Fantastic Football Idioms and Expressions

Get stuck in and develop your vocabulary!

Learn football Idioms and expressions

[Last updated on 23/08/2023]

Football is the world’s most popular sport and has captured the hearts of millions around the world. This blog is your guide to mastering the language of English football and we cover common phrases, plus some fantastic football idioms and expressions that are unique to the game.

Let’s kick off this exciting journey through the vocabulary and phrases that have become an inseparable part of the game we all love.

And, by the way, we’re from the England, the home of football and the three lions, so we don’t say “soccer”!

Football vocabulary and phrases

We start with the common vocabulary and phrases that are used by English football enthusiasts to describe this mesmerising sport. You can also jump straight down to 15 fantastic football idioms and expressions.

soccerAnother word for "football" that English fans never use!
football matchA football match is the game played between two teams, with eleven players on each side.
pitchThe pitch is the field of play at a football game.
kick-offThe starting point of the match, where one team kicks the ball from the centre spot to begin play.
referee/refThe referee (or ref) is the person responsible for enforcing the rules and making decisions during a football game.
captainThe captain is the leader of the team and responsible for making decisions on the field.
goalkeeper/goalieThe goalkeeper (or goalie) is responsible for stopping the opposing team from scoring goals.
striker, attacker, forwardThe striker is an attacking player positioned near the opponent's goal, primarily responsible for scoring goals.
midfielderThe midfielder is positioned in the middle of the field, responsible for passing the ball between defence and attack.
defenderThe defender is positioned at the back, and responsible for protecting their own goal.
substituteA substitute is a player who replaces another player during the match.
goalThe goal is the net at each end of the field, and a goal is scored when the ball crosses the goal line and goes into the net.
own goalAn own goal occurs when a player puts the ball into their own team's net.
tackleThe act of challenging a player of the opposite team to take the ball from their possession.
foulA foul occurs when a player does something which breaks the rules of the game.
free kickAfter a foul is committed, the opposing team can kick the ball from location of the foul, while the other keep a distance.
penaltyA penalty is awarded when a foul is committed within the penalty area.
penalty kickA penalty kick is taken from the penalty spot against the goalkeeper, with no defensive players allowed in the penalty area.
handballA handball occurs when a player intentionally touches the ball with their hand or arm. This results in a free kick or penalty.
yellow cardA yellow card is given as an official warning when a player had broken the rules.
red cardA red card is shown when a player has broken the rules and has to leave the pitch immediately.
half timeHalf time is the break that occurs after the first 45 minutes of a football match, and before the second half.
full timeFull time is the end of the match after both halves have been completed.
scorePlayers score when they successfully put the ball into the opponent's net. The score also describes the results of the match.
drawA draw occurs when the match ends with the same score for both teams, resulting in neither team winning.
football match

15 Football idioms and expressions

Now, we’re going to look at some of the most well-known football idioms and expressions. These are used by football fans, spectators and commentators to describe the game and express the highs and lows of their emotions during the match.

If you love the sport, then these are a valuable addition to your English vocabulary, and can help you to sound more like a native speaker when discussing the game.

keep your eye on the ball

to focus your complete attention on something.

As the midfielder prepared to take a free kick, his teammates reminded him to keep his eye on the ball.

a nail-biter

used to describe a match or situation that is extremely tense and unpredictable, causing a feeling of nervousness or excitement among the spectators.

This match is a real nail-biter! Both teams are giving it their all, and the tension in the stadium is palpable. It’s anyone’s game at this point.

pile on the pressure

describes a team that is continuously attacking and putting the opposing team under stress.

They are piling on the pressure, launching attack after attack on the opposing defence.

step up to the plate

describes when a player takes responsibility in a crucial situation, like during a penalty shootout.

In his first world cup, the young striker really stepped up to the plate and took on the responsibility of leading the attack in this crucial match.

park the bus

describes a team that focuses on protecting their goal and not attacking much.

They’re just opting to park the bus when they should be focussing on opportunities to attack. 

take a dive

refers to a player who has deliberately fallen or exaggerated contact to win a free kick or penalty.

The referee saw that the midfielder had taken a dive and gave him a yellow card for trying to deceive the officials and get a free kick.

hold firm

refers to a team’s ability to resist attempts from the other team to score a goal.

As the opposing team launched a series of attacks, our team’s defence held firm and denied any clear scoring opportunities to protect their goal.

a game of two halves

refers to a change in momentum or performance between the two halves of the match.

You know, football is a game of two halves. In the first half, we struggled and the opposition scored two goals. But the second half was a completely different story. We came out with renewed energy and won the match.

goal keeper

Come on!

is shouted by spectators during the game to express excitement and support or disappoint and frustration.

It was an electrifying game of two halves. Every minute we got closer to winning and I couldn’t stop shouting “Come on, England!” at the television.

a game changer

refers to a player, moment, or event that has a significant and positive impact on the game.

The introduction of the young striker in the second half proved to be a game changer for the home team.

to get stuck in

to play with maximum effort and determination.

The coach thought that this game would be challenging and told the players to get stuck in from the very start of the match.

the 12th man

refers to the supporters who watch the game at the stadium.

The 12th man can be a game-changer in football. The players feed off the energy of the fans, and it gives them that extra edge and determination to go for the win.

take your foot off the gas

to do something with less effort or determination.

With a 1-0 lead in the second half, the home team cannot afford to take their foot off the gas.

to be robbed

refers to when a team or player feels they should have achieved a better result.

Our team were robbed of a victory after the referee disallowed a perfectly legitimate goal in the final moments of the match.

That's football

this expression is used to accept the unpredictable and sometimes unfortunate nature of the game.

After a thrilling match that ended in a draw, the captain of the team shrugged and said, “Sometimes you dominate the game and still end up with a draw. That’s football for you. We’ll learn from this and come back stronger.”

women's football

It's time to kick off & Use football idioms

Whether you’re cheering from the stands, watching from home, or playing on the pitch, try using these fantastic football idioms and expressions as we celebrate the magic of the beautiful game.

You can even practise your English by singing some of the most memorable songs that are sung by English fans at football matches.

Try these sing-along English football songs!

  • Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)
    Baddiel & Skinner & Lightning Seeds
  • We are the Champions
  • Sweet Caroline
    Neil Diamond
  • You’ll Never Walk Alone
    Gerry & The Pacemakers
  • Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life
    Monty Python

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