Classic Football Terms, Phrases and Dictionary
We love football. And we love football terminology. From classic football clichés to modern football phrases, if someone uses it then we're interested in hearing it.
So, here's a list of some of the football terms and phrases we've come across over the years.
When a player tackles an opponent but then immediately decides to sneakily stick the boot in again when he thinks the referee isn't watching.
Can often result in a bit of handbags, or something more serious.
The Alternative Maradonas
Term given to a host of non-Argentinian players from around the world who they thought had enough skill to bear some sort of passing resemblance to Diego Maradona. The most famous alternative Diego Maradona was probably the great Romanian playmaker Gheorghe Hagi, who was known as the "The Maradona of the Carpathians". You can find Hagi and all of others on our list of alternative Maradonas.
See also, the next Maradona.
The Apertura is the name of one of the two tournaments that are held when the some of the South American football leagues split their season into two tournaments - Apertura and Clausura (opening and closing).
Argentina and Uruguay are two of the biggest leagues to do this. If you look at the history of Argentina Football League winners you'll see that Apertura and Clausura tournament victories often count as official league titles. However, since 2015 the Argentine Primera División has been running as a single season in the year. Uruguay's system works slightly differently, and since 1994 the Uruguayan Primera División has had a play-off final between the winners of the Apertura and Clausura to decide the overall title, you can find more informaton on our list of Uruguay Football League winners.
The part of the stadium where away fans would be located. Traditionally, in the 1970s and 80s, most British grounds would allocate an entire end of the stadium for visiting supporters, nowadays they're often shoved in a corner somewhere or up on a top tier along the side of the pitch.
The Bundesliga is the name of the professional football league in Germany. It translates as Federal League. 1. Bundesliga is the top tier, 2. Bundesliga is the second tier. It's one of the great football leagues of Europe, and you can find a bit more information on our list of Bundesliga winners.
Austria also uses the same name for its league, although it's referred to as the Austrian Bundesliga to distinguish it from their neighbours. Check out the list of Austria football league winners for a bit more detail.
They range from proper fans who actually attended matches before they were really famous and still do (for example West Bromwich Albion's Adrian Chiles and Frank Skinner), to A-listers who've attended a match as they're either in town filming or are friends with a club director (Sly Stallone is an honorary Toffeeman as club director Robert Earl invited him to Goodison Park for a game in 2007), to really tenuous links such as Arsenal fans claiming that Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro was a gooner! We've listed a good mix of celebrity football fans, with plenty of questionable links in there and a good splattering of celebrity glory hunters.
To us, classic football means anything football related that over a period of time is judged to be top quality or a great example. For example, Dino Zoff is a classic keeper, Rapid Vienna is one of the classic club names, Roma has a number of classic crests etc. If it can stand the test of time, it's classic.
See perfect hat-trick.
Pretty simple - the colours that are associated with a club. Every club has them, and they should never be changed as it's the club's main identity. Although that hasn't stopped some owners trying - the most famous case being in 2012, when Vincent Tan decided that part of his condition of taking over Cardiff City was change their club colours from blue to red, despite them being so blue orientated that it was also in their nickname, the Bluebirds
Club colours are heavily associated with teams in Italy, so much so that every major club has a nickname based on their Italian club colours, for example "I Nerazzurri" for Inter and (the Black-Blues), "I Rossoneri" for Milan, "I Bianconeri" for Juventus (the Black & Whites) etc.
Someone describing a match on the television or radio, very occassionally leading to iconic moments of classic football commentaries.
CONMEBOL is the South American Football Confederation, the continental governing body of football in South America and one of FIFA's six continental confederations. CONMEBOL are responsible for organising the continent's major tournaments, such as the Copa América, the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana.
The Copa America is South America's main football tournament, featuring the national teams from the CONMEBOL federation.
The Coppa Italia is the main cup competition in Italy. You can find more details on our list of Coppa Italia winners.
Coupe de France
The Coupe de France is the main cup competition in France. An underrated cup in our eyes too, as it's provided plenty of shocks over the years with lots of minnows reaching semi-finals and finals. You can find more details over on our Coupe de France section.
The emblem of a football club, usually appearing as the badge on the shirt. Some of them have become iconic, design classics. You can find some fine examples on our list of some of greatest football crests.
Our definition of a cult hero in football is a player who may not have been a world-beater but who, for some reason or another, had a great connection with the supporters.
Genuine football heroes, like World Cup winners, are different to cult heroes.
Cultured Left Foot
Name given to the left peg of footballer's with a fine left foot. Also known as the sweet left foot.
Growing up in England in the 70s or 80s, Cuppies (or Cuppie Doubles) was playground/park cup football at its finest. Using just a single goal (often jumpers for goal posts), all the kids (apart from the unlucky sod who'd been persuaded to go in goals) competed against each other to score. Anyone who scored a goal immediately sat out and was through to the next round. The last kid to score in each round was eliminated and a new round started. This was repeated until only two players were left - this was deemed "the final" and normally 2 or 3 goals were required to become the Cuppie champion.
Cuppie Doubles is exactly the same format but players pair up into doubles to get a bit of passing and interplay going.
In some areas of England the same game was referred to as Wembley, or Wembley Doubles.
The nickname given to the much-loved Denmark teams of the mid-1980s that provided so many great memories at Euro'84 and Mexico'86.
Under the guidance of head coach Sepp Piontek, the Danish Dynamite teams featured great talents and characters such as Preben Elkjær, Michael Laudrup, Jesper and Morten Olsen, Frank Arnesen and Søren Lerby.
They were first actually dubbed "Danish Dynamite" in a competition for the official Danish song for Euro 1984, and the name stuck for the rest of the decade.
And to top it all, the Danish Dynamite team played in one of the greatest football kits ever, the half-and-half pinstripe design, by one of the classic football kit manufacturers, Hummel.
Dead Ball Specialist
A footballer who is particularly dangerous at a dead-ball situation, such as a free-kicks and corners, usually being able to put the ball exactly where they want it, time after time. See footballs greatest free-kick specialists for some of our favourites.
A last-gasp, full-stretched, slide tackle in a wild attempt to stop another player.
When someone scores early doors it means the opening few minutes of a half.
The Eredivisie is the name of the top tier of the Dutch professional football league pyramid. It translates as Honour League. The second tier is called the Eerste Divisie (First Division). You can find a bit more information on our list of Dutch Football League winners.
España '82 is the name of the World Cup tournament that took place in Spain in 1982. It holds a special place in the heart of many people growing up around that time and falling in love with the beautiful football of that iconic Brazilian side. Check out our España 82 World Cup section for more details of this fabulous tournament.
The European Championships are UEFA's main football tournament for its national team members, also known as the Euros.
English football's annual cup competition is probably the best known, and most prestigious, domestic cup tournament in world football. It's also the world's oldest national football competition, dating back to 1871. You can find more details on our list of FA Cup winners.
FA Cup 3rd Round
The traditional entry point of the big teams from the top two tiers of English football into the FA Cup. Normally, at this stage, there are still some non-league teams in the competition so it's the most eagerly anticipated draw, as they keep their fingers crossed for a money spinning tie against one of the big boys and the chance to make history and join the list of shock results from previous classic FA Cup 3rd round matches.
A False 9 is a decoy forward in a formation set up without a dedicated striker. Instead of playing like a traditional no.9 on the shoulder of the last defender, the False 9 will look to drop deep, almost into midfield, leaving the opposition defence with a decision on whether to follow them, potentially leaving space behind them, or not follow them, giving the False 9 space and time to do damage.
Whilst it's a modern phrase, there are wide ranging examples of players in the role; Matthias Sindelar played a similar role for the Austrian Wunderteam of the 1930s, as did Nándor Hidegkuti for the Hungarian Mighty Magyars of the 1950s, and Cesc Fàbregas did a sterling job there when Spain won Euro 2012. At club level, two of the most famous exponents of the False 9 role have been Roma's Francesco Totti under the management of Luciano Spalletti and under Pep Guardiola.
Fantasy Football League
Fantasy Football League was a British TV show in the 1990s hosted by comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, featuring the likes of Phoenix from the Flames, Jeff Astle singing and Angus "Statto" Loughran. There haven't been many TV football comedy shows over the years that were actually funny, but this was one of them.
Taken from the 1990s when Alex Ferguson was at his managerial pomp, Fergie Time is that unexpectedly long period of injury-time, usually just enough for Alex Ferguson's team to grab a late winner.
See German hat-trick.
Anything football related that is done with a passion is football culture in our eyes. Meeting up for a pre-match drink, singing at the game, matchday clothing, football artwork such as World Cup posters, TIFO's, playing Subbuteo, collecting Panini stickers, even wearing lucky pants. It's all the culture of football.
The history and tradition around all aspects of the game and its culture. It can be anything from remembering the great eras and players of a club, to the efforts of keeping a club stadium at its traditional home rather than moving to a new area, through to reminiscing about classic football kits and even classic football kit manufacturers.
A bit of a quarrel or skirmish between players or coaching staff, often in the tunnel or on the touchline, sometimes resulting in handbags.
Gazzetta Football Italia
Legendary Saturday morning television programme on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom that featured highlights of the previous week's Serie A matches, interviews with Serie A players, and a flick through the Italian football papers. All brought together by the show's host James Richardson, normally sat in the sunshine outside some glorious café in a beautiful medieval town square, sipping a coffee or tempting us with a large ice cream.
It all looked incredibly cool and there were some great features and fantastic bits of humour. In our eyes it's still the greatest television football show.
The sister show was called Football Italia, showing live matches on a Sunday afternoon. Both proved incredibly popular.
Someone who swaps teams to whichever club is currently the most successful.
The very worst kind of football supporter.
Someone who is an expert in the art of goalhanging.
The favourite pastime of a goalhanger.
It started out at school - that lad in the playground who did nothing whatsoever but stand near the make-shift goal, waiting to pounce if the ball fell near him. And then some of these lads went onto make a professional living from it.
Classic penalty area activity as the ball pings here, there and everywhere, with defenders blocking everything but unable to properly clear it, and attackers trying everything but unable to get it into the goal. The greatest goalmouth scrambles are a genuine sight to behold.
The name often given to a top-scorer award for a variety of competitions and events. The most famous being the World Cup Golden Boot, awarded to the top-scorer at each World Cup tournament. You can find more information on that particular award with our list of World Cup Golden Boot winners, as well as a list of European Championship Golden Boot winners.
See perfect hat-trick.
Group of Death
When the draw is done for the World Cup or European Championships, there's normally one particularly tricky group that stands out above the rest, the Group of Death.
The Hand of God
"Nothing serious between them, just handbags."
Players pretending to be angry and threatening, probably with a bit of gentle pushing and shoving thrown in for good measure, but in reality zero-chance of anything serious actually happening.
Much-used managerial-technique employed by old school managers in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Often used at half-time in the changing room after a dodgy performance, the name comes from the effect on the players as the likes of Alex Ferguson shout loudly at them, seemingly making their hair pin back with the sheer force of the screaming.
Often used by managers alongside the reading of the riot act.
Obviously it's when a player scores three goals in a match. But why hat-trick ? Apparently the term was first used in cricket in the mid 1800s. A bowler took three wickets in a row and fans held a collection for him and bought him a hat ! The term was then adopted in other sports.
A really bad pass to a team-mate which results in them being heavily tackled as soon as they get the ball.
Italia '90 is the name of the World Cup tournament that took place in Italy in 1990. An iconic tournament that splits opinion between those who loved the drama and stories that came out of it, and those who say the actual football wasn't up to scratch compared to other tournaments. We loved it, and we've done an Italia 90 World Cup section if you want some more information on it.
Jägermeister? A football term? Well, no, but we've included them as they were the first company to sponsor a football shirt back in 1973, when they famously circumvented the West German rule banning sponsorship on football shirts. They got round it by changing the badge on Eintracht Braunschweig's shirt from the club's traditional lion crest to the deer logo of Jägermeister. Nearly fifty years on, it remains one of the classic kit sponsors.
Jumpers for Goal Posts
When you were a kid and wanted to play football somewhere that didn't have any proper goals, off would come the jumpers to mark the posts. The lack of anything upright and cross-bars led to some great disputes, but that just added to it all.
The Fast Show character Ron Manager would make it even more famous with some of his great ramblings.
La Liga is the name of the top tier of the professional football league in Spain. It translates as The League. La Liga is the top tier, the second tier is known as either La Liga 2 or Segunda División. You can find a bit more information on our list of La Liga winners.
Domestic cup competition in England which is only open to the 92 member clubs of the Football League and Premier League. It's very existence has been questioned in recent years by some Premier League managers, but ask any fan or player who's experienced victory in the final and they'll tell you it was worth it. You can find more details on our list of English League Cup winners.
Hitting a ball very hard. As in... "He's absolutely leathered one past the keeper in to the onion bag".
The top tier of the French football league. Rebranded in 2002 from its previous name, Division 1. Hardly the most radical of rebranding, but it seems to have caught on. You can find a bit more information on our list of Ligue 1 winners,
Quality line from TV character Alan Partridge in his USA '94 sound bites for The Day Today: "That was liquid football!".
Characters such as Partridge and Ron Manager proved that it wasn't just real-life commentators and managers who are remembered for classic football quotes,
Ron Atkinson's phrase for a stepover.
A group of managers who constantly seem to be rotating around or linked with the same sort of jobs. Every era has them. It used to be Peter Reid, Graeme Souness, Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce. Now it's Gary Monk, Gary Rowett, Tony Pulis and Steve Bruce.
Maracanazo is the name given to the final of the 1950 World Cup when, against all the odds, Uruguay managed to defeat host-nation Brazil at the Maracanã Stadium.
Match of the Day
First screened on BBC 2 on the 22nd August 1964 (showing highlights of Liverpool vs Arsenal at Anfield) Match of the Day has gone on to become the longest-running football TV show in the world. Presenters come and go, but when you hear one of the greatest football theme tunes belting out on a Saturday evening, everyone knows what show is about to kick off.
Mexico '70 is the name of the World Cup tournament that took place in Mexico in 1970. One of the most mentioned World Cup tournaments, mainly for the great Brazil side that won it. You can find more details on our Mexicon 70 World Cup section.
MEXICO SIGUE EN PIE
MEXICO SIGUE EN PIE is the first message that Socrates famously wore on a headband at the Mexico World Cup in 1986.
It translates as MEXICO STILL STANDS, and it was the Brazilian's tribute to the people of the host nation following the terrible earthquake that had struck the country before the start of the tournament.
It remains one of the most iconic images of Mexico '86, and Socrates would follow it up throughout the tournament with different headband messages, such as "Need Justice", "No Violence", and "No Terror".
A tactic employed by certain managers to toy with opposing managers, players and fans, getting under their skin and rattling them before important matches.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Neil Warnock are three classic exponents of it.
When a manager is sacked it's often first reported that it was "by mutual consent", implying that both parties agreed to it, when in actual fact it's normally just the chairman who desperately wants rid.
The New Maradona
See next Maradona.
The Next Maradona
No Look Pass
Looking one way and then passing the other. A skill that can fool countless opponents if a player can completely master it. Michael Laudrup and Ronaldinho were two great exponents of it.
Probably the most symbolic of all the football shirt numbers, mainly due to the sheer amount of legendary players who have worn it, such as Maradona, Pelé, Messi, Zidane, Ronaldinho, Zico, Platini. It's no surprise really, given that it's the number usually worn by playmakers, attacking midfielders or second strikers, the player who is normally the most creative in the team.
The number 10 shirt is particularly revered in Argentina, where it has an illustrious history and has been worn by so many fine players that we felt the need to produce a list of the greatest Argentina number 10s.
The name given to those legends who've stuck with just a single football club through their playing career. With the chance to end your career nowadays with a decent last payday in various corners of the globe, they're definitely becoming a dying breed. We've got a fine list of one club men from around the world of football.
The goals. The nets. As in... "He's absolutely leathered one in to the onion bag".
Common nickname for the Dutch national team, it obviously translates as Orange, the colour of those famous shirts that have become so synonymous with the national team that has provided so many memories over the years - the Netherlands 1974 World Cup team that will forever be labelled as one of the greatest sides never to lift the trophy, the Cruyff-less Netherlands 1978 World Cup squad that came within inches of lifting the trophy four years later, and of course the 1988 team that finally lifted their first trophy when they won the European Chanpionships.
The classic cheeky penalty, named after the Czech midfielder Antonín Panenka who used the technique to win the Euro'76 final against West Germany.
We're not sure where you've been if you don't know what a Panenka is, but it's basically just pretending to take a normal peno but then just chipping the ball gently straight down the middle and hoping to God that the keeper has dived one way.
When an under-pressure gaffer makes a desperate last-minute plunge into the transfer market just for the sake of buying someone, anyone, in an attempt to placate the fans and give them and the team some hope !
Think of Andy Carroll's 35m transfer to Liverpool on 31st January 2011, or any number of Arsene Wenger's nightmares.
Forget all about the toasted tuna-melt variety, we're talking the de-facto classic football sticker brand here. Walking into the local corner shop and seeing that box full of Panini World Cup packets on the shop counter is a great childhood memory for many football fans. The Panini World Cup albums and the Panini Euros albums were things of beauty and nothing beat going through a great a great pile of swaps shouting "Got. Got. Need!"
Football is full of great partnerships - it can be a managerial partnership, such as Cloughie and Peter Taylor, a defensive partnership like Baresi and Costacurta, or strike partnerships such as Gianluca Vialli and Mancini. And they don't have to be limited to duos either, our list of football partnership nicknames has groups of three, four and five players who've famously all combined.
English slang for a penalty.
The Trofeo Pichichi is given each year to the highest scorer in Spain's top division, La Liga. You can find more information with our list of Pichichi award winners.
Pickles was the name of the black and white dog that found the stolen Jules Rimet Trophy in March 1966, four months before the 1966 World Cup was due to kick off in England.
Prawn Sandwich Brigade
"Away from home our fans are fantastic, I'd call them the hardcore fans. But at home they have a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches, and they don't realise what's going on out on the pitch."
So whilst Keane never actually said "Prawn Sandwich Brigade", it was quickly picked up on by the media and is now used to described a large swathe of modern football fans, especially those who still aren't sat in their seats 15 minutes after the 2nd half has kicked off at Wembley as they're still tucking into their hospitality freebies instead of watching the match itself.
Primera División de Venezuela
The top tier of Venezualan football. And here's the list of Venezuelan football league winners.
The Premier League is the name of the top tier of the English football league system. It was founded in 1992 when the top clubs from the old First Division decided to breakaway and create a new league with the English FA. You can find a bit more information on our list of Premier League winners, where you'll also find evidence that football did actually exist before 1992!
Or the Scottish Premiership to be exact. As the name suggests, it's the top tier of the Scottish professional football league system. It was formed in 2013 following a merger of the Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League. You'll find more information on our list of Scottish Football League winners.
Pro League was the name of the top tier of Belgian league football from 2008 to 2016, after which a reorganisation of the Belgian professional leagues resulted in another rebranding, as it became known as "First Division A". You'll find more information on our list of Belgium Football League winners.
'Rapidviertelstunde' is the name given to the rhythmic clapping by Rapid Vienna fans for the final fifteen minutes of their matches in a bid to inspire their team.
When a number of clubs are fighting hard against each other to avoid relegation.
A competitive relationship between two football teams, players or groups of fans. There might be multiple rivalries, but there is normally one main one - an arch-rival.
You should find a few examples on our site, including our article on football rivalries in Argentina.
Legendary character from The Fast Show, the BBC's great comedy sketch show in the 1990s, played by Paul Whitehouse. Ron is a football commentator who starts rattling out a monologue containing a stream of football clichés before heading off in various tangents with his thought process. It's TV football comedy gold, and whilst there are too many great quotes to list here, it's well worth recalling probably his most famous line... "It's a far cry from small boys in the park, jumpers for goalposts. Isn't it? Mmmm. Marvellous."
Playground or park-football rule whereby a keeper was allowed to come out and score, rather than just being forced to stay in his goals. Sometimes used by just one team if there weren't equal numbers.
There'd be a few good candidates in our list of the greatest Italian keepers, although we imagine the ultimate rush keeper would probably have been the legendary Colombian, René Higuita.
Long ball tactics. Taking route one to a big target man up-front.
The Brazilian national football team squad (it translates as selection).
An easy chance. You normally hear it used when a player misses - "he's missed an absolute sitter!". A player normally gets a sitter after good work from another player. And there's always a chance you'll see a sitter missed in amongst the greatest goals never scored.
They started off as novelty songs in the 1970s to celebrate a team reaching an event such as the World Cup Finals or the FA Cup Final. They'd often do very well in the charts and result in fantastically cheesy appearances on Top of the Pops. The idea soon spread around and by the late 70s and 80s many national teams were recording World Cup squad songs to celebrate getting to the finals.
The unbearable tension as a title-race goes into the final matches of the season.
"Arsenal have a replay against Chelsea and if they win it they would face a semi-final 3 days before playing us in the league. But then they did say they were going to win the Treble, didn't they? It's squeaky bum-time but we've got the experience now to cope."
One of the classic football skills, one of the first things you should teach your kids as soon as they can walk.
Move the foot quickly around the outside of the ball without touching it, to dummy your opponent into thinking you're going that way, but then push off with the ball the other way.
Super League has a couple of meanings. For starters it's often the phrase that's bandied about regarding a new league consisting of all the richest clubs in Europe. It's all the name of the top tier of the Swiss football league and the Greek football league - you can find more information on our list of Swiss Football League winners and Greek Football League Winners.
Iconic table-top football game, invented in the 1940s by Peter Adolph. There are plenty of reasons why we love Subbuteo, and they're why it became so hugely popular in households around the world in the 1970s and 1980s.
Sweet Left Foot
For some reason you never hear talk of players with a sweet right foot, or a cultured right foot, it's all about the lefties. But to be fair, the best left footers seem to hit the ball a bit sweeter, and with a real elegance.
We've got a list of footballers with a sweet left foot just in case you're in any doubt.
The adidas Tango. The daddy of World Cup balls.
The adidas Telstar. If the Tango is The daddy of World Cup balls then the Telstar is the Grandad.
The Big Five
The name given to a set of five clubs that have historically dominated football in certain countries.
For example... Argentina: River Plate, Boca Juniors, Racing, Independiente and San Lorenzo de Almagro.
Traditional Curtain Raiser
The last match just before the start of the football season. Usually between the winners of last season's league and cup. In England it's the Charity Shield/Community Cup, in Europe it's often called the Super Cup.
A team that goes into a match against a much stronger opponent and is widely expected to lose. Everyone loves an underdog, and sometimes, especially in a cup match or a relegation dogfight, they sometimes come out on top against all the odds.
It originally started out as one of the classic Italian football phrases, describing their clubs sets of organised fanatical supporter groups. It's used worldwide though now for supporter groups in other countries, particularly around Europe.
Classic school playground game. The rules were simple, smack the ball against the correct part of the wall and you stayed in the game. Miss and you were out. Repeat until only one kid remains.
Phrase used to describe a football club that is almost constantly getting promoted and relegated between two divisions. We've done a list of some of the finest examples of football's yo-yo clubs, including the remarkable series of consecutive relegations and promotions for Norwegian side SK Brann that set a new world record.
Other Football Dictionaries