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A game of two cliches

Steve Wilson | 11:09 UK time, Friday, 6 February 2009

Having just sat down and watched Match of the Day 2 from Sunday night again, a question occurs, which hopefully someone might be able to answer.

In his analysis of the Newcastle v Sunderland game, Alan Hansen described it as a match in which "no quarter was asked". Al actually didn't get as far as completing the familiar phrase, but it is so well known the shorthand version would do.

But do we really know what the phrase means? I don't. I know it is a phrase used to describe the kind of match in which two sides display even greater than usual commitment, but how did it end up meaning that? What is a quarter in this context?

A quarter of Midget Gems may be neither asked for nor given down at your local sweet shop, but how has this expression become associated with football , and does it apply to other sports where there are quarters? American Football, for example?

Are there other football-related phrases which seem meaningless on the face of it but which everybody understands to mean the same thing?

There is a great book called the Football Lexicon by Leigh and Woodhouse - but quarters, whether they are asked for or given or not, don't get a mention.

As a commentator, I find the language of football pretty interesting and consciously try not to resort to cliché, though sometimes "Oh, what a goal!" just comes out of your mouth before you have the chance to stop it! Actually, sometimes the goal is so good there is not much else to say about it.

One colleague of mine often uses the expression "if my memory serves me correct" when what he actually means is "if my eyesight has not let me down". The reality is that the fact, whatever it may be, is written in front of him in his notes.

One radio commentator frequently says "it goes a long way" when the ball flashes into the penalty area, which, I reckon, is a time-buying device. It gives him a split second to establish exactly who has done what in the subsequent melee.

I would be very interested to know if I use any similar verbal ticks without realising it. As for the old "no quarter asked or given" question, any explanations out there?


Page 1 of 3

  • Comment number 1.

    Quarter is an old word for mercy (according to the Webster dictionary, "mercy granted to a surrendering foe." A defeated army might have to surrender, but they did not have to ask for or accept mercy ("cry for quarter"); it would have been a show of bravery and pride to accept whatever harsh treatment the enemy then meted out. This saying is found on very old military reports in reference to captured prisoners.

  • Comment number 2.

    So therefore in the footballing context it means that there was no mercy, shown or given, by either side

  • Comment number 3.

    There's a good attempt at explaining it here:

  • Comment number 4.

    good explanation from post No.1,but i thought this was a well known phrase and not only used in a footballing context. I'm kind of suprised that you're not sure where it originates from

  • Comment number 5.

    How is "what a goal!" a cliche? To me that is just expressing an opinion.

    Lines like Slide Rule Pass, Threaded Ball and Cross-Come-Shot are football cliches.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think alot of phrases that we understand as cliches have a services background or from Shakespeare and we just don't know it.

    Brass monkey weather and a pound of flesh respectively, though I appreciate these aren't necessarily just restricted to sport.

  • Comment number 7.

    Yeah, as previous posters said it means mercy. Compare the folk song, High Barbaree:

    Oh quarter oh quarter the pirates then did cry
    Blow high blow low and so sailed we
    No quarter will we give you but to sink you in the sea
    A-sailing all along the coast of high barbaree

    Which is pretty much the sentiment Alan Hansen was eruditely referrring to...

  • Comment number 8.

    There is a Led Zeppelin song called No Quarter. Something to do with mercy being shown/ not shown by armies years ago.

  • Comment number 9.

    Pretty shmabolic you did not know what that meant. It is not exactly a saying lost in the mists of time. C- must try harder.

  • Comment number 10.

    What the &%$% does "a yard quicker " mean. It's one we hear often but it has no sense without context.

    The most annoying is not exactly cliché but when commentators just recite what others say - "Drogba and Anelka / Gerrard and Lampard can't play together" being an obvious one.

    And how many times this season have we heard "Arsenal are not playing their usual free flowing football". Maybe their free-flowing football is not so usual after all!

    What about a relegation dogfight. Are there dogfighting leagues with promotions and relegations somewhere?

    Still, it was a game of two halves, the boy done good and we are glad to come away with a point.

  • Comment number 11.

    Before being sacked by ITV for "that incident", Ron Atkinson would regularly come out with baffling phrases to describe footballing action.

    You can find them at website.

    I don't know of any commentator or summarizer since that has used such bizarre phrases.

  • Comment number 12.

    #9 Why are you marking his blog as though you're a teacher? I wouldn't be surprised if you're the same guy who marked Robbos blog, it's just pathetic, we're all human and just because one person knows something doesn't mean we all should do.

  • Comment number 13.

    in this current weather a few people might be saying brass monkey related cliques. this referes to the equipment used to hold canon balls on old ships and when it went below a certain temprature the canon balls would fall off, hence the expression "freeze the balls of a brass monkey"
    back on topic i cant think of you over using any clique on MOTD and both my wife and i think you are the best comentator on the program along with Motty. keep up the good work

  • Comment number 14.

    Do you get paid for writing this Steve..?

  • Comment number 15.

    It always makes me chuckle when a commentator says, "The ball dipped at the last minute".

    The last minute? What - in the two seconds between it leaving the player's boot and hitting the back of the net?

    Football seems to have a language to itself, sometimes it doesn't make perfect sense but that's okay, we know what you're on about.

  • Comment number 16.

    "If a Brazilian had done that, we'd all be raving about it."

  • Comment number 17.

    common phrase I notice is typically in reference to a shot going wide or a heavily weighted pass, "it was always going wide" or "he was never going to reach that." Being an american supporter at first I thought this was a funny unique way to say the shot is wide or the pass is too long but now it is just annoying.

  • Comment number 18.

    Yeah, in a field, somewhere in Hampshire.

  • Comment number 19.

    There is one phrase that makes me shout at the radio when football commentary is on.

    Radio 5 Live commentators are always saying "[Insert team name here] are playing from left to right".

    They're on the radio!!! Even if you do happen to know the ground, you don't know where the commentators are so it doesn't help.

  • Comment number 20.


    I found Ron to be an entertaining commentator, certainly more so than Jim Beglin for example.

    It's just a shame he was somewhat naive about the affect of his language, and remained so even after a visit to people who would be on the negative end of similar comments!

  • Comment number 21.

    I've always what on eearth it means for a team to be "at sixes and sevens". I know it means they are all over the place but where does it come from?

    From my knowledge, a six and a seven are right next to each when counting, not all over the place...

  • Comment number 22.

    A couple of other cliches you only hear in relation to football.

    "he can still do a job for us" which is usually used when an older play signs for a club towards the end of his career but frankly sounds like there are some low expectations

    "we hope to get something ot of the game" which means we really hope we can scrape a draw!

  • Comment number 23.

    "Crucial first 20 minutes"

    "The first goal will be crucial"

    Switching sports;

    "Crucial first 10 overs"

    "Crucial last half hour of play"

    and into politics;

    "Crucial first 100 days" (Obama.)

  • Comment number 24.

    Am I alone in hating over-done commentary and then tiresome, repetitive 'analysis' ? Do we need several people to talk about a game we have seen with our own eyes ?
    Doesn't the football or snooker speak for itself ? As for cliches and abuse of the English language by 'experts '....well...BBC, ITV and Sky could do worse than give commentators a refresher grammar course ( e.g. what is an adverb, an adjective etc. ).
    Like many others, I record matches , ignore all of the yakkity-yak and watch only the football...with the sound turned down.
    Finally, times are hard for ordinary folk and it is a slap in the face to see several blokes ( ok, I know about Gabby Logan ) being handsomely paid to merely talk about football. Get real .

  • Comment number 25.

    Winning manager's interview at full time;

    "Alex, Arsene, Rafa, Martin, David......are you happy with the 3 points?"

    They never say no..........

  • Comment number 26.

    I think what is most disturbing about this post is that it's a perfect example of why people use cliches -- mainly because they're too lazy to find a better word or expression. In this case, Mr. Wilson asks us, his readers, to uncover the origin of "to give no quarter." Why doesn't he have interest in the language he uses to earn his living to Google the phrase, or -- perish the thought -- pick up a book and divine its meaning?

  • Comment number 27.

    That ronglish website is freakin hilarious

    ""Tell You What"...Be warned that this landmark phrase can signal the beginning of an extended tirade of pure Ronglish."

    Comedy gold

  • Comment number 28.

    And they asked No Quarter...

    Led Zeppelin song, I assume it refers to 'mercy' as explained by post one.
    Would fit with the lyrics of the song.

  • Comment number 29.

    Thanks for all your erudite replies! Perhaps as an English Language and Literature graduate I should have known that "quarter" meant "mercy" but, to may shame, I did not.

    Thanks also for the explanation of brass monkey, excellent!

    #13 oke2008 - appreciate your comment.

    #14 prestonSpurs - no i do not, your licence fee is safe!

    #19 neilh8 - as a former radio commentator I can tell you that if you did not say that you would be inundated with complaints! Some listeners evidently like to create a mental image of what they are hearing - it is all part of what Peter Jones the late great football commentator called "painting pcitures".

    #21 AndySymes - "at sixes and sevens" - I refer to the Football Lexicon I mention above - this apparently relates to an expression used by City of London Livery Companies squabbling over their places in the Lord Mayor's parade.

    #26 pab1953 - I posted the subject because I thought it might spark an intesting discussion beyond just banging on about who has signed who and so on.

    In fact it has done exactly that, if you don't wish to take part then don't. I repeat that I am not paid for doing the blog, I do it because I enjoy it ---- most of the time.

  • Comment number 30.

    sorry about the typos above - reply in haste repent at leisure.

  • Comment number 31.

    This is ever so slightly off topic, but you'll understand where I'm coming from, I hope:

    In Ireland we have a commentator called Micheal O Muircheartaigh for Gaelic Games, who doesn't exactly resort to cliche's, but rather creates entire works of prose whilst delivering play by play commentary; a classic example being:

    "Pat Fox has it on his hurl and is motoring well now ... but here comes Joe Rabbitte hot on his tail ...... I've seen it all now, a Rabbitte chasing a Fox around Croke Park!"

    (more can be found on his wikipedia page)

    The man is a national icon and rightly so, known as the Voice of Gaelic Games. Granted that the more local nature of Irish sport allows for a more intimate commentary, but still, wouldn't it be great if the Beeb could have their commentators go off into their own little world whilst keeping us all well informed on the action!?

  • Comment number 32.

    Thanks for the "sixes and sevens" clarification, Steve. It's one that's always puzzled me and I've found many an explanation but they usually regard risk, not disorganisation.

  • Comment number 33.

    "To be honest" - if they don't say that first are they lying ?
    And why are defenders always described as "big" ? eg Big John Terry , Big Rio etc.
    Another strange saying is "a must win game" - do you play some games you don't have to win ?

  • Comment number 34.

    to #10 - relegation dogfight is another military reference. The airforce were involved in dogfights which are basically plane vs plane and all but every man for himself.

    I must admit I like football language! Although it seems I may be a minority...

    "Always going wide" is a good one, always puts me in mind of "couldn't hit a cow's rump with a banjo" for the more PC commentators...

  • Comment number 35.

    "6 pointer" is always used too especially when relating to relegation (spot the Leeds fan! haha!) - the fact that you only get 3 points for winning doesn't seem to stop it being used end of every season over and over! And yes, I know its because you get 3 and it stops your rival getting 3, but meh

  • Comment number 36.

    "it was going in as soon as it left his boot"

    Like Mr Cech or Mr Friedel wouldn't have anything to say about it?

  • Comment number 37.

    Why do all pundits use the term "for me"...?

  • Comment number 38.

    The cliche that drives me to distraction is when a commentator says after a slightly unusual set-piece, "That's one from the training ground". Where the hell else do you think they practised it?

  • Comment number 39.

    "Six of one, half a dozen of the other...."
    "it was handbags..."

  • Comment number 40.

    Im not so bothered about the use of cliches in football, its the awful puns that football journalists come up with that bug me.

    One that always sticks in my head, after pennant had given liverpool the lead against chelsea a few years back the sky caption at half time said "Jermaine Man".

  • Comment number 41.

    My most annoying point is when 'keepers punch or palm a ball wide for a corner, or back out into play, and the commentator , obviously bereft of anything sensible to say, comes out with "What a great save!"

    It is obvious to anyone with eyes in their head that the ball had NOT,in fact, been saved-ie the 'keeper had a hold of it.

    Time after time, during the course of a game, commentators make the same, or similar comments, and I find it v annoying.

  • Comment number 42.

    The one I hate the most is "absolutely top drawer".

    But maybe that's just because Andy Gray says it, and he's an idiot.

  • Comment number 43.

    Also, anything where the player is referred to as "son"...again this seems to be Gray's speciality.

  • Comment number 44.

    archie mcpherson


  • Comment number 45.

    What the hell is "the rub of the green" and a"stonewall " penalty, ?!?!

  • Comment number 46.

    One of my favourites is when a pundit is talking about the league and refers to "the so-called big four".

    Alan Brazil did so the other day on the radio, but got slightly mixed up, and said "the so-called top four".

  • Comment number 47.

    I find the use of cliches far less annoying than pieces of writing like this where even some basic research would have answered any questions you might have had. The fact you're in a position to write for such a large audience and don't understand the meaning of words - that are not so archaic as you make them seem - is shocking.

  • Comment number 48.

    What about Jamie Redknapp and his over use of the word 'literally'.

    I literally want to throttle him!

  • Comment number 49.

    Do I really subsidise this site with my license fee to read nonsense like this? What on earth did you think quarter was? A measurement? Seriously, you need some further education.

  • Comment number 50.

    Its good to get a fresh set of vocals on the commentary.
    Please avoid 'fresh legs' and any over analysis or meaningless stat like
    'If my memory serve me right - thats the only the fourth time a one-eyed centre back with red hair has scored the winner in the FA cup semi final.

  • Comment number 51.

    In response to post 21:

    If someone is at sixes and sevens then they are in a quandary; they don't quite know what to do next. The saying originates from a situation in 1327 and relates to the Guilds of Tradesmen in the City of London. The Merchant Taylors and the Skinners were founded within a few days of each other, five other Guilds having already received their charters. The age of each Guild dictated its position in the Lord Mayor's procession. The Merchant Taylors and the Skinners argued for fifty years as to which should go sixth in the procession. In the end, in 1494, Sir Robert Billesden, the current Lord Mayor, decreed that they should take it in turns to go sixth and seventh.
    An alternative explanation that the saying has something to do with throwing dice is much less likely, and far less romantic.

  • Comment number 52.

    good blog steve, and yes it has sparked off decent debate. its just a shame there are some out there who are overly critical.

    on the cliche front, you often hear that the defending team must 'win the second ball'. Its quality that we can all nod our heads in agreement upon hearing these phrases however!

  • Comment number 53.

    I get tired of hearing the inanae chatter from the likes of John Motson and David Pleat who not only bore us to tears with drivel but constantly use the term ebb and flow

  • Comment number 54.

    #19, seriously? It doesn't matter where in the stand the commentators are, they are letting you know how the action will be relayed from their perspective.

  • Comment number 55.

    Funniest bit of commentary by Motson, a couple of years ago during a particularly boring England friendly as I recall....

    "Eriksson adjusting his glasses there....[long pause]....his spectacles".

  • Comment number 56.

    The cliche that all commentators seem to use is that of describing tackles as 'challenges'.
    When did a tackle become a 'challenge'? The word tackle is in the Laws of the Game. So why not use it?
    Is it the fad with using 'nice sounding' words to describe things? Like passed away for died.
    If it is a tackle call it that. Two players jumping to head the ball - fair enough to call that a challenge if you wish.

  • Comment number 57.

    thanks you bringing to mind Andy Gray. the one thing that ruins FIFA '09 "open your top draw and pop that one in"!!!! WHAT

    all said and done (pun intended) John Madden of NFL fame is the worst for cliques

  • Comment number 58.

    The 'corridor of uncertainty' and/or the 'mixer' are two particular favourites of mine, even though the former was stolen from cricket

  • Comment number 59.


    The phrase apparently refers to civic parades in the old days. Everybody had to line up in order of seniority. When two people dis agreed about the order and resorted to squabbling, this was referred to "being at sixes and sevens".

    Also, in the days of Robin Hood, when chaps would fight with quarter-staffs. Holding a quarter-staff meant one hand at the mid-point and the other between there and the end. A quarter-staff is a pole rather like a Boy Scout's staff. There is not a lot you can do with two hands, but it can become more effective one-handed, ie no quarter.

    In games played where the slope of the pitch can have an effect, they toss for ends and play a half each way. Therefore "a level playing-field" is a meaningless cliche.

  • Comment number 60.

    # 33: I have NEVER heard Rio Ferdinand referred to as "Big Rio"!

    I am assuming #49 is on a wind-up. If not, I really pity you...

    #45: The 'stonewall' penalty - absolutely annoys me too, especially the various versions of it - stonecold penalty, stonewall penalty....

    One that I havent heard for a while - educated foot - as in "that lad, he's spraying the ball around the park with his educated left foot"

    Personally, I love football cliches! It's quite funny the way pundits and commentators can completely murder the English language to describe a game of football...

    Great article!

  • Comment number 61.

    Rub of the green puts me in mind of lawn bowls where the way the grass is lying will affect the way your ball rolls... snooker too with the baize!

  • Comment number 62.

    you're a football writer! how can you not know what quarter means? i thought shakespeare got forced down everyone's throats... obviously not. and 'if my memory serves me correctly" means 'my eyes are working'? HOW??? it means if i remember correctly, not 'i think i just saw that' - so is he wrong, or you? why have you just written a blog to tell us you can't write? SORT IT OUT

  • Comment number 63.

    A cliche I can't stand is "two minuties of time" - as if there were two minutes of place, two minutes of dimension, etc and it needed to be qualified by saying two minuties of time. Just two minutes will do, especially as a journalist you need to speak in soundbites, more so towards the end of the match.
    Also, sometimes commentators shift allegiances so quickly - a dominant team might have had 10 attempts and plenty of posession, and the other team one shot from which they socre, and yet as soon as they score, the commentator claims it was always clear who would score first, and how the team with one chance deserved something out of the game!

  • Comment number 64.

    "He finished that with great aplomb" - now forgive me for questioning the intellect of the regular commentator here, but if you can find one commentator who actually knows what 'aplomb' means, i'll ... well, I'll, just.

    However, if you want to hear real 'guff' commentating, there is nobody to surpass good old Sid Wadell on the darts - he needs to see a Harley street specialist the amount of utter bilge that comes out of him

  • Comment number 65.

    Jim Beglin always annoys me with his cliches. His favourites are

    "that was meat and drink for the goalkeeper"

    and whenever a player heads the ball down, and it bounces over the bar

    "well as a young lad your always told to head the ball down"

  • Comment number 66.

    "He headed it too well"

    When someone gets too much on his header and heads it wide.

  • Comment number 67.

    Five minutes on Google would ahve found you the answers to your questions. I believe the technique is called research, you and your colleagues might like to try it some time as the inane and inaccurate nonsense that you lot spew forth every weekend is so tiresome that I watch with the sound off.

  • Comment number 68.

    people on this discussion need to stop calling them 'cliques'.

  • Comment number 69.

    I was watching a match on the internet the other night with just the commentator. It seemed very strange, almost eerie. I concluded that I preferred the now standard arrangement of a commentator plus an analyst. Dependent on the quality of both however.

    My preferred analyst is David Pleat. I consider him to be to be concise and informative and essentially honest and impartial. Sadly however too many of the commentators like the sound of their own voice and rather stick to the commentary of the match want to impress with a raft of superflous and unnecessary chat, information and statistics. Basically BORING.

    Worst offenders being, er, all of them. One of the worst was ( much improved ) Clive Tyldesley. He used to think of himself as a bit of a Jack Dee stand up at one time I think. Always the droll, as he thought, comment. Just the commentary Clive, forget the jokes.

    But cliches? Football is full of them.

    Every game is now MASSIVE. And - ' he will be disappointed with that '. Meaning, ' what a plonker - how on earth did a highly paid pro miss a sitter like that ?'

    The least said about the BBC pundits the better. More like the ' old boys' club.

    But not confined to football, my most irritating cliche is ' in the mix '.

    And delusional managers.' We would have won 3-0, (after losing 5-0 ) if we had defended better '. Really? So whose fault is that then? And ' We are looking for a result'. I though every game ended in a result? And solid defending has now become 'parking the bus in front of goal'.

    But then those in and connected with football have never exactly been University graduates in English grammar have they?

  • Comment number 70.

    @ 37.

    I blame David Beckham for the rise and rise of 'for me'. I'm sure it was hardly ever heard until he went to Real Madrid. Spanish people say 'para mi' a lot and this translation seems to have crept in to beckham's lexicon and now everyone else in football.

    For me, lawro is the werst offender (by the way).

  • Comment number 71.

    Yes Steve how DARE you spark conversation on a blog by asking questions instead of just looking them up?

    It seems quite simple to me - if you don't like the topic stop wasting your time reading and then replying to it. Go and make youself feel superior somewhere else.

    Personally I think David Pleat has a tendancy to talk complete rubbish (no offence intended) or to state the bleeding obvious.

    I love most cliches (game of two halves etc), having its own language makes football unique and I think is part of the reason many people love it.

    I also would love to know where 'stonewall penalty comes from though. Any ideas anyone?

  • Comment number 72.

    skilful black players are always termed 'unpredictable', but surely if their always unpredictable doesn't that make them predictable?

  • Comment number 73.

    Good commentator? Barry Davies.

    Worst cliche. ' At this moment in time'. You mean this moment can occur outside of time and/or a moment isn't connected with time?

    What is meant of course is, ' at this moment ' or ' at this time '.

    Perhaps a very bad cliche should be described as a Kinnearism?

  • Comment number 74.

    Some of the criticisms on here are incredible.

    Of course Steve could have researched it if he wanted to, but he was posting it as a topic for people to discuss and debate. Some of the patronising responses will probably make him think twice about doing that in the future.

    Give the commentators a break. We all have our favourites and ones that we don't like. But believe me as somebody who did a little bit of radio commentary a few years ago - it is very difficult. It's not always possible to analyse and prepare everything perfectly, you just have to react to what goes on in the game. You have a split second to come up with an explanation.

    I personally think the standard on the BBC is pretty good, some of the Five Live guys are especially excellent.

    And I generally enjoy Steve's blogs. But if I don't I just move on. I don't here and pretend to be some great scholar and criticise him.

    Some people just love to moan.

  • Comment number 75.

    I can't understand why there are so many people complaining about this blog and the apparent lack of commentators education.

    How boring would this blog have been if Steve Wilson simply put; "I always wondered what 'no quarter asked or given meant', but I went on Google and found out and now I know."

    I can also pretty much guarantee that there are phrases and words in usage that people will not have heard before, and as such not know the definition.

    Personally I thought this was an interesting blog, and I've learnt some things from it and also re-affirmed knowledge

  • Comment number 76.

    I think #67 might be off his meds, sorry Steve on his behalf!

    Sparking a debate and asking questions to give your readership a chance to show their own knowledge is a million times better than google-ing the answer so leave the stroppy lad to spit his dummy. Probably bored at home unable to get to school due to the snow so has no other children to validate his existance by laughing at his disruptive influence.

    Phew, that took some typing! *gets down off soapbox*

    Either way, top one Steve. Nothing wrong with giving some of us who have loads of useless facts and knowledge to share a chance to share them!

  • Comment number 77.

    Nice article Steve - refreshing and different and debate-stimulating - all articles should be!

    I always love the descriptions of turf-skimmers/daisey cutter balls - Sean Lock did an excellent piece on other terms that could be used such as 'worm murder/groundy-rolly-goal/molescuffer'! Although you don't tend to hear them that often recently.

    Another one for me is 'the shot cannons back of the WOODWORK'? Please clarify for me, as I may be just a little wanting for knowledge in this relatively niche area but, are the goals actually made of wood (still)? Surely not with the amount of relative flexibility in the crossbar from a thumping drive; 'the crossbar is still shaking from that effort'? Presumed they were reinforced plastic/metal composite? (Somewhat piccy, but it's something that I'm wondering about now).

    One that I don't really like, but is massively subjective dependent upon your taste preference is; 'that's an absolute PEACH of a goal.' Peaches are okay, don't get me wrong - but they're probably not most peoples favourites? Maybe they are - I dunno! :)

    Also, references to 'SWEEPING balls' - are we watching Fantasia here? Not sure the balls actually clean/collect/clear anything along their route. :)

    On the whole though, I like the cliches. As long as they are not too overly used - I agree cetain commentators stick to them more than others and it can be frustrating - but on the whole it gives the game and the commentary a certain level of character that would be a shame to miss out on. Particularly in the age where comparatively prohibitive television rights for 3:00pm games means so many people rely on radio commentary, such occasional use of cliches can bring an otherwise drab game to life or make you wonder how eccentric/random can one commentator be (ahem - Stuart Hall - so unique!).

    Before I cease the tangential raving...can anyone tell me where 'Derby' comes from - as in, 'the North London Derby' this weekend? Obviously I am aware of the horse race (its only 2 miles from me) but looking at dictionary definitions they seem to link either to that horse race OR to a felt, stiff brimmed hat?! Unless this was something to do with the period of the origin of the word to mean a game where lots of people would turn out (and the average person would therefore wear a ''derby'? Can anyone help here?

  • Comment number 78.

    Commentary wise we have a big disagreement in my house every time the snooker is on... I quite enjoy the musings of Virgo, Taylor, Thorne and Griffiths but the wife hates them. In particular she thinks John Virgo never talks anything but total poop-deck (the way we swear around our young daughter!)

    Just the way it is I guess, some people think it enhances a game having an insight and observations from respected former pro's, some people should just mute the TV or give me back the remote and go make my coffee! Who's with me? hahaha

  • Comment number 79.

    #77 - some excellent ones in there! Woodwork is from the fact that goals used to made of wood I would guess, but then you had probably guessed that yourself. But sweeping ball is grand and PEACH is fantastic! Anyone any idea's on that one? Also pearler is used (although a lot more at parks level where I am) and I don't have a jar'o'glue about that one either!

  • Comment number 80.

    Nice one Steve; light the touch-paper and stand well back

  • Comment number 81.


    Cheers - the whole 'blue touch paper' thing was the other I was going to mention but forgot!

    What is that all about? Think I heard an explanation way back don't remember it - although I'm sure if someone comes up with the same explanation I'd remember it!



    Cheers too! :)


  • Comment number 82.

    Headed goals always seem to fall into two categories: bullet or glancing. I used to hate this, but I find a bizarre pleasure in hearing the phrases trotted out.

  • Comment number 83.

    RE: #77

    Quite a few old footballing expressions have held out since the early days.

    I still hear and read reporters who use the expression "turned on a sixpence", and, of course, since we went metric, should we really be referring to the game as having a six-yard box etc etc.

    Just to digress slightly from English expressions that have gone on to become football expressions, are there many that BEGAN in football and are now used in every day life? I understand "Back to Square One" stems from football radio commentary.

    To end, I dabbled with radio journalism twice in the Chasetown FA Cup run of 2005. I was reporting for Radio WM for the Chasetown v Blyth Spartans replay and I was so excited at Chasetown's winner through Karl Edwards that I said, "The cross came from the left wing, I have no idea who from, and, frankly, I don't care!" :)

  • Comment number 84.

    72. At 4:15pm on 06 Feb 2009, jay842 wrote:
    skilful black players are always termed 'unpredictable', but surely if their always unpredictable doesn't that make them predictable?


    Can we then agree (or agree to disagree) that these skilful black players you speak of are 'predictably unpredictable'?
    I actually hadn't noticed that they are 'always' given this description, but I daresay you're right about this.

  • Comment number 85.

    "Nice one Steve; light the touch-paper and stand well back"

    OR, expose your ignorance asking a question an english lit graduate should be able to answer in his sleep...

    this is ridiculous! one of the staple phrases of football commentary, and the guy has no idea what it means - and devotes a whole column to asking it...

    that said - these phrases are to the enrichment of all commentary. they turn it from a description into a language far more potent and descriptive than if would be otherwise. 'breaks/rides the tackle' is a lovely phrase. as is 'goalmouth scramble' - alliterative and conjures up the image perfectly.

    for all that, the commentators need to have a grasp and understanding of the language they speak.

  • Comment number 86.

    Re: #24 - you are not alone. If you watch some of the older sports TV coverage, you'll notice that the commentators said a lot less back then than they do now because the action spoke for itself. I think Richie Benaud said that this was one of his golden rules - sometimes less is more. I wish that more TV commentators these days followed that advice.

    As for #78, I agree with your wife about John Virgo!

  • Comment number 87.

    Not really a cliche but the use of the superlative when there are only two teams playing I find incredibly irritating.

    This is not confined to football commentators, you are likely to hear it in almost all sports.

    Are they simply ignorant or just lazy?

  • Comment number 88.

    'Slide rule pass' - now don't get me wrong, but when was the last time you saw one of them?, and the footballers of today are surely too young to have ever seen one. Should update it to a "Casio N50 calculator function 15 pass"

    "He cut through the defence like a knife through butter" - now pardon me, but I keep my butter in the fridge and there ain't nothing that the commentator says that could be more wrong than that one.

    and what about, 'turn on a sixpence' - turn on the light or the kettle yes, but a sixpence !!!

    Maybe I have some kind of Sid Wadell fixation, but commentaries would be a lot more colourful if they brought the language back down to earth where the regular fans reside. Forget the cliches and start using the language of the pub vault, where a lot of the fans would watch the match on TV.

    "Tevez again, running around like a blue armed fly" - talking of which, does anybody know where that came from?

    I can't really beech though because I have been watching the football for the last 12 or so years in Thailand, so I have been spared the likes of Andy Gray thankfully.

    Personally think we should try to come up with an original saying of our own for Steve to use on all of his commentaries and see if it gets adopted into the mainstream - anybody have any starters for ten?

  • Comment number 89.

    Where on earth does "early doors" come from? I believe it was Ron Atkinson who introduced it and others now use it but what does it mean?

    I also wonder why managers don't take a look at the fixture list and, if they're scheduled to play one of the"big 4", ask the FA to change the fixture to another day. How many times have you heard a manager, or player, say after a game, "on another day we would have won that game".

    Hansen, Lawrenson and particularly Shearer have all "seen them given" when asked about contentious decisions. These guys are paid, quite hansomely i'm sure, to give their opinions and yet they come up with that!

    Martin Tyler's insistence on shouting the surname of any player who has an attempt at goal. Andy Gray constantly reminding us, "i have to say", David Pleats attempts at pronouncing names such as "Shimbomba".

    In spite of all of the above, i keep coming back for more.

  • Comment number 90.

    The most ingratiating and almost obsequious cringe making commentaries and interviews I find however is in athletics and tennis. ( Sue Barker ) The exceptions being the terrific Michael Johnson and Mc Enroe. Especially with the the long distance runners and especially Paula Ratcliffe. Some of the unimaginative and repetitive questions and comments begger belief.

    But remember the great 'Coleman balls '.

    Such as I remember, when an athlete at an Olympics made a break down the back straight for the finish, DC said , ' there's no turning back now'.

  • Comment number 91.

    how about every player who scores the adjective has the same letter i.e. Rooney rams it in or Lampard lumps it in to the goal or again Berbatov bungs it home. it would make me laugh

  • Comment number 92.

    bpwmanu wrote:

    "Tevez again, running around like a blue armed fly"

    It's a blue arsed fly. And as anyone familiar with flies knows. that's what they have. Except the green ones of course.

    'turn on a sixpence' , means to turn in a small circumference not on or off.

    And of course as anyone familiar with the catering profession knows butter kept in the fridge is more easily cut with a Knife. Even a blunt one.

  • Comment number 93.

    "Riding their luck" always sounds like a strange get-out phrase. Visions of horses being geed up in the final furlongs of the grand national don't really go with footy. When used in an unrelenting goal-mouth bombardment, you can excuse the poor commentator, who is reaching for any old words while inwardly sure that a goal is bound to happen any minute. But when used by a summariser? No excuse. You've had time to think about it.

  • Comment number 94.

    The ones that kills me, they make the pitch bigger, or the pitch is very big. I thought the pitch was a standard legal size so I just get confused when I hear both of these.
    Incidently since the article was written Ronglish site can't be accessed, not enough band width ( of pitch), apparently his football park is smaller than all the others. Oh and number 93? better your luck than your missus.

  • Comment number 95.

    Don't let us let the print journos escape cliche criticism.

    Football managers must have become birds at times when they 'swoop' for a player they have bought. Do they perch on the stand roof I wonder?

    And angry managers/players never seem to reply to criticism, they 'hit back' or ' roar '.

    And I wonder if a player ever gets blistered feet after he has worked his socks off?

  • Comment number 96.

    Re 71

    Hear, Hear,
    football language while lacking grammatical prowess is nonetheless hugely entertaining; i for one would like to have Chris Kamara narrating my daily life: 'Oh...hes done it! !Unbelievable scenes! hes managed to get the bus to work!! And the Driver has change!!! back to you...'

    (Off topic but....Hear Hear? Explanation anybody?)

  • Comment number 97.

    Some people really need to get out more!!

    Isn't this supposed to be a forum for discussing the beautiful game, not moaning like a bunch of....

    I personally love watching the game with the sound on, can't think why anyone would want to watch a silent match...

    In reference to the Gaelic Games commentator - I remember a commentator from quite a few years back describing a Ryan Giggs run and cross for Mark Hughes to score from as "Like a mini trying to catch a Porsche...and there's the Rolls Royce waiting in the middle!"
    Mark Hughes a Rolls Royce? A damn fine striker, but never as beautiful as a Roller!!

    Recently there's been a mass influx of articles/reporters using "Wotte" to replace "what a..." Highly original!! Now if only they were refering to a win.......

  • Comment number 98.

    I've skipped a few posts between #70 and the 90s so forgive me if I cover anything that has already been said!

    I've noticed that commentators/pundits/analysts are increasingly using the words 'absolute' or 'absolutely' to start off a sentence which grammatically doesn't require the need for the said words. Just watch Soccer Saturday every week and count how many times they say it.... it has always amused me.

    Another thing from SS.... Jeff Stelling's use of the word 'squeak' for example "...and now to the game at Ewood. Do Blackburn have a squeak of a chance of getting something in the dying minutes?" Where did this come from!

    Also I heard in one game when Don Goodman was co-commentator... "...and they owe him a grat of debtitude for saving them." lol!

    Stonewall has only really crept in over the last 10 years or so I seem to remember.... I guess it means that a stonewall is perceived to be a sure fire thing, i.e. set in stone, meaning the penalty was certain and fully justified.... a stonewaller. I also remember Alan Hansen calling an FA Cup tie a few years back as a potential 'potato skin' for one of the bigger sides.... Lineker pulled him up on it straight away saying he'd only ever heard it being called a 'banana skin'!

    I agree Clive Tyledsley is the most annoying commentator.... his jokes are never funny and he says THE most obvious things that don't need to be pointed out.

    Motty is a legend in his own way..... it amuses me the way he says 'Drogbarrr'.

    Martin Tyler and Peter Brackley are the best commentators imo.... Peter Brackley always reminds me of Serie A, he would be good on the BBC.

    Andy Gray comes out with some stuff too.... "Sen....sational!" ...and from the 2000 FA Cup semi final between Chelsea and Newcastle when Rob Lee crosses for their equaliser "...and Rob Lee, not even given a numbahh!" ...always makes me laugh because he says it in reference to Lee's omission from Gullit's squad listings at the beginning of that season.

    A cliche Alan Shearer has used a number of times is "If you don't buy a ticket, you won't win the raffle."

    Lawro has used '..absolutely no hope for them" a few times.... whenever me or my brother say this in a normal conversation we say it in Lawro's accent!

    The other one is Andy Townsend saying 'Time and time again" at least once or twice in each programme he does!

  • Comment number 99.

    Comfortable on the ball
    2 banks of four
    Straight out of the top drawer
    put in a good shift
    worked his socks off
    That'll hurt in the morning
    heading toward row Z

  • Comment number 100.

    ESPN's Derek Rae always enjoys calling out first,middle and last names after a spectacular play e.g Ivan Ramiro Cordoba.


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