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A Layman’s Guide to Pundits’ Football Jargon

I have compiled a list of terms that one frequently hears mentioned by football pundits on cable television, most of them British. This short guide is intended to help the casual or new fans of the game in this country to understand some of the jargon:

Book: a tiny little notebook that referees the world over carry to record for posterity warnings, expulsions and other incidents within the game. As a verb, the term “booked” means a player has received a formal warning from the referee and issued a yellow card. For a while in the eighties, the English League did away with the issuance of cards altogether, since the offending players’ were called over by the referees and their names and numbers recorded. The cards were subsequently restored.

Box: more completely, the penalty box or the penalty area, the word “box” used obviously because of the area’s rectangular shape. Pundits will just as easily say “put a cross into the box.”

Boots: the football shoes, or “spikes” as we Filipinos say. The term continues to be used by British pundits, but probably in a nostalgic and traditional sense because the football shoes worn in the game’s infancy were, indeed, boots.

Cleats: we Filipinos will say “spikes,” and interchangeably to refer to the shoes or the protruding parts of the soles that give players grip on the ground.

Cross: + is how a cross looks like to most everybody. I am not a hundred per cent certain about the etymology of the term as used in football, but my guess is that it is a shortened version of the word “across.” Hence, a cross in football jargon is to kick the ball in an attacking way from either of the far sides of the field across the width of it and into the middle to create a goalscoring opportunity.

Derby: a match between two clubs from the same city or the same locality. Hence, the Merseyside derby – Mersey being a river – is a game between two clubs in the city of Liverpool.

Glancing header: this is that sort of header when a player just very gently touches the ball with his head to sort of help it on its way but deflecting it from its original path in an oblique angle, usually to meet crosses at the near post. If I may so add, an extremely difficult skill to perfect.

Make a goal: this term is a curiosity. Most everyone not familiar with Brit football jargon will think “score a goal.” In fact, as far as the Brits are concerned, the two are different. For the Brits, to “make a goal” is to create the goalscoring chance. The Americans are a lot more straightforward and simply say “assist.” To the Brits, the goalmaker and goalscorer are two different players.

Match fitness: this is a term that is frequently misunderstood. Match fitness does not mean physical fitness alone; although this is part of it. A player can be physically fit to withstand the rigours of an entire game but still not be match fit. The latter also takes into consideration the psychological preparedness of a player to perform at his highest levels given the pressures that invariably accompany competitive matches.

International: a player who has been called up to play for his national team. Since international football these days is tiered, the word is often preceded by an adjective that states the international level that the player is being called up for. For example, school boy international or full international, the latter indicating that a player is called up to the senior national team. The term is also used loosely to mean a match between two national teams.

International friendly: in simple English, an exhibition game between two national teams. The term can be extremely anomalous in the modern day when even an exhibition game can carry so much prestige and pressure, and some of these so-called “friendlies” have been known to be violent encounters and therefore far from friendly.

Near/Far post: can be either goalpost, the reference point always being the side of the field where the ball is delivered from.

Nutmeg: the act of an attacking player slipping the ball between the legs of the defending player. This is considered an embarrassment because it makes the defender look stupid.

Overlap: this is more of a tactical term than mere pundits’ jargon, and in the strictest sense pertains to fullbacks taking advantage of play being on the opposite side of the field to make forward runs past the midfielders and strikers.

Pigskin: although the term is also used in American slang in reference to the elliptical ball used in American football, its roots can be traced to the inflated pig bladders that were used by the Romans to play an ancient ancestor of the modern game of soccer. British pundits still occasionally refer to the football also as the pigskin.

Park the bus: a lovely British expression that means to defend the goal with as many players as possible. More completely, to “park the bus in front of goal.” A certain Portuguese by the name of Henrique Calisto would be very familiar with the term by now.

Pitch: I am amused whenever local commentators refer to the football field as the “pitch” as though it is a technical term native to football. It is not. It is a British preference and use of the word “field” is just as correct.

Playing kit: anyone not familiar with soccer football can be forgiven for thinking that the term refers to playing equipment. However, since football players do not really use any real game equipment – such as the bat in cricket and baseball – the term as used, in particular, in the British sense means the playing uniform. Hence, when the pundits say “all-red kit,” they are saying red jersey, shorts and socks.

Row Z: another of those colourful little terms that the Brits are so fond of and so good at inventing, a humourous reference to shots that fly wildly over the goal and into the upper stands, the assumption being that Row A is the row of seats closest to the playing field.

Spot: more completely, the penalty spot, or that marker 12 yards in front of goal where the ball is placed for a penalty kick. Pundits simply say “the referee pointed to the spot.”

Sticks: the two goalposts, a throwback to an era when the goalposts were made of wood. Hence, the goalkeeper is often referred to as “the man between the sticks.”

Upright: a reference to either post, for obvious reasons. Hence, it is common for commentators to say “wide of the left upright,” the reference point being that of the attacking team.

Wide: wide in a footballing sense refers to a shot that misses the target, i.e. the goal. The word is also used in an idiomatic sense in general English, such as when conjecture or a rumour is far from the truth. There is more than just a bit of a contradiction, in particular, when the pundits say “narrowly wide;” but the anomaly is generally understood by those in the game, anyway.

Woodwork: the frame of the goal, as previously stated a throwback to an era when goals were made of wood. Hence, the expression “denied by the woodwork” pertains to shots that hit the frame of the goal and rebound back to safety.

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