Whether it’s the World Cup, the Euros or any other championship, it doesn’t take much to get people talking about football, football and more football. This might be heaven for some, but not everybody follows football religiously. If you find yourself struggling to remember the terminology and the who’s who of all the different squads, then at least you’ll be able to blend in at your nearest sports bar with these eight bona fide football idioms from around the world.
1. Gras fressen (German)
Meaning: Lit. “eating grass.” Playing to win, fighting and tackling a lot.
Used to refer to teams who fight hard for the victory and don’t play pretty football in the process. Such is the level of their passion and commitment to the cause they almost “eat the grass” of the pitch.
When to use it: That moment in the semi-final when your team is a couple of goals down and things are starting to look grim. That’s when your team needs to start eating the grass.
2. A fox in the box (English)
Meaning: An extremely good striker who scores lots of goals.
This idiom is used to describe deadly strikers who are particularly ruthless in the penalty area. Your archetypal fox is an agile striker who’s always on hand to head home a corner or pounce onto a loose ball and knock it into the net. You might be thinking Miroslav Klose — and so are we.
When to use it: When the number 9 puts your team 2-1 up in the 90th minute by taking advantage of some chaos in the box to toe-poke the ball through the goalie’s legs.
3. Dar un baño (Spanish)
Meaning: Lit. “to give someone a bath.” When you beat an opponent convincingly.
Used to describe one team’s utter domination of their opponents; beating them to every ball and out-muscling them in every tackle, while also enjoying the freedom of the penalty area to take as many shots as they’d like.
When to use it: Any time Germany play England.
4. Nettoyer les toiles d’araignées (French)
Meaning: Lit. “to clean the spiderwebs.” When a great shot hits the top corner of the goal.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an idiom more expressive than this one! This idiom describes those really powerful shots that absolutely whack the back of the net.
When to use it: When the striker has ghosted past the defenders and unleashed an absolute belter of a shot past the poor old goalie, who’s left standing on his line, shell-shocked.
5. Sędzia kalosz! (Polish)
Meaning: Lit. “referee welly” or “the referee is a Wellington boot.”
This football idiom is used by Polish fans to criticize the referee if they think he’s making bad decisions, missing clear fouls or generally being biased against their team.
When to use it: Any time a goal is disallowed because the referee has wrongly judged the goalscorer to have been in an offside position.
6. Zlatanera (Swedish)
Meaning: Lit. “to do a Zlatan.” To do an amazing football trick like Zlatan Ibrahimović always does.
Zlatan Ibrahimović. The man, the myth, the source of fresh neologisms. Football fans across Europe have been inspired by Zlatan Ibrahimovic to create unofficial Zlatanesque verbs* to describe the times when a player humiliates an opponent with dazzling skill. In Sweden, the verb “Zlatanera” is used to describe the action of “dominating an opponent”, and it was chosen as one of the country’s most popular neologisms of 2012.
When to use it: To be used when the star player (e.g. Zlatan) of any team produces a bit of magic to jink past the defenders and score a cracking goal.
*Those bonus Zlatan verbs for you are “Zlataner” (French) and “Zlatanieren” (German).
7. Levar um frango (Portuguese)
Meaning: Lit. “to get a chicken.” When a goalie makes a bad mistake, such as letting the ball go through his legs.
It’s not easy being a goalie, and they’ve got a particularly curious punishment for goalies who make mistakes in Portugal. They award them with chickens. Oh alright, they don’t literally award them with chickens, but the idiom is regularly hurled at goalies by unforgiving fans following humiliating errors.
When to use it: This is the ideal idiom for when goalies make the ultimate error and let the ball go through their legs into the goal. It’s one of many Brazilian football idioms that comes in handy while watching the beautiful game.
8. Tiro Telefonato (Italian)
Meaning: Lit. “a telephoned shot.” A shot that is very predictable.
This football idiom perfectly captures the essence of a terrible shot whose flight path was so predictable that the striker could have almost “telephoned” the goalie beforehand to tell him exactly where he was going to shoot. In American English, a similar idiom exists in which you can say that a player has “telephoned” a predictable pass to their teammate, which was then subsequently intercepted by the opposition.
When to use it: When your team is desperately chasing an equalizer, your star striker has beaten the last man, has a clear view of the goal….and then he completely fluffs it by shooting straight at the goalkeeper.