Soccer Clichés..Mine Ears Are Bleeding

Came back around to this post I’ve been meaning to riff with the TSG community for a while when I was going through our “Glossary” today.

I don't think I make it through a chapter of this one...

That section of TSG could truly use an update.

Anyway, threw out a few on Twitter and lo and behold a pretty big audience had some of their own ear bleeders that came back our way. The next list is in no particular order and I’ll note now that some entries below are just poor jargon, less clichés. (If I missed your name for attribution, send us a note.)

• “Plies their trade”

My all time favorite cliche when talking about soccer players and carpenters. It’s almost like it’s mandatory to use this term specifically for American players (cough) playing in European leagues.

I think I used this expression in the 1st post ever on TSG and then one and only after it. I still cry when I look back.

• “Burst onto the scene”

This is not soccer-specific, but again here it appears mandatory that if someone–usually it’s describing Charlie Davies trajectory or something–is bursting, just about the only place they burst is “onto the scene.” Um, okay.

How come the only other way I’ve ever heard of a player getting to the scene is by “arriving.” You either “burst” to get there or “arrive” apparently.

Heskey...yes, he can be considered a beast. Lionel Messi? Not so much...

• Blankety blank blank is a “beast”

Really? When I think of the imagery of a “beast” I think of a enormous figure who’s wrecking everything in their path with little regard for where it lands or who gets hurt.

You know what? Most soccer players don’t play that way or most likely they’d get a foul called on them or worse get a yellow.

Emile Heskey, he plays like a beast. Jozy Altidore? Sometimes. John Terry, sure, I think…not even positive there.

Juan Agudelo, nope. Jermaine Defoe? Never. Get my drift.

Peter Crouch, Jeff Cunningham, Fernando Torres, David Villa …none of these players ever make their mark on the game in a “beast-like” way

• “The two goal lead is the most dangerous lead” in soccer

First from TSG photog Matt Mathai:

Finally (for now) stop repeating the canard that a two-goal lead is the “most dangerous lead in soccer.” Bullshit. The only team that wouldn’t wish for a two-goal lead is the one that already has a three-goal lead. This is another bit of ‘punditry’ that makes you sound foolish. Enough, already

Couldn’t agree more Matt. Let’s see if you gave me a choice of A) “having a two goal lead and being worried about it” or B) “being down two goals but somehow being content, nay, excited that the other team thought were dangerous,” I’d go with A….every time.

"You have chosen your wording...poorly..."

• “Poisoned chalice”

First, unless you’re British, you have no right being even near this cliche. And frankly, name a time other than watching Indiana Jones you specifically considered those two words, “poisoned” and “chalice” next to one another.


…Still waiting….

• “Transfer War Chest”

A good one from @Brookhattan on Twitter. Love it.

Right now, this publication is being sifted over by three low-level workers at the FBI because of the phrase “War Chest.”

• “Opened their account”

I’m continuing to cringe at these. And anyway, when you open an account don’t you usually “deposit” value with the right and expectation to at some point take it out.

This one doesn’t make sense anyway.

• “World Class”

Note, this should mean that you are one of 11. At the most generous, this means that you are in contention for being the best in the world at your position.

Over the past year, I’ve heard about 17,346 players deemed “world class.” How is that possible?

• “Pace” or “Pacey”

Guilty as charged. I use this one and I hate it.

Okay, let’s not dwell on this one. Next!

• “A great work rate” or “industrious”

You know what, this doesn’t mean what it says above in the bullet. This specifically means, “Someone who has average skill at best who just made a (tackle, pass, interception, etc.) because he was actually playing the game hard…how everyone should.”


Okay….putting this up and will update the column from the comments section.

By the way, I try not use the expression “boots” to describe “cleats” all that often. How do you play soccer in boots?

53 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/15 at 4:36 PM

    Hat’s off to Matt Mathai – that commentary really made me laugh!

    There are no easy games at international level.

    The league table doesn’t lie.

    We’re not going to get carried away, we’re taking it one game at a time.

    Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

    If he’s good enough, then he’s old enough.

    He’s got a good engine on him.

    It’s a game of two halves.

    Almost anything Christian Miles says.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/15 at 4:39 PM

      And anything with “110% effort”.


      • Posted by Faith on 2010/11/15 at 8:07 PM

        That one’s definitely a pet peeve of mine. I always remember my math-major mother ranting about it when I was little.

        “Taking it one game at a time” is ridiculous, too. What else are you going to do? Take them three or four at a time and hope for the best?


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/15 at 8:46 PM

      A blend of youth and experience.


    • Posted by slowday on 2010/11/16 at 6:59 AM

      I concur; Christian Miles is the worst. Whenever he says “on the bounce” instead of “in a row” or ” a streak of x games unbeaten” I want to “drive nails into my eardrums” or sometimes even “swallow a bullet”


  2. anything john harkes says out loud. especially identifying all american fans as “Sam’s Army”. even worse when you can see the american outlaws banner in the tv shot.


    • To piggyback on this one, and it’s something I just saw TSG ranting about recently, anytime John Harkes uses a player’s number to refer to them. First off, the reverence he says each number with insinuates that there’s a magical set of skills tied to the shirt number. In the case of a #9 and a #10, I think we’d all give him a pass. If he kept this to at least the numbers 1-11 (the old association football starting eleven for all teams all the time), we would shake our heads but could still understand the point he’s trying to make. However, he’s doing this for every number, “the number 15….”, “the number 23…”, etc.

      John – do you really think that someone chose the #23 for the World Cup roster? Really? That is usually the number reserved for the 3rd string goalkeeper or the last player added to the team.


      • Posted by Faith on 2010/11/16 at 7:26 AM

        haha, I just noticed that the other day. Some commentator (maybe him) said something about “the number 7,” and I thought, “Um…is that a thing?”


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/16 at 7:39 AM

          No. 7 is “usually” given to the right midfielder / winger. But you’re right, it’s a little insane.

          I don’t mind it when they talk about a number having a particular history for famous players. No. 7 examples include Keegan or Dalglish at Liverpool, or Best , Cantona or Beckham at United.


        • George, I would agree with the sentiments about former players who wore the number, but Harkes doesn’t use it like that. He refers to the players by their numbers with reverence the implies the number 7 is special for any team. It’s worse when he uses the non-starting eleven numbers, like 15, 18, 23, etc.


      • Posted by Jake C. on 2010/11/16 at 9:14 AM

        I honestly think he just forgets players’ names. It certainly makes him look dumber if this is the case, but it’s the simplest solution for me.


    • Oh I almost forgot, his mispronounciation of Onyewu’s last name. If he were to botch the name of someone from the Czech Republic, I could forgive him a little bit. But, Gooch plays for the US and Onyewu is not that hard to say.

      Learn your trade, man.


      • Posted by J on 2010/11/16 at 7:47 AM

        He also pronounces Cherundolo as if it begins with an “S’ instead of a “C”


        • Oh he does!!! I forgot about that. I could forgive that one somewhat because that’s close. When he says Gooch’s name, he says On-Way-Who instead of On-Yay-Wu which completely juxtaposes the letters of the man’s name.


    • Posted by Crow on 2010/11/18 at 8:37 AM

      Thank you! I thought I was the only one who noticed that. I felt like I was taking crazy pills. I was just at the game in the Meadowlands and the game in Philly. During the game in Philly, I was on TV holding an American Outlaws scarf, and John commented something like: “Always great support from Sam’s Army”


  3. Posted by Kevin on 2010/11/15 at 5:12 PM

    I find myself at times saying boots or typing it unintentionally, but this really only comes from playing fifa (ea sports) games since I was ten. In fifa, it is commonly referred to as a boot. I also use world class, but I would like to think I use it sparingly. I don’t just throw it out there because I know it means you’re one of the best players in the world or best at (fill in the blank) in the world. For instance, I might call Holden’s crossing ability world class. (I know that’s pushing it… I’m just a fan.a)


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/16 at 7:31 AM

      This really pi1sses my (American) wife off. She hates it when Americans use British slang when talking about ‘soccer’. Especially those who have spent one semester in the UK and feel that they have a legit reason to, or the ones we meet in the pub and suddenly use these terms when they realise I am English – as if I would be more impressed with them for it. Personally, I don’t really care what vocab people use as long as what they’re saying makes reasonable sense. But it is amusing seeing Mrs Cross get animated…

      For what it’s worth, the only thing that I find slightly annoying is when Americans use the term ‘wanker’. It just doesn’t sound right!


      • What about ‘tosser’? I hung out with these three Brits one summer and that was one of their favorite insults.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/16 at 10:45 AM

          Yes, but not as much. To be honest, I have lost a lot of my slang from being Stateside for 7 years. These things happen…
          Mrs Cross is not sure why these clowns think that they will garner more ‘footy’ respect or think that I will believe they are more knowledgeable by using such jargon.


      • Posted by Kevin on 2010/11/16 at 7:40 PM

        You’re not saying that im trying to sound legit or gain credibility are you?


  4. Posted by Dinho on 2010/11/15 at 6:20 PM

    That guy is “pure class”
    He is “hard as nails”
    What a “clinical finish”

    I’m sure I’ll think of more 🙂


  5. Posted by Jay on 2010/11/15 at 6:45 PM

    Can’t believe no one has mentioned this yet. Is everyone ready to slap their foreheads for missing the worst, most obvious soccer cliche?

    OK then.

    “Cheeky backheel.”

    Backheels cannot always be classified as cheeky, no matter if the words seem to emerge as conjoined twins when they pop out of the mouth of John Harkes.

    Say what you will about Ty Keough as color man back at the turn of the century, but he did much better in this example:


  6. Posted by Josh on 2010/11/15 at 9:12 PM

    Can’t forget the common description used when the game turns dirty… the game is getting a little “chippy”


  7. Posted by Faith on 2010/11/15 at 9:16 PM

    Oh! “This guy loves to score goals.” Right. Because most players just hate that.

    Also, “creating chances.” I hear that, and I think “soccer version of ‘synergy.'”


  8. Posted by slowday on 2010/11/16 at 4:27 AM

    any striker with a .5 goals per game streak in a minimum of 2 games is enjoying a “rich vein of form”


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/16 at 7:20 AM

      And the “he’s scoring goals for fun” or “he just can’t stop scoring”.


  9. Posted by Russ on 2010/11/16 at 5:32 AM

    “Cool as you’d like” – main culprit: Captain for Life.


  10. Posted by Erik the Orange on 2010/11/16 at 6:48 AM

    Thank GOD for this post!!! Holy Lord, the amount of people on ANY soccer site and/or conversation that change the way they speak (type) is maddening. “Plies their trade” is easily the worst…I actually just threw up in my mouth a little just from typing it. Although I don’t hear it from soccer fans too much, you can point to any time in any league’s season where cup ties begin to intersect league play and find either a broadcaster, a player, manager, etc. make the comment that…. “blah blah blah, we felt we deserved a point, etc etc…BUT NOW GAMES ARE COMING THICK AND FAST so we have to blah blah blah…”. Really? Thick AND fast?? Hmmm…


    • Posted by slowday on 2010/11/16 at 6:54 AM

      So the cliche “plies their trade” forces you to vomit another cliche in your mouth a little?


      • Posted by John on 2010/11/16 at 7:01 AM

        touche, but I think what’s really annoying isn’t that commentators use a familiar phrase, it’s that they use them indiscriminately to describe obviously different things, like Messi being a “beast”, or a guy who’s scored a goal or two in the past 5 games as being in a “rich vein of form”, or every ball anywhere near the box being “teasing”, despite the fact that no one was around and the keeper easilty caught it untroubled. When they use phrases like that, it’s annoying because it shows they’re either not really paying attention or they don’t know what they’re talking about. Might be a bit much to expect real insight from a commentater, but to expect him to at least get the plain facts right?

        NB: This happens in every sport, doesn’t it? TMQ likes to point out how often football (of the national football league) commentators always talk about how “the blitz” affect some play one way or the other, when there was no blitz. Etc.


      • Posted by Erik the Orange on 2010/11/16 at 7:02 AM

        Wow, ok, I guess I’ll try to censor myself a little better before posting. I just didn’t know if the word ‘vurped’ was common nomenclature.


        • Posted by J on 2010/11/16 at 7:20 AM

          don’t sweat it. we’re all guilty of cliches. the difference is that Harkes et al get paid tons of money and we expect some creativity or originality in their descriptions.


  11. If TSG put a bunch of us together in a room to call a game, with the caveat that we couldn’t use any of these cliches, what would it sound like?


  12. Posted by John on 2010/11/16 at 6:52 AM

    John Harkes can’t speak a sentence without using some canned line that makes me cringe. I particulary dislike how every single ball that goes anywhere near the box is a “teasing” one. There are many “telling” crosses too. I don’t hate Harkes, but he’s a doofus.


  13. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/11/16 at 8:34 AM

    You think Pippo Inzaghi thinks the offsides flag is cliche?


  14. Posted by Jake C. on 2010/11/16 at 10:01 AM

    Does nobody else cringe every time Harkes and other American commentators (but mostly Harkes) use the term “service” over and over and over again? I can’t help thinking of the line in role models, “I’m here to service these young boys!” What an awkward use of the word, and what an awkward number of times to use it. Ugh.


    • Posted by Faith on 2010/11/16 at 10:08 AM

      It took me forever not to giggle every time I heard that in reference to soccer. (=


      • Posted by Jake C. on 2010/11/16 at 4:17 PM

        Thank God I’m not the only immature one that posts in this forum. Thank you Faith for giving me belief in myself again.


  15. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/16 at 12:57 PM

    ‘The gaffer said to us before the game, “keep it tight early doors” to try and silence the crowd’.


  16. Posted by nelson on 2010/11/16 at 3:29 PM

    Being that boots are made of leather and so are cleats, I don´t really see a big problem there. however U2 singing put on your boots yeah is terrible.

    Concerning ¨¨beast¨ best used for Onyewu or Wilson Palcios dragging someone down.

    However beast doesn´t really have the connotation your thinking. At least for me, it just means like super awesome. Maybe it´s cause I´m in a spanish speaking country where they say bestia (beast) for anything that´s awesome.


  17. Posted by Uncle Lefty on 2010/11/16 at 6:58 PM

    Player X has ‘bottle’. Do I even want to know what that means?


  18. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/11/17 at 7:24 AM

    We will respect them, but we don’t fear them.


  19. Posted by Crow on 2010/11/18 at 8:34 AM

    I have a few observations on the game that I wanted to share. First of all, I agree that Eric Lichaj’s nastiness and agressiveness (while playing smart) is very welcome. It is uncommon to see that kind of confidence from an American player. I don’t know if itt comes from the fact that he “PLIES HIS TRADE” in Europe, or if that is just his playing style/personality.

    It was nice to see Juan Agudelo “BURST ONTO THE SCENE” but hopefully this newfound fame and attention doesn’t turn out to be a “POISONED CHALICE” for him (see Martin Rogers article from today-;_ylt=Ao6GKkk2MfH12fjzUlMZNmQmw7YF?slug=ro-agudelo111710)

    ‘Boss is a “BEAST”. Just saying. I think Gooch would even obey the Boss.

    In the dying minutes of the game, I was nervous as Mix, Lichaj, Guzan, Boss and the others were holding on to their 1-0 lead, but then I realized it could have been worse….. because we all know that a “TWO GOAL LEAD IS THE MOST DANGEROUS LEAD IN SOCCER”!!! Thank goodness we were only leading 1-0.

    If Qatar is allowed to bribe FIFA into allowing the World Cup to take place there in 2022, is there anyway Bob B can bribe FIFA into allowing him to have a “TRANSFER WAR CHEST” for the National Team. Maybe some of it could be spent on securing the services of a certain Miguel Angel Ponce, because sadly ‘Here’s Johnny” Bornstein and Spector aren’t cutting it.

    Not to be self-promoting…. but could this post possibly create a new category in the Shin Guardian Comment Hall of Fame……… “Comments that are so bad, they’re good” 🙂


  20. Posted by Craig on 2011/01/12 at 7:57 AM

    If a post is redisplayed on the main page is it acceptable to comment 2 months later? Ha.

    I disagree on the over-usage of “The two goal lead is the most dangerous lead in soccer”.

    That phrase is used across a couple of sports, namely hockey (which I somehow always come back to), and it’s very true. Take for example last night the commentator for the Caps-Panthers game saying (I paraphrase) that if the Panthers didn’t score on the 5-3 PP, while leading 2-0, the possible momentum shift back to the Caps would be substantial. The Panthers did end up scoring, and then later give up their lead to 3-3, I didn’t see the end. My point though is that goals scored during lulls in a game by the losing team can have the biggest impact on the game’s momentum no matter how they go in.

    The 2-goal lead is “dangerous” or better said a precarious position for the Manager because of momentum shift. A 1-goal lead and everyone still feels like it’s a tight game. 2-goal lead for 20+ minutes and the leading team starts to get comfortable. If they let one in in the 75th minute, those last 15 are almost always dominated by the losing team’s mad rush to tie. A 3-goal lead will typically allow the winning side to counteract the momentum swing before the 3rd goal is drawn even. I.E. substitutions, time outs, “injuries”… a quick pep talk to the Captain and game on!

    All summed up, a 2-goal lead, invites complacency in any sporting event.


  21. Posted by Lindsey on 2011/04/04 at 11:44 PM

    “the ball is round”…. well, duh.


  22. […] piece was originally conceived due to our Soccer Cliches piece thanks to the contribution of Matt […]


  23. […] piece was originally conceived due to our Soccer Cliches piece thanks to the contribution of Matt […]


  24. Posted by joe f. on 2011/11/28 at 4:17 PM

    I think this clip is relevant for comedic relief: Steve Coogan and his ’94 world cup commentary catchphrases, fast forward to 1:01:


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