Football is a simple game. Two teams use their feet to try and get the ball into the opposition’s goal. That’s it in a nut shell! But by the time we reach adulthood we have eaten, slept and breathed so much football that it’s coming out of our ears. And we have heard so many football clichés that we can’t help them from pouring out of our mouths, even when they make no sense at all!
Take a look at an under 7s game on a Saturday morning:
The coach calls the team in and they all huddle round waiting for some words of wisdom from their mentor. “These are our bogey team,” he says. “They are nothing special though. We just didn’t turn up last time.”
A child puts his hand up, “We turned up,” he says, pointing around at the friends he remembers being there.
“Yes I know you turned up,” says the coach. “I just mean, never mind. We need to keep a clean sheet today.”
The children exchange confused looks, wondering where bogeys and laundry come into the game.
Not to be deterred, the coach continues, “Remember, keep your shape. Push forward. Clear your lines. Use the ball. Grind out a result. Does everyone understand that?”
Ten blank faces stare back at him.
He holds up a whiteboard. “Okay, we are going to play as a diamond today. This is the starting line-up. The rest of you are on the bench.”
The substitutes look around. There is a bench further across the field but it seems a long way from the pitch.
The referee calls the captains in and the teams line up for their pre-match handshake.
“Get stuck in,” says the coach. “Be ready from the off. Go out fighting!”
The referee shoots the coach a warning look as the players shake hands.
The game kicks off and the children begin to play. But the opposition are on the attack and the team concede a corner. The coach shouts to a defender, “Jonny! Hug the post!”
Jonny approaches the post and eyes it up warily but decides against hugging it.
The ball falls to Jonny. “Away, away,” shouts the coach.
“Kick it out,” screams a woman from the side of the pitch.
“Get rid of it” shouts Jonny’s dad.
Jonny swings a leg and desperately kicks the ball off the pitch for a throw in to cheers from the side-lines.
Back in play, the ball bounces into some space in the box a few metres away from a small boy who hasn’t yet touched the ball. A man on the side-line who looks like his playing days are long gone and leisure activities now consist of drinking beer and eating burgers shouts, “Carry it.”
The boy looks puzzled but as instructed, bends down and picks up the ball to carry it.
Screams of “Handball!” come from the opposition parents.
The man with the beer belly shouts at the boy: “No, what are you doing?”
The boy looks even more confused. The referee points to the penalty spot.
The opposition striker, who is twice the size of the other children steps up and places the ball on the penalty spot. The tiny goalkeeper stands eyes wide like a rabbit in the spot light in the middle of the massive goal.
“Make yourself big!” comes a voice from the side.
“Fill the goal,” adds another unhelpfully.
The whistle blows and the striker takes his shot. The ball whizzes past the keeper who turns dejectedly to pick the ball out from the back of the net.
The half time whistle sounds and the children gather around the coach. “We’re letting them pull the strings,” he says. “They’re playing us off the park. We’ve lost our shape. We’re being sucked in and giving the ball away too cheaply. We need to hold the ball up in midfield.”
The children look worried after the earlier hand ball incident.
The coach continues. “Freddie, I need you to sweep up behind the defence. Can you do that please?”
Freddie nods, wondering where he can find a broom.
The second half starts and the team win a free kick. “Let Tommy take it,” shouts the coach. “He knows how to hit a dead ball.”
Tommy scores to the cheers of the parents. The coach is jubilant. “Well done. Now get another and put this game to bed. We’ve got it sewn up. It’s in the bag.”
The ball falls to Amy in front of the goal. “Shoot,” shouts her dad.
“Pass it,” shouts her mum.
“Run with it,” shouts the coach.
Amy miskicks the ball in her panic.
“She’s sliced it again,” says the coach, throwing his hands in the air.
The opposition are in control now and look likely to score again. “It’s backs to the wall now lads…and lassie,” shouts the coach. “Dig in deep. Let the ball do the work. Park the bus. The ball never gets tired. Leave everything on the pitch.”
A constant stream of gibberish continues to be heard from the side of the pitch throughout the game: “Drop in. Pick it up. Square it. Tuck in. Hold. Sit in!” It’s no wonder some kids would prefer to play their video games, at least they can enjoy them in peace without someone shouting nonsense in their ear.
The children will eventually learn that much of the advice isn’t much use and block it out anyway. So let’s just keep quiet and let them enjoy the game. They’ve plenty of time to learn the strange language of football. Let the children play and they’ll be sticking the ball in the onion bag before you know it.
What are your favourite or pet peeve football clichés?