Hairdryers and squeaky bums: the colourful world of football words

by Dom Glennon

hairdryer_gunIn previous posts, we’ve looked at some of the more common words and expressions used in football (as well as the 100 words that Fabio Capello needed), but with the World Cup imminent, we thought it would be interesting to focus on some of the more colourful phrases that have entered our football vocabulary.

A small number of players and other figures involved in the sport have become immortalized in the English language, although it is not always the best or most memorable players. The Cruyff turn may be named after one of the trademark moves of one of the best footballers to have ever played, but a far less famous player has arguably had more of an impact on the game: the Bosman ruling, allowing players to move freely to another club when their contract has expired, is named after Jean-Marc Bosman, the Belgian lower-league player who has enjoyed little of the power and wealth that his breakthrough gave to modern players. Pele, arguably the greatest player ever, has no move named after him, while the only linguistic legacy of a rival for that title, Maradona, is the infamous Hand of God. Antonin Panenka, a talented Czech player but hardly one of the all-time greats, has however been immortalised thanks to a delicately chipped penalty kick that won the 1976 European Championship, forever after simply to be referred to as the Panenka penalty.

Some of the most memorable recent phrases to enter the vocabulary have come from the mouths of football managers, for whom talking to the media has become an essential part of their job. When Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s most successful manager of all time, described the tense final stages of the 2002-2003 Premier League season as ‘squeaky bum time‘, did he realise that the phrase would become a fixture in the football lexicon? It has also recently been used to describe the final few minutes of a close (= with little difference in score between the two teams) game. Similarly, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho complained after a 0-0 draw against Tottenham Hotspur that his opponents ‘brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal’, meaning that they were more interested in not conceding a goal than scoring themselves. The phrase has been shortened to simply ‘park the bus‘, a disapproving term for when a team play very defensively.

Finally, pundits and commentators of the game have given us some evocative phrases over the years. Take hairdryer treatment, the popular term used to describe a manager loudly rebuking his players after a poor performance, the image being of the manager shouting right into a player’s face like a hairdryer. The corridor of uncertainty may sound like a bad episode of Doctor Who, but is in fact frequently used by commentators to describe the area in front of the goal but behind the defenders, in which there is uncertainty about whose responsibility it is in the defence to deal with the ball. And when an underdog triumphs against superior opposition, it is invariably described as Roy of the Rovers stuff, after a popular long-running comic strip for children.

So here’s wishing your team the best of luck for the World Cup – may your hairdryers remain switched off and your bums remain un-squeaky!

12 thoughts on “Hairdryers and squeaky bums: the colourful world of football words

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  4. Laura Jaitt

    Hi! Is there an expression in English to describe a footballer or football fan that is passionless and does not give their best? We use an expression in Spanish which is ‘pecho frío’ and was wondering if there is something similar in English. Thanks!

    1. Warwick Wakefield

      There is no word that I know that applies specifically to football, but someone who performs without passion is said to be “going through the motions,” or “just going through the motions.”

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