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With the 2018 FIFA World Cup happening right now, football is the subject of conversations worldwide. Every nation has its own expressions and you don’t have to be a passionate football fan to understand them.
Some football idioms have become part of everyday language, although not everyone knows that they originated on the football pitch.
Let’s take a look at some of the common expressions that are well known in some countries:
Opinions on the history of football in Germany vary, but the most common conception is that it was first played on German ground in 1874, when the German teacher Konrad Koch introduced the game after a visit to England.
Immer am Ball bleiben – translates literally as ‘stick to the ball’. This sentence is used frequently to encourage someone to not give up. For example, if you tell your friends that you didn’t get the job you were hoping for, they might say “Immer am Ball bleiben!” Originally, this idiom describes the advantage of ball possession during the match.
Halt den Ball flach – translates literally as ‘keep the ball low’. This is used to warn someone to be cautious. If someone has overly high and unrealistic standards or expectations, they may be told, “Halt den Ball flach!” In play keeping the ball low gives more skilful and proficient ball control.
Schland – this is an abbreviation for Deutschland (Germany) and, therefore, is difficult to translate. The word is mainly used during the World Cup or the European Championship and it stands for the party mood combined with patriotism during championships. It usually goes hand-in-hand with the public display of a German flag.
Former German TV-host Stefan Raab is the official originator and patent holder of the term. He first used it during the 2002 World Cup, but it only gained nationwide popularity during subsequent World Cups. A journalist described ‘Schland’ as ‘collective national euphoria during major football events’.
Es müllert wieder – translates literally as “it muellers again”, what probably doesn’t make any more sense to non-German speakers than the original expression. That’s because ‘müllert’ is derived from the name of German national player, Thomas Müller. He has a unique style of play with unexpected moves and manages to find solutions, even if it seems impossible. Whenever he scores a goal, fans say “es müllert wieder”.
As home to the worldwide first football club Sheffield FC formed in 1843, England is commonly known as the motherland of football.
Being on the ball – the terminology is close to the German expression “am Ball bleiben” but this has a different meaning. It means being fully aware of everything that is going on around you. The expression originates in the players following the ball with their eyes, so they’re prepared when it is passed to them.
Handbags – this describes a harmless fight between two or more players. The use of this term refers to a woman’s handbag implies that the players fight like women, i.e. it is not serious or dangerous. While it’s strictly ‘PC’ (politically correct) or not, it is frequently used by English sports commentators to trivialise spats on the field.
Christmas tree – this is a defensive formation, otherwise known as 4-3-2-1 (four defenders – three central midfielders – two attacking midfielders – one striker). This formation got its name because of its shape: from an aerial view, it looks like a Christmas tree.
Howler – a word that is frequently shouted by English spectators at football games. It is used for someone making silly and, in the eyes of the spectators, maybe also amusing mistakes.
Some football related terms have found their way into daily use on an international basis.
Yellow/Red Card (EN) – Gelbe/Rote Karte (DE)
Showing a player a yellow card means giving a warning, a red card means a sending-off. In a non-sports environment, the cards are usually not shown, but is used as a verbal warning. Colloquially, a yellow card is an informal warning and a red card signifies that a border was crossed.
Half-time (EN) – Halbzeit (DE)
When half the game is over the players take a break. This is applied in all kinds of situations – in the workplace and socially, when a break is called for.
To score an own goal (EN) – Ein Eigentor schießen (DE)
It’s often used if someone takes an action that actually has the opposite effect to what is required.
Game plan (EN) – Spielplan/Schlachtplan (DE)
The coach shares a game plan with the team before a match – it is a tactical approach to the game with the intention to win. In a non-sports context, any plan with a set goal is also referred to as game plan.
Football has supplanted hockey as Russia’s most popular sport.
гол в раздевалку (gol w rasdewalku) – translates as ‘goal in the changing room’. This expression is used for a goal that is scored in the last minutes of the first half-time, almost in time which is normally spent in the changing room – but the goal is of course still valid.
бабочка (babotschka) – translates as ‘butterfly’. This is used when the goalkeeper jumps to stop the ball, but fails and lets it in.
судью на мыло (Sudyu na mylo) – translates as ‘Make soap out of the ref!’ The expression dates back to Soviet Russia, where some stray dogs were culled and their fat was processed into soap. It was barbaric and is now applied to a referee who treats one team better than the other.
фуТбол (futból) – the Russian translation of the game football. Several words from everyday life stem from this word, such as ФУТБОЛКА (futbólka), the Russian term for T-shirt. This is because the football players in the 1920s were the first Russians to wear T-Shirts during their matches.
Every country has their own idiomatic expressions, so this list could go on forever. The country-specific terms or expressions show that despite the rivalry, football and its language connects people worldwide.