The English Pedant – The language of football

It would be wrong to suggest that footballers are illiterate. But it would be equally misleading to suggest that they as a whole are well educated.

The sport takes over their life from an early age, at the expense of everything else, and while you do find some who are quite articulate, their thoughts tend to be expressed in a sort of football jargon.

It’s always been like that (sick as a parrot, over the moon etc.) but since the great foreign invasion began about 10 years ago, with top players from around the globe coming to England to take the clubs’ money… I mean to test themselves against the best in the world, the language of the Premier League has become a mishmash of foreign adaptations and pure errors, which the English players don’t notice and use themselves without thinking.

Take, for example:

In a good moment. ‘We’re in a good moment’ means the team is winning, things are going well. But that expression didn’t exist in the English language in the 20th century.

Shall. Manchester United’s manager, the Dutchman Louis van Gaal, is waging a one-man battle to reintroduce the verb ‘shall’ to English. We long ago abandoned it in favour of ‘will’, which really suggests wanting to do something (free will, where there’s a will, there’s a way etc), while ‘shall’ was simply predictive. So now we say ‘We will get beaten if we defend like that again,’ when obviously we don’t want to be beaten. Nowadays in English we only use ‘shall’ in expressions like ‘Shall we do this?’ In Dutch they still have ‘zal’, meaning shall, and ‘wil’ meaning will, and they use them appropriately.

Van Gaal
He’s dour, he’s Dutch, and he says “shall” too much. Louis Van Gaal is pretty good at English, though

Get beat. While we’re on the subject, getting ‘beaten’ is being abandoned in favour of getting ‘beat’. Sounds suspiciously like an Americanism, although there aren’t enough Yanks playing football here to have an influence.

On the other hand…

Offense. ‘Attack’, the English word for going forward, trying to score, is being challenged by ‘offense’, so that when someone talks about playing offensively, they don’t mean running with two fingers raised, questioning their opponent’s parentage. And note that the American offense has an s instead of a c. How long before that spelling infiltrates our dictionaries?

Normal. It’s an ordinary word that can cover a multitude of situations. But rather than learn the adjectives that are traditionally used, your imported player just uses this catch-all one. So when the other team came back harder in the second half because they were a goal down, when the English option would have been something like ‘that’s what you would expect’, Johnny Foreigner opts for ‘that’s normal’. Nothing wrong with that – it’s just an observation.

Chelsea’s Diego Costa may want to learn the English expression “That b***ard tore my shirt”

But it’s not just the foreign influence. Here are two that we are inflicting on ourselves.

Defeat to. ‘City have struggled away from home since their defeat to Stoke.’ Ladies and gentlemen, we are defeated by somebody, not to them.

Tour to. Fair enough, you go to America on tour. But once there, you are on tour in America, or on a tour of America. You’re not on a tour to America.

This is not rocket science. It is not difficult. Nor, admittedly, is it desperately important. Just watch all these things creep into British English and know where they came from.

Ref! Diego Costa

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.


That’s right, Dave, I did Bournemouth-Sunderland on Saturday. I tell you what, although a referee can’t afford to get emotionally involved, we’re only football fans like anyone else. There can’t be many people in England who don’t want Bournemouth to survive in the Premier League, because it seems like a nice little club from an area that doesn’t get much credit football-wise.

The old thing about Southern Softies – just because your Dad wasn’t down a coal mine eight days a week and you’ve got a nice beach to play on and the weather’s a bit warmer, that doesn’t mean you’re any less dedicated. Yes, I speak as a Surrey man, nothing wrong with that.

And on this occasion you had the complete opposite as the opposition. Sunderland, where hardship is worn like a badge of honour, it’s all “we had to eat earwax sandwiches” and the club’s struggling and changing managers every five minutes but they’ve got a glorious history if you go back far enough. So you want them to do okay as well.

But as a ref you keep out of the way as much as possible, We’re, to use the modern parlance, facilitators. What that means, Baz, is that we facilitate the match – we provide the framework, the rules, the schedule – that enables the match to be played. It’s one of those contemporary words that many people think are bollocks, but one has to rise above that and just do the job.

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a large Scotch. I’ll get the large if you get the Scotch – no, it’s just what I feel like having, it’s not that’s I’m desperate to catch up just because I was half an hour late. I had a couple at home, as it happens.

See, that’s the challenge, and it’s what Mike Dean fell foul of in the Chelsea-Arsenal game. He got the blame in some quarters – Garth Crooks, to be precise – for becoming visible, if you like. He sent off two Arsenal players when the one who should have gone was Diego Costa. He’s a bleeding troublemaker, everyone knows that, but the referee can only give what he sees, and Costa does most of his mischief off the ball, when you’re following the action. So all you know is when the defender finally gets pissed off with it and lamps him one.

Like at home when the missus has been needling you in her subtle, underhand way that doesn’t break any of the rules of domestic interaction. She just quietly picks away at you until finally you might erupt and call her a fat cow or something. We’ve all done it.

Mike did what he thought was right based on what he saw, and I don’t agree that he was making himself the centre of attention. But you are anyway, that’s the trouble. I get home after a game and Yvonne’s daughter, Kellie – 16 now, Dave, why? – she’s noticed my performance and is very complimentary. What can you do? She’s a perceptive girl, takes after her Mum.