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Football Terminology UK – A to Z Glossary of Soccer Terms

Football Terminology – Common Football Terms

Every sport has its own language. Certain phrases and idioms are used among players, coaches, officials, fans and commentators to describe the events that take place during a football game.

If you’re new to football, this can be quite confusing. For example, I remember when I first heard the phrase ‘Box em in’ and I thought to myself what on earth does that mean! Of course, after a while, you become so familiar with the terms that you start using them yourself.

In this blog, I will share with you the most common phrases and idioms used in the football game in alphabetic order to sharpen your understanding of the beautiful game.


Angle of Run:  The angle at which a player runs in relation to the ball or the goal.

Attacker: The player whose job is to play the ball forward towards the opponent’s goal area to create a goal-scoring opportunity.

Attacking Team: The team that has possession of the ball.

All ball: This is said when a player attempts to tackle the ball, and connects with the ball rather than the player.


Ball-to-hand: The claim that the contact between the hand and the ball is inadvertent, therefore it shouldn’t be penalised. 

Bicycle kick:  The movement by a player where they jump up, throw both feet in the air and hit the ball in a pedalling motion to send the ball in the opposite direction they’re facing. 

Boot it: – An instruction given by the teammates of a player for them to kick the ball with full power to get it away from their area. 

Box-to-box player:  A player that can successfully play both sides (defensive and offensive) of the game. 

Back Heel: A ball kicked using the back (heel) of the foot.

Back Pass: A pass that a player makes back toward their own goal, usually made back to the goalkeeper. This is often a defensive move to restart a new phase of play.

Ball Carrier: The player in possession of the ball.

Bending the Ball: Striking the ball off-center so that it travels in a curved path, ideally for shots at goal. David Beckham was known for superbly bending the ball.

Ball Watching:  When a player focuses solely on the ball and loses sight of the opponent they were supposed to mark.


Corner Kick: A free kick taken from the corner of the field by an attacker. The corner kick is awarded when the ball has passed over the goal line after last touching a defensive player. 

Cross: A pass played across the face of a goal

Center Spot: The spot marked at the centre of the field from which the kickoff is made.

Center Circle:  The circular marking with a 10-yard radius in the centre of the field from which kickoffs are taken to start or restart the game.

Chip Shot: A kick lofted into the air to try to sail the ball over the goalkeeper’s head and still make it under the crossbar into the goal.

Clearing: The act of kicking the ball out of the danger zone. A defensive measure.

Counter-attack: An attack launched by a defending team soon after it regains possession of the ball.

Cover: To take a position close to your opponent so as to challenge their efforts


Defender: A player whose job is to stop the opposition attacking players from goal scoring.

Direct Free Kick: A free kick in which a goal may be scored by the player taking the free kick.

Dribble: Keeping control of the ball while running.

Dummy Run: A run by a player without the ball, to lure defenders away from the ball carrier.

Disguise: Concealing one’s intentions by pretending to do one thing and then doing something else.

Dive Header: Acrobatic skill used to score goals off low crosses in the goal area.

Drop Ball: A method of restarting a game where the referee drops the ball. The ball must hit the ground.

Dummy: Stepping over the ball and letting it roll past you to a teammate, or applied as a 1v1 trick to feinting to move in one direction before moving away in a different direction.


Equaliser: An equaliser is a goal that cancels out the opposing team’s lead and leaves the match tied or drawn.

Extra Time: Extra time sometimes takes place if a match has no winner at full-time. Two x 15 minutes of extra time may be played in some competitions.


Flick-on: A move where the offensive player hits a moving ball with their foot or head when it’s passing by them without controlling it first.

Foul: Any illegal play. A violation of the laws for which an official assesses a free kick

Free Kick: A kick awarded to an opposition player when a player has committed a foul. 

Far Post: The goalpost farthest from the ball position.

Feints: Body movements designed to unbalance an opponent, or a deceptive movement which can be applied with or without the ball, e.g. feinting to kick the ball, or feinting to move in one direction.

Field: The rectangular area where football/soccer matches are played.

Full time: Full-time is the point of the game when the referee blows the final whistle and the match is over. Normally after 90 minutes and any added injury or stoppage time.

Game of two halves: A cliché that commentators resort to when a match has consisted of two halves with huge disparities in character and score.

Goal Kick: A goal kick is awarded to the defending team when the ball is played over the goal line by the attacking team. 

Goal Line: The two boundary lines located at each end of the field.

Give and Go (1-2): When a player passes the ball to a teammate, who immediately one-touch passes the ball back to the first player.

Goal Celebrations: When a player celebrates after scoring a goal. 


Hoof: Purposelessly kicking the ball towards the opposite goal with power.

Howler: An inexplicable mistake by a player that generally proves costly.

Hug the line: The instruction given to wing players to stay closer to sidelines, especially when dribbling forward.

Handball: A foul where a player touches the ball with his hand or arm; the opposing team is awarded a direct free kick. 

Hat Trick: 3 or more goals scored in a game by a single player.

Header: The striking of a ball in the air by a player’s head. Using of the head to pass or control the ball.


Injury Time: Time added to the end of any period according to the referee’s judgment of time lost due to player injuries or intentional stalling by a team.

In Play: When a ball is within the boundaries of the field and play has not been stopped by the referee.

In his/her pocket: Refers to one player having dominated an opposition player.


Jockey: A way of covering the man with the ball by feinting without committing yourself.


Kick-Off: The kickoff is taken from the center spot at the start of play at the beginning of each half and after a goal has been scored.

Knockout: A knockout is used to eliminate other teams from a competition.


Linesman: A linesman is the referee’s assistant and the person whose main duty it is to indicate with a flag when the ball has gone out of play or when a player is offside.

Line-O: One of the nicknames for the assistant referees that work on the sidelines.


Man On: This is referred to as a shout during a football match to warn a team-mate that a player of the other team is right behind. 

Man to Man Marking: A defensive system where defenders are designated one attacking player to track continuously. Marking a particular opponent in all the important defensive areas of the field.

Mark: Adopt a position, in relation to an opponent, which enables a player either to prevent the opponent from receiving the ball or, at least, to challenge for the ball.


Nearpost:  This refers to the goal post that is nearest to the ball position.

Nutmeg: A nutmeg is a trick or technique in which a player passes the ball through an opponent’s legs and then collects it from the other side.


Off the line: The act of saving the ball from crossing the line, clearing the ball.

On paper: Indicates how the events should play out in theory, the expected scenario based on pre-existing statistics and conditions.

Offside: A player is in an offside position if he is nearer to his opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last opponent. This does not apply if a player is on their half of the field. An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team at the place where the offside occurred.

Offside Trap: A technique used by defenders to put attacking players in an offside position, by moving quickly away from their own goal to leave attackers offside.

One Touch Football: Inter-passing among teammates without stopping the ball.

Out of Play: When a ball is outside the boundaries of the field (pitch) or play has been stopped by the referee.

Overlap: A tactic used to move defenders and midfielders into attacking positions.

Own Goal: An own goal is a goal scored accidentally by a member of the defending team that counts in favour of the attacking team.


Play-off: A play-off is an extra match to decide which of two or more teams should go through to the next round.

Possession: When a player or team has control of the ball.

Park the bus: Playing ultra-defensive not to concede any goals, chiefly applied by team with the edge on the scoreboard.

Play on: A potentially controversial possession where the referee does not blow their whistle after concluding there’s no reason to stop the game.

Poacher: A cunning and skilled striker that’s extremely dangerous in the penalty area. 

Put in a shift: The situation where a player fulfills their given tasks but fails to make a strong impression on the pundits or put their fingerprints on the game.


Run it off: An instruction for a player that’s suffered a minor injury to carry on playing.

Red Card: Imposed by referee’s to a player when they have committed a serious infraction or has been issued with two yellow cards within the same game. 


Sacked: It means fired. Used for managers that lose their jobs.

Showboat: Showing off for fans after cementing a safe score, accompanied by displays of frivolous pieces of skill.

Sitter: A shocking miss by an attacker that was considered to be immensely easy to convert.

Switch play: Moving the ball from one flank to the other in an abrupt fashion, mostly by a long pass.

Set Play: A planned strategy that a team uses when a game is restarted with a free kick, penalty kick, corner kick, goal kick, throw-in or kickoff.

Shoulder Barge: When a player wins the ball from the opposition by using their shoulder to outweigh them to retrieve the ball.

Skipper: A skipper is the player who leads a team, also called the captain.

Square Pass: A pass made by a player to a teammate running alongside him.

Substitution: Replacement of one player on the field with another player not on the field.


Target man: A tall striker that’s often targeted by crosses, long balls, and high passes for their aerial superiority and prowess as a finisher. 

Theatrical: An adjective to describe a player’s tendency for over the top reactions.

Treble: Winning three major competitions in a single season.

Taking Players On- Applied to dribbling past opponents.

Toe Poke – When a player uses their toe to strike the ball


Volley: Striking the ball in mid-air with either foot. Any ball kicked by a player when it is off the ground.


Wall: A line of 2 to 5 defending players pressed together shoulder-to-shoulder to protect their goal against a close free kick

Wall Pass: Give and go pass, or inter-passing between two attacking players, where the player acting as the wall plays the ball first time and off at a similar angle at which the ball was received. 

Warm Up: Exercises that warm the muscles and prepare the body for activity.

Weight of the Pass: A comprehensive term used quite frequently to describe the pace of a pass.


Yellow Card: imposed by a referee to signal a caution for a minor infringement.

At Samba Soccer Schools, we offer football coaching for children aged 4-11 years in London. If you want to try out a lesson, then contact us for more information. Call 020 72052723.

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