Ah, footballers! Some of them can barely speak, but they provide excellent material for this blog. (Apologies to American readers: this is about what you call soccer.)
Have you noticed how they have taken to using one adjective twice for emphasis? “It’s a massive massive game.” “He’s a top top player.” No commas required, and hardly a need for a space, either: he’s not just good, but a toptop player.
Massive, of course, means very big, and there are many ways of expressing it in this context – vital, crucial, hugely important, potentially season-defining, big – but no footballer seems to feel complete until he has faced a TV camera and said massive twice. It shows he is taking it seriously. That and the assertion that he’s going to be giving it 110% or whatever mathematical impossibility he feels is sufficient.
On the other hand there is also a tendency, particularly among managers and pundits, to play things down. They do this by saying “a little bit” to dilute what could be seen as strong comments. Thus they will say that a defensive midfielder should “get stuck in a little bit”, when what they would be saying to him in private would be something like “Knock the b***ard’s head off.”
Then there is the banishing of that difficult word “consecutive”. Nasty one, this, with its four syllables likely to trip you up. Far better to say “back to back”, even if, when taken literally, this would mean they were facing in opposite directions.
Thus when they talk about “back to back fixtures against Chelsea and Arsenal” they mean those are the next two in a line of matches that, in the Pedant’s opinion, would all have been going the same way.
It’s not all shame for these people’s English teachers, though. England squads at international tournaments have been known to dare each other to incorporate certain song titles into their interviews, so if you ever wondered why Alan Shearer once mentioned 24 Hours from Tulsa when talking about a match against Denmark, that was probably the reason.
The obvious counter argument here would be that a team of language lovers would probably not fare too well in the Premier League. But then after we have done our stuff, we’re not called upon to demonstrate our ball skills, are we?
It is one of the sports fan’s little pleasures in life to find a football figure who we’ve never heard speak and who actually turns out to be articulate. The recent appearance of the former Leicester City captain Matt Elliott on BBC World’s Football Focus is a case in point. He could do it all: words of more than two syllables, coherent sentences, answering the question – everything. He was trying a bit too hard, maybe, but he probably wants a job as a regular pundit. He is certainly Champions League material in a field full of pub team players.