that’s your team selection.

Technical area

The area on the touch line where managers are supposed to stay. Allegedly they are spaced arms-width apart. If you want to see some fun in the technical area, search for “Mancini vs Ferguson” on YouTube.

Through

  1. This is how they say a guy scored a goal, as in “Liverpool lead through Luis Suarez.” You hear that one a lot, actually.
  2. Past the defense and headed for goal; “Suarez is through and has to score here!”
  3. Advancing in a Cup tournament; “Suarez’s brace ensures Liverpool are through to the fifth round.”

Tie

Kind of a multi-match meeting. In the Champions League and Europa League, for example, a tie is two matches, home and away, in the “knockout stages” leading up to the final. In the FA Cup, it’s called a tie because if the first game ends in a draw, there’s a replay at the other stadium.

Tiki-taka

A style of play that uses lots of short passes, instead of crosses and “long balls.” Created by Barcelona and also used by the Spanish national team. Just search for it on YouTube sometime and be amazed at what they do in small spaces.

Total football

A system of play, invented in The Netherlands around 1970, in which presumably every player can play every position, other than the goalkeeper. The team that invented it, Ajax of Amsterdam, won every home game for two years and won five titles in one of those seasons.

Touch

When the ball arrives and you handle it well, that was a nice touch. Kick it too hard or whatever and lose it: poor touch. Some players are said to have a nice first touch.

Touch line

The sidelines.

Up top

At the front, meaning your forward or strikers.

Weight

This refers to how hard a pass (or ball) was kicked. Too hard is a bit heavy, and too soft needed more weight.

Wide / Narrow

If your wingers get the ball and send in crosses, you’re playing wide. If you just barrel down the middle of the pitch, you’re narrow. Nobody likes to be narrow except Barcelona, who simply dribble and pass through other teams using tiki-taka.

Win

Of course, you win games, but you also win balls and headers, meaning take it away from the cheat on the other team who’s trying to get it.

Wondergoal

Like a golazzo. If it doesn’t go in, it’s still a wonder strike. We will now travel to my beloved Portland Timbers of MLS for a wondergoal from Darlington Nagbe.

World-class

Meaning a player who could play anywhere in the world. Michael Jordan was world-class. A particular goal can be world-class, as well.

Worldie

A world-class goal like a goalazzo; not used very often but a cool term.

Yellow card

A warning; get two of them and you get a red card and you’re off. Also the worst punishment one of your lads ever deserves.

watch championship league soccer ESPN tv online usa

Watch the Championship, FA Cup and other countries on ESPN+ in the US.

Special English Soccer Words for Being Crap

Leave it to the Brits to have so many words for being not great.

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All over the place

Playing like shit, especially on defense. This is funny to us Yanks, because if we say a defense, especially, is “all over the place,” it means they’re kicking ass and “swarming to the ball.”

At sea

Lost, always referring to defenders.

At sixes and sevens

Confused and dysfunctional, again always in reference to defense. Apparently comes from some sort of dice game.

Capitulation

A wonderful English term for surrender. “Fulham will be looking to rebound this week after their utter capitulation at Hull.”

Cheat

An opposing player who’s done something wrong, like getting (aka “acting”) hurt or trying to, you know, win the game.

Cover himself in glory

It would mean to do really well, but it’s always used in the negative/sarcastic way. A keeper lets one go through his legs and he “didn’t cover himself in glory there.” No one ever actually covers themselves in glory.

Cynical

Lame or even mean-spirited, usually referring to a tackle where you’re just taking somebody out harshly.

Dive

A faked attempt to draw a foul, especially in the penalty area. Just Google “Luis Suarez dive” or “Neymar dive” to see what I mean.

Do better

You get a free header, you don’t score, everyone will say you should have done better. Obvious meaning but common phrase.

Flatter

One time I saw Manchester City play at Southampton, and after an hour it was 0-0, an even and tough game. Then City scored, and they were still ahead 1-0 after 80 minutes. Southampton had to go for the equalizer, which left them open to counter-attacks, and City wound up winning, 3-0. There was general agreement that City weren’t really three goals better on the day, which means the scoreline was flattering to them.

Flatter to deceive

This is another of these fantastic English phrases that could appear nowhere else in the world. Let’s say a young starlet scores a bunch of goals for the youth team and arrives on the senior squad full of promise and hype – but then he is, as we say in the States, a bust. If you assume flatter means “give a better-than-realistic description of,” then the kid’s early performance was flattering but ultimately deceptive.

Fluffed his lines

When a player just gets it all wrong. He got in the right space, the goal was “beckoning” but he fluffed his lines.

Gutted

Really bummed out.

Hair dryer

You sucked in the first half, so in the locker room your manager is going to deliver a lot of noise and hot air at you. That’s the hair dryer. Sir Alex Ferguson was famous for this. See also throwing tea cups.

Hold your hand up

Admit that you screwed up. Usually this is literal, on the field. But one time a ref threw the wrong player out of a game, then apologized to the media afterwards. This was called “holding his hand up.”

Howler

A total fuck-up. Often this is when a goalie lets in a pea-roller.

Let-off

This one seems to have lots of uses — including “fart” — but in footy I see it used as getting away with something. Your defender falls down and the opposing striker misses the goal; that’s a let-off for you. And your defender, I guess.

Long ball

Booting or “hoofing” the ball up the pitch and hoping your guy wins it. Everybody claims to hate long ball, which is also known as Route One.

No chance

Always preceded by British people’s favorite word in the English language, “Absolutely.” And it’s amazing how often a keeper — it’s always a keeper — has “absolutely no chance” at saving a shot, even when you see it go off his hands and into the goal.

Orcs

What London-area fans call fans from up north. This, or dirty northern bastards. The orcs northerners respond with “soft southern bastards,” among others.

One-way traffic

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.

Overrun

This always refers to when your midfielders are getting their asses kicked by the opposing midfielders; they say “Your midfield is getting overrun.”

cartoon bus blocking soccer goal

An effective way to snatch a point.

Park the bus

A derisive term meaning you’re not even trying to score, you’re just going for a 0-0 draw. Or it could mean you’re trying desperately to protect a one-goal lead. What they mean is you’ve parked the team bus in front of your goal.

Pea roller

For you golfers, this is like a worm burner: a shot rolling along the ground. Also known as a daisy-cutter, grass-cutter, and so on.

Shambolic

A wonderful term that refers to defense and means shitty.

Shipped

Allowed a goal. Like, West Brom have shipped too many goals this season.

Shite

A word for shit which, I guess, is supposed to be more acceptable. Apparently comes from the Scottish pronunciation. Also works in songs because it rhymes with different words than “shit” does.

Shocking

Awful – not surprising, necessarily, which is how Americans would use it. English people would just say “That defending was shocking.”

Sitter

If you get a close-up shot and don’t even hit the target, then you have just missed a sitter. Search YouTube for “Fernando Torres Sitter” for lots of examples. This is only used in the negative; that is, if you make the shot, it wasn’t a sitter.

Surplus to requirements

Not really crap, just no longer needed. Possibly my favorite English footy expression. Also, one never “becomes” surplus to requirements. One may only be “deemed” so.

Teacups thrown

This is just impossibly old-school and charming. Apparently, if a manager loses it in his halftime speech, they say “There will be some teacups thrown in the dressing room.” I wonder how long since somebody drank tea in a dressing room? (See also: Hair dryer)

Unlucky

This is the most annoying of all terms. Whenever a player takes a shot and it just missed — hits the post or something — watch how often the announcer says he was unlucky. NO HE WAS NOT! If the ball hit the crossbar it’s because HE KICKED IT TOO HIGH! If it’s headed for goal and a bird comes along and gets in the way, now that’s unlucky.

Wanker

A general fool — which is funny, because it means one who wanks, which I think means pretty much everybody.

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British Soccer Terms: People

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british soccer terms people

Looks like Big Sam will soon be throwing teacups. (via vrinsidesports.com)

Big Sam

Sam Allardyce, a manager of many clubs who is known for keeping clubs up and being a big, entertaining guy.

Busby Babes

In the mid 50s, Manchester United was winning league titles with a team that averaged about 22 years old, and their manager was Matt Busby. This would have made them famous enough, but eight of them were killed in the Munich Air Disaster in 1958, when the team plane crashed after a European Cup game.

Class of 92

Six players who came up together through the Manchester United youth system, made their debuts in 1992, and formed the core of their awesome teams in the 1990s: Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville Brothers. (Giggs just retired in 2014!)

Fergie Time

Sir Alex Ferguson, legendary manager of Manchester United, was thought to intimidate the hell out of referees. Because of this, it was always alleged that they added more injury time for United and/or let them go beyond its end — and United had a way of scoring during this time, hence Fergie Time.

Gaffer

Manager

british football terms line-o

Look, a lady line-o … I mean, assistant referee.

Line-o

The linesman, eternal object of abuse and the unfortunate soul charged with enforcing the offsides rule, which few people understand and no one agrees on. This term is being phased out, it seems, as Assistant Referee is more respectable and more women are in the field.

Mackem

Somebody from Sunderland. Apparently it’s because they used to be a big shipbuilding area, and in their accent it’s “we mack-em.”

Man Manager

A rather creepy way of saying the coach handles players’ egos well.

Manager vs Head Coach

I think a manager handles the strategy and the coach handles the players and skills, but this is unclear to me, and some teams I reckon. Often it’s the same guy, anyway.

Mourinho

Jose Mourinho (JO-say mor-REEN-yo) is the manager at Tottenham Hotspur (formerly Chelsea and Man U), and the media follows him around like a bunch of groupies, reporting everything he says. I mention this because I bet that, right now, if you go to ESPNFC.com, you’ll see his name in the list of top stories, just because he spoke to someone in the media.

Neville Brothers

I think it’s awesome that the name of the greatest band New Orleans ever produced occasionally pops up during discussions of crusty old Manchester United. Alas, these Nevilles aren’t leading us in Second Line processions to Cajun rhythms; they are Phil and Gary Neville, from the Class of 92, who led Manchester United to a host of trophies in the 1990s and onward.

Physio

What we call a trainer, the bloke that runs out with a case when somebody gets hurt.

british football terms referee

The artist formerly known as “the man in black.”

Referee

You know who he is, but this is also what they all yell when they want a foul to be called: “Referee!” If he doesn’t call it your way, you call him a wanker and tell him to fuck off. Sometimes known in the old days as the Man in Black or the Man in the Middle. But these days the ref isn’t always male or wearing black.

Special One

Jose Mourinho, currently the manager at Tottenham. His ego is bigger than London, and he actually once called himself a Special One. Needless to say, it has stuck.

Steward

Kind of an usher/security person at a game. Their most obvious role is to line the section of away supporters to keep trouble from happening.

Sweeper keeper

A goalkeeper who plays away from his goal quite a bit, “sweeping up” messes that his defense makes. You have to be careful, though, else this happens.

british football terms

“Welcome” is one of the last English words you’ll recognize.

More General, Non-Soccer British Terms

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Adverts

Commercials: What all English people will mention, rightly, with regards to watching the NFL. They will also generally say “bloody hell” when discussing our football. (There are no ads during English soccer games, except at halftime.)

Are

In England a team is plural; that is, you’ll hear “Arsenal are really good.” In the States, we’d say “Arsenal is.”

Boots

What Americans call shoes or, in football, cleats.

Boxing Day

The day after Christmas, when the whole league plays.

Chips

Most of us know that what we call fries, they call chips, and what we call chips, they call crisps. But you might not know that a fish and chips place could just be a chip shop, or a chippie. And if you want gravy on your chips (a popular option) you might order a gravy chippie. I should also point out that one of the most popular brands of crisps is Kettle Chips, from my home state of Oregon, and I have no idea how they reconcile this exception to the chip/crisp situation.

Class

Skill. Same as quality, below.

Dodgy

Lame or weak, usually used to refer to a keeper.

Fit

Healthy, as in injury-free. A guy gets back to being fit after an injury. Funnily, in Britain it also means attractive. Therefore, some players are always rather fit.

Form

Your recent state of play; win three in a row, you’re in good form; lose three, you’re in bad form. Same for a player. Either way, if you’re doing well, you’re “in form.”

Geordie

In the media, you get the impression a Geordie is just somebody from Newcastle, or a Newcastle FC fan. My friends in that area tell me a Geordie is officially somebody from certain parts of Newcastle, like a cockney is somebody from a certain part of London, not the whole city.

Hit out at

What they call a response to critics in the media. So if Manager A says Manager B is a fool, Manager B might “hit out at” Manager A in the next day’s papers. See Mourinho.

Holders

Reigning champions. They hold the cup, in other words.

Just about

This one confused the hell out of me at first. Let’s say a player takes a shot and the keeper tips it over the bar. In America, the shot just about — that is, almost — went in. But in England, the keeper just about — that is, barely — saved it. So “just about” means barely or almost, depending on where you grew up.

Lad (bloke-mate-chap-bird)

Near as I can tell, it’s like this: “This lad is me mate, that other is just some bloke.” Chap seems a bit less dismissive than bloke. Lads is often used to refer to the team, as well, like “Get behind the lads!” Bird is for a woman, a little like our “chick” but I think less respectful. This is extremely vague territory here.

Linked with

Rumored to be signed by. You know, like some sportswriters are sitting around saying Super Striker Pete may sign with Chelsea; well, Super Striker Pete has just been “linked with” Chelsea. Ignore all sentences that include the phrase “linked with.”

Mental

When fans completely lose it in celebration, they have gone mental. Think “ape-shit.” And watch my video from Sunderland at Man United to see people going mental. This can also be called carnage or “limbs,” as in “limbs flying everywhere.”


Merseyside

A term for Liverpool, which is on the side of the River Mersey. So the Merseyside Derby is Liverpool vs Everton.

Missile

Apparently this refers to anything thrown from the stands onto the pitch. I mean, I assume there have been no actual missiles …

Nil

The English word for zero.

Pip

What Americans would call to edge out: “Arsenal pipped Spurs for the fourth spot in the table again.” (Spurs fans will now curse wildly.)

Pitch

The field on which the game of soccer is played.

Premier

The name of the top league. But you need to know how to say it. The English say “PREH-meer.” Think “primer” with an “eh” instead of the i. They also call it the Premiership.

Proper

A “real” round of a Cup tournament, as opposed to a qualifying round. For example, the Fourth Round Proper of the FA Cup. They also use this for things like a “proper pie.”

Sacked

Fired.

Small matter

A typical bit of English understatement that comes up often, as in, “There’s a full schedule of games this weekend, including the small matter of the Tyne-Wear derby at St. James Park.” Note that only things that are actually large can be called small matters in this way.

Soccer

What Americans call the game which English people call football. It’s short for Association Football, which is separate from Rugby Football.  I wrote a whole blog post about this one.

Soft

Probably shouldn’t have been called, as in “That was a pretty soft penalty.” Also means a wuss, as in, “Get up, ya wanker! Yer soft as shite.”

Stick

Verbal abuse, as in getting some stick from the opposing fans.

Take the piss

Crack a joke at somebody’s expense. Really important to say “the” here instead of “a.”

Tyneside

A term generally for Newcastle, which is on the River Tyne, but also a “minefield” I am told, similar to Geordie.

Wearside

The City of Sunderland, home to Sunderland AFC, on the banks of the River Wear.

British Football Terms: Clubs, Leagues, Etc.

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Back room

This one throws off a lot of Americans; it refers to the support staff of a club, which Americans call the Front Office.

Champions League

The premier club championship in Europa, for which the top four teams in the Premier League qualify.

english soccer terms

“City!” in England generally means Manchester City.

City

Any time you see or hear the word “City,” it almost certainly means Manchester City, who won the league in 2012, 2014, 2018, and 2019.

Cup

Tournament. The championship game is called the Cup Final. Here’s our guide to all the leagues and cups in English football.

Cup-tied

Let’s say you start the season with Southampton, and play for them in the FA Cup. Then you transfer to Newcastle, who are also in the FA Cup. No matter how long Newcastle stay in the Cup, you can’t play for them, because you can only play for one team each year in the Cup. So, while at Newcastle that year, you are “cup-tied.”

Europe

Getting into Europe,” or finishing in the “European Places,” means qualifying for the Champions League or Europa League.

Europa League

The second-tier European club championship, little brother to the Champions League. Americans might call it the NIT of European soccer.

FA

Football Association, the governing body for all football in England.

fa cup national football museum

The 1911 FA Cup, at the National Football Museum in Manchester.

FA Cup

A tournament involving pretty much every professional team in England. It is unseeded, and who plays where is totally random. Bigger clubs join later, but every year you’ll see somebody from the Premier League playing in front of 6,000 people on a field that looks like cows graze on it during the week. Possibly the greatest sports competition in the world. The Final is played in May at Wembley.

FC

Football Club; appears in the official name of just about every team. So Fulham is actually Fulham FC. Sometimes you’ll see AFC, which stands for Association Football Club.

Festive period

From just before Christmas to just after New Years, there are a lot of league and Cup games.

Fixture

A scheduled game. Also called a match. Note that in the States, the home team on the schedule is listed on the bottom, but in England, the home team on the fixture list is at the top. So if Everton “are away to” Chelsea, it would be:

Chelsea

Everton

sheffield wednesday hillsborough kop

The Kop End at Sheffield Wednesday.

Kop

A big section of seats behind a goal that hosts the most hard-core fans. Not all teams claim a kop; the most famous is at Anfield, the home stadium of Liverpool. The name, officially Spion Kop, comes from a hillside where British soldiers fought in the Second Boer War of South Africa in 1900.

League Cup

Another tournament that includes many teams from many levels of English football, but it’s second rate to the FA Cup. Yanks can think of it as the NIT, but a little better. For “sponsorship reasons” it has been known in the past as the Capital One Cup, the Carling Cup, the Milk Cup (!) and many others. Currently it’s the Carabao Cup, Carabao being the Thai version of Red Bull — literally “Red Water Buffalo.”

MOTD/Match of the Day

A BBC program on Saturday and Sunday evenings that shows highlights and fools discussing them. It has an amazing ability, though; it manages to diss every single team in the league and never give them respect or proper air time. It might seem impossible, but just ask any single fan you meet how Match of the Day treats their team.

Promotion

English football is basically a pyramid of leagues, all connected at least in theory, and binded by promotion and relegation. In the upper leagues, you get promoted or “go up” by finishing near the top of your league, and you get relegated (“go down”) by finishing near the bottom. Farther down the pyramid, in the land of minnows, it gets confusing. From the Championship (second tier) to the Premiership, there’s a playoff.

Here is our post about the leagues and cups of English soccer.


Relegation

The painful opposite of promotion. Teams in the bottom three spots on the table are said to be in the “relegation zone.” Also known as “going down” to a lower league — except that going down frankly sounds like a lot more fun.

Side

Team.

Silverware

A trophy you get for winning something like the League or a Cup.

Spurs

A team in North London called Tottenham Hotspur FC. If you want to really sound American, call it “tott-en-HAM” or “the Spurs.” It’s “tott-num” and Spurs. Or, if you’re Arsenal, it’s just “that mob up the road.” For some entertainment along these lines, enjoy “American Coach in London.”

Table

Americans call this “the standings.”

Tyne-Wear Derby

Newcastle (Tyneside) vs Sunderland (Wearside), possibly the most bitter derby in English football. Apparently it goes back to the cities being on opposite sides of the English Civil War — in the 17th century! They’ve been playing the derby since 1883.

Wembley

The 90,000-seat stadium in London that’s home to all the tournament finals. So “going to Wembley” means playing for a title. A common song is “Que sera sera, whatever will be will be. We’re going to Wem-buh-ley! Que sera sera.”

Learn more about English soccer:


2 Comments
  1. Cup-Tied – a term to describe he status of a player who has played for a team in a cup competition then moved to another team. He is barred from competing in that competition for his new team until the following season. The rule applies to all domestic and European cup competitions.

    “Hull can’t play Jelavic or Long in their FA Cup Quarter Final as both are cup-tied.”

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