Where Are the New Clichés?

Like goalkeepers, we don't seem to be producing clichés in the same numbers any more. Or are we?

What is a football cliché? It can be a single word (derisory, for example), a phrase ("if anything, he's hit that too well..."), any vague concept of widely-received wisdom ("They're guilty of trying to walk the ball in like Arsenal!"), something visual (that grimace on a striker's face after he's shot wildly over the bar with a teammate in a better position) or simply behavioural (fans applauding instinctively when a defender completes a basic header back to his goalkeeper, under no pressure.)

New candidates for cliché have to endure a certain period of overuse before they can qualify as such, as well as being overwhelmingly true, or widely believed to be so. In the past, this process could have taken years or decades. The now-antiquated concept of a second period of 45 minutes being starkly contrasted with the first has gone through the entire lifespan of a football cliché, and is now the black dwarf in the many galaxies of received wisdom. 

As the discussion of football proliferates, compared to the 20th century at least, this process is perhaps accelerated. It is only recently that Stoke usurped Rochdale as the unpleasantly inclement midweek venue, zonal marking has been taking a bashing for as long as someone noticed it, players over six feet tall have always had their deftness of touch questioned but never have they managed to confound these doubters as they do now. Corridors of uncertainty arrived on loan from the cricket world with a view to a permanent transfer, sometime in the 1990s, while taking on fluids became the new drinking in c.1994, as pitch-level temperatures soared at the World Cup in the USA.

The 140-character limit of Twitter accommodates new phrases, in much the same way as the space-starved Ceefax and Teletext once did.  Examples such as "nice touch" or "classy", snappy ways of expressing your approval for a moment of footballing decency (however sickly sweet), are on the rise. The cringeworthy latter quality is now conspicuous by its absence, with high-horse-riding guardians urging miscreants to "stay classy" whenever a ill-judged press release threatens to unmask a club as morally bankrupt. 

Footballers are trendsetters, and the moment they hashtag something, it's gift-wrapped for their following millions. Ashley Cole's glorious #BUNCHOFTWATS entered the football lexicon, mainly for purposes of lampoonery, as football fans now seek to inject humour (to varying degrees of success) into a notoriously straight-faced national sport. Twitter jokes/gifs/photoshops are now the language of the modern fan, with every possible celebratory scenario that John Terry could gatecrash now crudely mocked up for "the lolz". Retweets can help propagate a new cliché, in the same way that bloke in the pub repeating something about Teddy Sheringham's relative lack of pace that he'd garnered from Football Focus the week before managed to osmose into anyone within earshot in 1993.

"Worldy" - a term originating in the playing community, meaning "world beater" - has caught on, often abbreviated further to simply "world" whenever a goal or save should warrant such incredulous praise. "Big" Ron Atkinson attempted to introduce his own set of catchphrases in the mid-90s, some of which managed to prevail, while "tekkers" looks set to withstand the backlash and dig its heels in.

No terrace wit may be delivered to a tune other than that of the Beach Boys' dreary "Sloop John B", thanks to Liverpool's fifth European triumph and Phil Brown's Hull avoiding the drop. The minute's applause was born out of sheer mistrust towards a small minority of idiots to immaculately observe a minute's silence and has become commonplace. Dr Richard Steadman earned a reputation as the most clichéd medical professional the game has ever seen, but has had a quiet last couple of years, possibly since the Serbian horse placenta woman arrived on the scene.

On the pitch, waving the imaginary card is still the latest established hand-signal you'll see. Giant circular hand movements to indicate that a tackle won the ball are a product of the TV-aware era of players, as is the outwardly-rotating double claw to signify an opponent has dived. A forefinger from each hand cycled with the other has denoted the need for a substitution for decades now, while referees imploring players to turn straight round at half-time of extra time predates the Macarena by many years. Pointing to the sky after a goal is a recent melodramatic development, as footballer's tragic personal lives become our business whether any of us wish it to be. Disappearing from view is the shirt-name point, usually with both thumbs while turned away from the crowd, possibly to avoid being instructed to "stay classy". There is no indication as to what the next hand-signal will be, but if goal-line technology is introduced, a TV-screen gesture (similar to cricket/rugby officials) may become quickly popular with players with an easily-triggered sense of injustice.

The more tactically-aware football supporter now knows what a false nine is. Everyone now plays 4-3-3 (or a corruption of it, all turning into a 4-5-1 without the ball) up and down the country, much like the mid-90s saw an obsession with 3-5-2, or the 2000s and the seemingly neverending search for Claude Makélélé clones in defensive midfield berths. Diminutive Spaniards ferreting behind a lone striker are now the flavour of this decade. Perhaps full-backs will soon become more tactically significant than ever before, which may spell bad news for the more agricultural Andy Wilkinsons of this world, but Southampton's Luke Shaw may find himself hot property.


Rich Johnson said...

I have a particular problem with the "Xs of this world" to get off my chest.

It's used by pundits discussing the Premier League and which teams are likely to "challenge" those "pushing" for a European spot.

Unlikely Team A, say Swansea, will be put forward as "challenging" "the likes of" or "the Arsenals, Liverpools, Man Uniteds of this world."

The "Scott Parkers of this world", cliche though it is, works, because there are in the game many players that are like Scott Parker ("honest," "hard working," sensible haircut). Parker can work as an exemplar.

But with teams who qualify for Europe, it actually *is* Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool most of the time. So the "Arsenals of this world" who finish towards the top end of the League are actually Arsenal. Just say bloody Arsenal.

(Thank you.)

Kitsune said...

The most annoying football cliche that gets thrown about is the "hearts and minds" one.

Alej said...

He's been working hard, on and off the pitch.

RX Factor said...

"Between the lines (of four)"

Stu said...

I heard a pundit a few years back say "England need to look to the Gerrards, the Lampards, the Rooneys, the Terrys..." when what he clearly meant to say was "the experienced players". If you're going to use an example, you don't need to mention every single name that falls under that example, because that makes giving an example utterly redundant. It was ITV after all...

Stu said...

RX Factor said...
"Between the lines (of four)"

Surely they're 'banks' of four. For some reason.

Tim said...

"Favourite left foot" in reference to a player shooting with the only left foot he has at his disposal.

"The woodwork came to the rescue" in reference to a shot that marginally missed the target and hit an inanimate post or crossbar.

Ryan said...

I've only been watching football for a few years now, being from the states, but I noticed a rather obvious one that seems to be missing: the clinical finish. At first, I thought this was some sort of medical analogy, similar to "surgical precision" which could also describe a quality finish. But it dawned on me that "clinical" could also mean "he's putting on a clinic" i.e. a textbook finish. In practice, it would seem to describe any shot that goes in the net, with a slight bias toward "1-on-1 with the keeper" situations and penalties.

I'm fine with all that, but a troubling variant of this occurs when a shot that does not "trouble the keeper" is easily saved, it will be derided as "not clinical enough." This is odd because I previously did not think it was necessary to quantify the word clinical. Was it worthy of a quack doctor, but not quite Ph.D level? Or does it belong in a football clinic with very poor attendance? It seems to be a dubious choice of words either way.