Football vocabulary 101 – idioms and sayings translated

Every country has a unique set of football vocabulary to convey both technical and dynamic analysis of the ‘beautiful game’.

International football tournaments like the World Cup, the Euros, Copa America, and so on, unite fans across communities and cultures. People who rarely cross paths are suddenly shoulder-to-shoulder in sitting rooms and bars. As a result, you’ll likely encounter phrases you’ve never heard before when you watch one of these international football tournaments in public.

With Euro 2024 and football fever now in full flow, it is a great time to brush up on your international football vocab, including key German words like “Tor!”

In this blog, we’ve collated some essential vocabulary and some useful idioms from around the world for you to wow your friends with and even use in marketing communications.

Skip to common football phrases, translated.

See the table of common football terminology translated into French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian – ideal for translating your business content or communicating with new friends while watching the game.

Skip to football idioms from around the world.

Ever wondered if other countries also call their fans their 12th man? Or what skilled moves do the Spanish and French have names for? Read on.

Are you interested in translating all kinds of idioms for your business? Read our ultimate guide to translating idioms.

Common football phrases in five different languages

Goal! Un but! Tor! Gol!

Communicate with fellow football fans with essential French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese vocabulary.

Have a look at the complete list below. If you’re translating text for an important event, contact the expert translation team who put this list together to see how they can help.

Special mentions:

Spanish and Italian share multiple phrases but be sure to differentiate between the two. Despite the two languages sharing the same word for goal, ‘gol’, when it comes to a goal kick, the Spanish will call for a ‘Saque de puerta’ and the Italian demand a ‘Calcio di rinvio’. Meaning ‘serve of goal’ and ‘return kick’ respectively.

German translations are often the most distinct from other languages in our list. Try pronouncing ‘winger’ in German after a few celebratory drinks: ‘Außenbahnspieler’.

French interestingly pulls in idioms for core football vocabulary. They call a goal kick ‘Dégagement aux six mètres’, referring to the fact a player must take a goal kick within six metres of the goal.

English PhraseMeaningFrenchGermanSpanishPortugueseItalian
GoalWhen a player gets the ball into the goal, or the point that is scored by doing this.ButTorGolGoloGol
RefereeThe person responsible for interpreting and enforcing the Laws of the Game during a match.Arbitre (m)SchiedsrichterÁrbitroÁrbitroArbitro
TackleThe act of a defender coming to meet an opponent who is in possession of the ball, engaging them, and then legally using a foot to take the ball away. This is an aggressive act that almost always involves contact, either between the players directly or with the ball between them.TacleGrätsche (noun); grätschen (verb)EntradaAto de tirar a bola de adversárioContrasto
Assistant Referee (formerly known as Linesman)An official empowered with assisting the referee in enforcing the Laws of the Game during a match.Arbitre de toucheLinienrichterÁrbitro asistenteÁrbitro assistenteGuardalinee
OffsideA player is in an offside position if: any part of the head, body or feet is in the opponents’ half (excluding the halfway line) and. any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.Hors-jeuAbseitsFuera de juegoFora de jogoFuorigioco
Half timeThe time at which half of a match is completed, usually marked by an interval.Mi-tempsHalbzeitDescansoIntervaloFine primo tempo
Full timeThe end of a matchTemps réglementaireEndstandFinalFim de jogoFine partita
StrikerA player who mainly attacks and scores goals, rather than defendsAttaquantStürmerDelanteroAvançadoAttaccante
MidfielderA player whose usual position is in the central area of the playing field between the two goals.Milieu de terrainMittelfeldspielerCentrocampistaMédioCentrocampista
Winger (Right wing/left wing)A non-defender who plays on the left or right sides of the pitch.AilierAußenbahnspielerExtremoExtremoAla
GoalkeeperThe player or position in the middle of the front row of attacking players.Gardien de butTorwartPorteroGuarda-redesPortiere
Right back/left backThe defenders stationed at either side of the centre-backs to provide protection from attacking wide players.Latéral droit / gaucheLinksverteidiger, RechtsverteidigerLateral derecho, Lateral izquierdoLateral esquerdo, Lateral direitoTerzino sinistro, Terzino destro
FoulAn unfair act by a player, deemed by the referee to contravene the game’s laws, that interferes with the active play of the game. Fouls are punished by the award of a free kick (possibly a penalty kick) to the opposing team.FauteFoulFaltaFaltaFallo
Hand ballWhere a ball touches the hand/arm of a player. It is an offence if a player deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, for example moving the hand/arm towards the ball
touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger.
Faute de mainHandspielManoMãoFallo di mani
DiveAn attempt by a player to gain an unfair advantage by falling to the ground and, often, feigning injury to give the impression that a foul has been committed. Dives are often used to exaggerate the amount of contact made during a challenge.SimulationSchwalbeFalta fingidaFalta forçadaSimulazione
Penalty KickA method of restarting play in association football, in which a player is allowed to take a single shot at the goal while it is defended only by the opposing team’s goalkeeper.PenaltyElfmeterPenaltiPenáltiRigore
Goal kickWhere the goalkeeper is given the ball to kick out of the goal area because the other team has kicked it over the line by the side of goal.Dégagement aux six mètresAbstoßSaque de puertaPontapé de balizaCalcio di rinvio

Football idioms from around the world

From obscenely niche technical terms to exclamations of celebration, each country’s football fans have outdone themselves. Here are some idioms to keep in your back pocket next time you watch the game with an international friend.

English football sayings and idioms

First, let’s explore some of the most common English idioms before moving on to our other languages.

The 12th man

You might notice only 11 players in a football team. The 12th man is the term used to describe the fans who spur the team on in good times and bad.

The 12th man

Fox in the box

A striker whose movement within the 18-yard box is cunning enough to elude markers so that they can score a goal.

Fox in the box

Hairdryer treatment

A furious verbal assault by a manager on a player or players. This idiom implies the manager is blowing a constant stream of hot air into the player’s face.

Hairdryer treatment

Parking the bus

A team plays an entirely defensive game with little or no intention of attacking. The term was coined by Jose Mourinho in his first stint as Chelsea manager when he accused Tottenham of ‘bringing the bus’ and leaving it in front of the goal. Ironically, the term would later come to define Mourinho’s tactical style.

Parking the bus

A clean sheet

When a team does not concede any goals in a match, sometimes known as ‘a shutout’ in North America.

A clean sheet

GOAT

The GOAT means ‘Greatest Of All Time’ and refers to legendary players. Popular GOAT figures include Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

GOAT

Bicycle kick

A player kicks or passes the ball while airborne and usually plays the ball in the opposite direction to the way they are facing. Sometimes referred to as an ‘overhead kick’, the bicycle kick is so called because a player appears to cycle through the air upside down.

Bicycle kick

Put it on a plate

When one team-mate creates an easy chance for another player to score, usually by passing it to them when they are through on goal.

Put it on a plate

Hand of God

The ‘Hand of God’ describes a goal scored by Diego Maradona for Argentina in the quarter-final of the 1986 World Cup against England. Maradona illegally used his hand to punch the ball past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and into the back of the net. 

Hand of God

In his pocket

When a defender marks an attacker out of the game so the attacker isn’t able to influence the match in any way.

In his pocket

French football sayings and idioms

French football fans like to get creative with their football idioms. Explore the phrases below that use pavements and furniture references to celebrate successful moves from the team in question. We also love the use of ‘coude à coude’, meaning ‘elbow to elbow’, in place of our British ‘neck and neck’.

Nettoyer les toiles d’araignées

Nettoyer les toiles d'araignées

This phrase has nothing to do with spring cleaning! Instead it is used to describe a great goal scored in the top corner of the net – where you might usually find cobwebs.

Coude à coude

Coude a coude

The equivalent of the English phrase ‘neck and neck’, it is used to describe when the teams are level with each other and have an equal chance of winning.

Le gardien sauve les meubles

Le gardien sauve les meubles

This phrase is used in games where the goalkeeper has an absolute worldie – saving every shot and keeping everything out, despite the attacking team’s best efforts. It is a bit like the opposite of the English phrase: to throw the kitchen sink, which is where an attacking team does everything they possibly can to score a goal.

Avoir des parpaings à la place des pieds

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The English equivalent of this phrase, as Maradona said about the 1998 World Cup, is “the players have all got square feet”. This suggests that they are not playing very well.

Fermer la boutique

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When a team are playing very defensively as they want to protect their position in the game. This situation might take place when a team are winning or drawing with a stronger side and it is getting towards the end of the match.

Are you interested in translating your football-related content into French? Speak to our french translation consultants. We specialise in capturing the intent of your messaging, not the literal translation. 

German football sayings and idioms

In Germany, it’s no surprise their fans have created useful terms to describe spectacular and technical play such as ‘Bananenflanke’. Try to guess what that term means before you find the answer below. German football fans are also fiercely loyal – a favourite phrase of ours being ‘Leitwolf’, referring to a team’s leading player as the leading wolf.

Bananenflanke

Bananenflanke

This fruit-inspired term is used to describe a looping cross – i.e. where a winger crosses a ball to their teammate in the box, with the ball forming an arc in the shape of a banana.

Der Schiedsrichter braucht einen Blindenstock

Foreign Language Football Graphics LEaF Translations

In German, this phrase is used by incensed fans to suggest that the referee is (metaphorically) blind as they have not seen or have ignored a key incident in the game.

Gras fressen

Gras fressen

This is phrase is used to suggest that the team will do anything to win, even eat grass!

Leitwolf

Leitwolf

‘Leitwolf’ describes the team’s star player, they are the leader of the pack.

Bombenschuss

Bombenschuss

A ‘Bombenschuss’ is the German term for an incredible shot at goal, often a long-range screamer.

Are you running a football-related campaign in German speaking regions? Speak to our German translation consultants to learn why our translation service is superior to others. 

Spanish football sayings and idioms

Spain is one of the top countries in the world for football. As such, they’ve developed a colourful football vocabulary to convey every emotion under the sun. From hilarious insults such as ¡Vaya pepinazo! (Literally translates as “what a great big cucumber!”) to expressions of admiration, such as Galactico, these Spanish phrases are sure to be useful at your next watch party.

Galáctico

40 LEaF Translations

An exceptionally talented player of worldwide renown who usually transfers for a considerable transfer fee. A ‘galáctico’ is a player who is out of this world. Real Madrid is famous for collecting galacticos over the years.

¡Vaya pepinazo!

¡Vaya pepinazo!

This amazing phrase is used by fans to express delight at a particularly impressive long-range, curling shot at the goal.

Hacer la cama

Hacer la cama

When an attacker purposefully doesn’t jump to head a high ball in order to create the illusion that the defender directly behind them has held them down.

Hacer una palomita

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In Spain, this term is used when a goalkeeper has to do a spectacular save where they need to stretch high in the air to get to the ball. However, in Latin-American Spanish, it is used when a player has to jump forward, with their body in a horizontal position and their arms under their body, in order to hit the ball with their head.

Cancerbero

32 LEaF Translations

As well as hearing this in Greek and Roman mythology, you are likely to hear it referring to the goalkeeper in Spanish football. This creature is a three-headed dog whose purpose was to guard the gates of hell, many goalkeepers will probably feel the same way in some matches!

Would you like your business to connect with football fans in Spanish-speaking countries? Speak to our Spanish translation consultants about our localised services across European and Latin American Spanish-speaking regions. 

Italian football sayings and idioms

From nicknames to technical idioms, fans in Italy are passionate about football. You might be watching a game and find some fans referring to a player selected from La Vecchia Signora, which means “the old lady”. No, there isn’t a matriarch raising exceptional football fans in the hills of Italy. This nickname refers to Juventus, a leading team in Italy. Once you’ve got your head around the nicknames, check out the fascinating technical idioms below.

Catenaccio

Catenaccio

‘Catenaccio’ is an Italian term for a tactical system of play which uses a strong defensive system, much like a chain.

Scudetto

Scudetto

This is shorthand for the Italian football championship. The ‘scudetto’, which is an Italian flag within a shield, appears on the jersey of the team which won Serie A the previous season.

La vecchia signora

La vecchia signora

This is a common nickname for the Italian team Juventus. It started as a joke but has now become something that the fans, players and owners have all embraced.

La bandiera

La bandiera

Refers to a player who spends their whole career at their boyhood club.

Nel sette

Nel sette

When a shot goes in the top right corner of the net, which is shaped like the number seven.

Are you interested in translating your football-related content into Italian? Please speak to our Italian translation consultants. Our experts invest time to capture the intent of your messaging, not the literal translation. 

Portuguese football sayings and idioms

Portugal is another heavyweight in the world of football fandom. Learning a few Portuguese phrases will serve you well at the pub or sports bar while watching your next game. Keep reading to learn less-than-subtle insults for poor play, such as lettuce hand, chicken, and other brilliant Portuguese football phrases.

Ser um cepo

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This phrase is used to describe a player who isn’t playing very well – as though they are playing with a wooden leg.

Mãos de manteiga

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Another highly descriptive phrase used when a goalkeeper isn’t able to keep hold of a powerful shot and it slips straight out of their hands.

Um frango

Um frango

This also refers to a shot that is particularly difficult to catch – just like a chicken. Although it would be a pretty bizarre sight to see a goalkeeper trying to catch a chicken on the pitch!

Maestro

50 LEaF Translations

This describes the most important player on the team.

Chapéu

Chapéu

When the player kicks the ball high into the air aiming to pass it over the opponent’s head. It is the equivalent to ‘lobbing a player’ in English.

Would you like your business to connect better with football fans in Portuguese-speaking countries? Speak to our Portuguese translation consultants about our localised services across European and Latin American Portuguese-speaking regions. 

Work with LEaF for quality football-related translation services

Whether it’s the World Cup, Champions League, Euros, or local qualifiers, football permeates cultures worldwide. Football fans are a substantial and fierce market for businesses to tap into, and using idioms appropriately can help you build that kinship with those fans. But be careful to avoid direct translation. After all, fans in Spain may be less flattered by being referred to as the 12th player, as they are unlikely to know what it means!

Contact our team at LEaF via email or phone to find out how we can help translate documents and campaigns, small and large, for your target regions. 

Lucy LEaF blog 2020

About the Author

Lucy

Lucy Pembayun is the founder of LEaF Translations and a qualified German to English translator. Specialising in marketing, website and SEO translations, Lucy spent over a decade working as a freelance translator before launching LEaF Translations back in 2017. A passionate advocate for ethical business and sustainability, Lucy recently spoke on the topic of Net Zero for Businesses at the annual Business Summit for the York and North Yorkshire region. Outside of work, Lucy enjoys exploring new places and cultures, playing and watching football, and spending time with her family and friends.