Jun 2, 2014

How to Speak Soccer Football: A Public Service Announcement

Enamored by the game of soccer? Looking forward to the World Cup? Want to make friends and influence people at pubs and viewing parties, while not sounding like a complete novice? Then this post is for you. Bookmark it, e-mail it to yourself, print it out, memorize it. Just make sure you don't leave home without it. Because this is how you speak soccer.

Soccer? First things first. Most of the world, including the nation that invented the modern game, call the sport football. This makes sense seeing how it's played mostly with your feet, while what Americans call football is played with many other body parts including, it would appear, one's skull. That aside, if you want to sound like you're really in the know, or European, or both, you should consider referring to it as football. You can even call if futbol (pronounced the Spanish way) if you like, though this might take some practice as well as at least limited knowledge of the Spanish language.

On the surface, soccer/football is a simple sport. You have 11 players on each team who aim to put the ball in the opposing team's goal. Underneath it is a world of nuance, starting with the terms that are used.

For this reason it is perhaps easiest to simply list them; the American term known to casual sports fans in the U.S., followed by the soccer/football equivalent, as fans of the beautiful game know it (by the way, only call it the that when you're being ironic). Here goes. Happy studying!

Soccer --> football
Field --> pitch
Team --> side
Road team --> visitors
Fans --> spectators 
Tie --> draw
Shutout --> clean sheet
Offense --> attack
Stadium --> ground (or grounds)
Stands --> terraces 
Locker room --> dressing room
Uniform --> kit 
Cleats --> boots
Fans --> supporters
Coach --> manager ("gaffer" if it's the head coach)
Practice --> training
Official --> referee 
Overtime --> extra time 
Sideline --> touchline or byline
Period --> half
Schedule --> fixture
To guard --> mark 
To center (a ball) --> cross
Backup --> substitute
Ejected --> sent off
Hurt --> injured
In shape --> match fit 
Speed --> pace
Fast break --> counter

Other useful terms include "brace" for somebody who scores two goals along with of course "hat trick" for three. Note to our Canadian readers: under no circumstances should defenders be called "defensemen" or goalies "goaltenders." That's hockey only! There are also some terms that, while acceptable to soccer aficionados, have a more advanced equivalent that will prove you're really in the know. Examples include "intermission" for halftime (yes, like a play), "linesman" for assistant referee, "fullback" for defender and "spot kick" for penalty kick. Speaking of penalty kick, don't say "PK" as that acronym is used by Americans only.

Then there are words that are surprisingly interchangeable with their equivalent from U.S. sports: dribble means moving with the ball just like it does in basketball (no traveling violation in soccer though, natch). A foul is a foul. Intercepting a pass is intercepting a pass, as long as you don't call it a "turnover." To score is to score, though in soccer sometimes you also "net" a goal or "put a bulge in the ol' onion bag."


  1. Use of most of the terms in your right hand column in an American soccer bar (we have bars not pubs) would brand you as a poser or a Eurosnob, and I assume you are one or both. There is no shame in making the game our game and speaking American English in the US. And I am no novice having made it to 3 World Cups, a European Championship, US qualifiers in Central America and being a 15 year MLS season ticket holder. Field, team, uniform, stadium, etc. all work for me.

  2. http://online.wsj.com/articles/why-i-hate-american-soccer-fans-1402012291?KEYWORDS=JONATHAN+CLEGG

  3. If you're so insistent on Americans calling the sport football, then why is your website called "Soccer Source"?

  4. Um, this whole thing was very much tongue in cheek. Apparently not enough to make it obvious

  5. There are some good terms here for sure, but as gene mentioned in the first comment, plenty of those terms are ok. However, the language and use of soccer terms by some people is astounding, and even embarrassing. I sometimes here people tell me (when they know that I am going out to play), that I should have fun when I go kick a ball. That one always gets to me!

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