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15 of the most poetic phrases from the beautiful game

Word of Mouth has been looking at the language, and in particular, the clichés of football.

Adam Hurrey has pulled together a list of the most poetic phrases, so that you can impress your mates on the next match day. Back of the net!

Football is a linguistic microclimate, with coinages shooting into everyday speech without you even realising it.

1. Corridor of uncertainty

An ominous phrase, unashamedly stolen from cricket (football has always happily commandeered phrases from the wider world for its own use) and which fills most goalkeepers with fear on a Saturday afternoon. The “corridor of uncertainty” describes a very specific area of the pitch - straddling the six-yard line in front of goal - into which the ball is often aimed, with the sole purpose of worrying the opposition’s goalkeeper into making a terrible decision.

2. Denied by the woodwork

There’s a curious strand of footballese that seems to attribute responsibility for scoring goals (or, indeed, missing them) to inanimate objects. The static goalframe itself - which is no longer made of wood, despite the charming phrase - is often said to “deny” a would-be goalscorer. If it keeps happening, a team’s goal is said to be “leading a charmed life”...until disaster strikes and they “contrive” to put the ball into their own net.

3. Aplomb

A lovely word, used almost exclusively by football commentators who wouldn’t think of deploying it anywhere else in life. To “finish with aplomb” is to score a goal neatly, stylishly and with total authority. We all really need to be doing more things with aplomb.

4. Ploughing a lone furrow

The most agricultural football phrase (except, perhaps, for the “agricultural” tackle, which nobody wants to be on the wrong end of) but it’s also tinged with sadness. Team tactics often mean one player has to lead the frontline all by themselves, which involves a lot of hard running with very little reward. The longer a player ploughs their lone furrow, the greater the chance that they will eventually start to “cut a forlorn figure.”

Did somebody say a "catalogue of errors"?

5. Ghosting in at the back post

There are countless ways to describe the way a player moves around the pitch - some “scurry” or “scuttle”, others “glide” or “dart” - but there’s no more stealthily effective way to arrive on the scene than to “ghost in”. This most commonly occurs when the ball is crossed into the box, as a goalscorer creeps beyond the defence, undetected, to score.

6. The world at his feet

Football has had a long-standing obsession with wonderkids, many of whom end up falling from grace and failing to fulfil their early potential. Such is the number of failed wonderkids that the phrase “the world at his feet” is more often used as a retrospective lament than a promise of future success.

7. Potential banana skin

An appropriately slapstick reference that warns a big club that it won’t be easy against a lower-league team in the FA Cup, a competition in which we are often reminded that “anything can happen.”

8. Catalogue of errors

Football enjoys its collective nouns - a “flurry” of yellow cards here, a “hatful” of chances there - but none are more devastating to their subject than a “catalogue of errors”. Once again, it’s usually the poor goalkeepers who are affected by this, after they’ve dropped enough crosses and spilled enough shots that their mistakes have to be collected in a proverbial catalogue.

9. Dreaded vote of confidence

The “vote of confidence” that an under-pressure manager gets from his chairman has become such a harbinger of doom (they tend to get sacked soon afterwards) that is has evolved to become the “dreaded vote of confidence”.

10. Come-and-get-me plea

The “come-and-get-me plea” is issued by a player desperate to be allowed to leave for a more illustrious club. It often comes in a two-for-one deal with its hyphenated cousin, the “hands-off” warning, which is the standard, no-nonsense response from the club who don’t want to sell him.

11. Disciplinary tightrope

A precarious place to be, especially if you’ve picked up a yellow card early doors. From then on, you’re walking the disciplinary tightrope, a rather too dainty a task for the clumsy defenders out there.

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12. Almighty goalmouth scramble

Goalmouth scrambles - a perfect few seconds in which one team’s desire and ability to score is perfectly matched with the opposition’s desire and ability to stop them - are a life-affirming spectacle. Any goalmouth scramble that goes on for long enough earns the suffix “almighty”, and deservedly so.

13. The managerial merry-go-round

Sadly just a figure of footballing speech, rather than an actual fairground ride used exclusively by out-of-work football managers. As a results business, the turnover of managers is unusually high, which keeps the merry-go-round turning all year round.

14. Unceremoniously dumped

Remember that “potential banana skin”? Slipping on one of those usually results in one of the big boys being “unceremoniously dumped” out of the FA Cup. Apart from anything else, the phrase just has a lovely rhythm to it.

15. Silence the boo-boys

On the face of it, booing is a very strange thing. While it sounds quite impressive when thousands of people are doing it in unison, the idea of one grown-up human being being compelled to shout “BOOOOOOOOO” is very odd indeed. Anyway, these “boo-boys” (why not boo-girls, or boo-people?) exist purely to be silenced, usually when the target of their pantomime fury scores a goal against them.