The origins of football jargon

Ever wondered why scoring three goals in one game is called a hat-trick? Or if players get an actual cap when they play internationally?

Wonder no more. BBC Bitesize is here to help you learn the origins of some of the best-known and most widely used football terminology.

1. Hat-trick

Bet you didn't know cricket teams scored hat-tricks!

A player gets a hat-trick when they score three goals in one game, but the use of the term actually didn’t start on the football pitch. The phrase came from cricket, and was used when a bowler took three wickets from three consecutive balls. The club would give the bowler a hat to celebrate this achievement.

2. Nutmeg

It happens to the best of us. Isn't that right, Serge Aurier?

If you’ve been nutmegged you might feel pretty foolish. Well, some argue, this was part of the reasoning behind using it to describe having the ball threaded between your legs. In the 1870s nutmeg was very valuable, so sneaky traders used to mix wooden replicas in with the real ones, tricking people who bought them.

3. Clean sheet

Clean bed sheets are lovely, but for footballers, a blank piece of paper at the end of the game is lovelier.

If your team wins without letting the other team score, you’ve kept a clean sheet. This is because sports reporters used to record scores on white sheets of paper - so if yours was clean at the end of the match, that would mean no goals had been scored against you.

4. Cap

Gold is definitely David Beckham's colour.

When a player plays for their country’s team they’re said to receive a cap. As it turns out, players literally do get a cap! Years ago, these were used to distinguish teams from one another, before distinctly coloured football shirts became the norm.

5. Volley

Oui, c'est un 'volley'.

The word volley as a sporting term is thought to have first been used in tennis around 1851, and comes from the French 'volée', which means ‘flight’. It originally was used to describe lots of arrows being fired by archers at the same time.

6. Derby

Derbies have certainly changed since the Earl's day.

A derby is when two teams from a local area play against one another. There are a couple of different theories about the origins of this word; one is that it comes from a horse race started by the Earl of Derby in 1780. Others claim that it is named after the city of Derby, which was renowned for a wild and, frankly, dangerous game that everyone in the local area would take part in.

This article was published in September 2018

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