The Anatomy of a Footballer

Professional footballers are apparently not built like you and I. From head to toe, their bodies are subject to an entirely different terminology to the Average Joe. 

Used figuratively as often as it is literally, the concept of the head in football is conveniently vague. Composed young footballers are said to have an old head on young shoulders, at least until they lose their head, at which point they need an arm around their shoulder. Players who lack genuine pace are able to call upon the yard in their head (pace is quantified simply in yards, on a narrow scale from 0.5-1). 

A predatory striker is said to have an eye for goal, which occasionally involves giving the goalkeeper the eyes (having seen the whites of them), despite often having one eye (or half an eye) on an upcoming fixture. Meanwhile, today's mutant referees are required to have eyes in the back of their head

Calling upon the other senses, players can sniff out a chance if their team smells blood (unless they're not given a sniff) but only after the two teams have finished feeling each other out. Hearing is less frequently referenced, but the universal gesture for a footballer not hearing something (a referee's whistle, or a goalkeeper's shout) is unmistakable:

A goalkeeper faces the frequent prospect of a shot arriving straight down his throat, which in reality is much less threatening than it sounds. One can only assume that big-money signings wear their price tags around their necks, while players still subject to a hands-off warning have their price tag slapped upon their person.

A particularly goal-shy centre-forward must bear the burden of both a monkey and the crowd on his back. The well-established (if rather dubious) remedy for his goal drought, however, is for one to go in off his backside.

In the game of football, the hands and arms are a consistently controversial region of the body. Penalty areas are frequent witnesses to a suspicion of a hand while everyone knows that as soon as you raise your hands, you're asking for trouble. Goalkeepers must possess a strong hand while making sure errant crosses are plucked out of the air using their grateful hands. Palms, meanwhile, exist only to be "stung" - the act of palming away has slowly been superseded by the more menacing-sounding clawing away.

No sports scientist has yet been able to determine the whereabouts of a player's engine, but it is likely to be found in a lung-bursting location near the centre of the body. There's no real room for innuendo in football commentary, but a great deal of mirth is reserved for when a player is struck in the unmentionables by a shot or a boot. 

And so the business end of the footballer's anatomy. The legs seem the most obvious place to find the ever-elusive malicious bone, but loyal managers have rendered the search fruitless. The most notable part of the lower-body skeleton is surely the dreaded metatarsal, which homo sapiens only developed in the early 2000s if the succession of major tournament-disrupting breaks to the feet of your Beckhams, your Rooneys, your Nevilles and your Owens are anything to go by. 

Flat-footed defenders are exposed by fleet-footed wingers, and given a torrid time by jet-heeled ones, resulting (in extreme cases) in twisted blood. Appropriately, some footballers' feet are now beyond cliché - the good feet for a big man are now rarely referenced unknowingly. A distinct bias towards the exotic, sinistral footballer has always been in evidence - left feet are educated and cultured, while any old neanderthal can swing his right boot.

When a footballer finally loses that half a yard, it is said that his legs have gone. Luckily, fresh legs are always on hand (so to speak) to replace them.


He Knows Where the Goal Is: Mapping the Modern Football Pitch

The modern footballer must know his place. If the forensic analysis of Zonal Marking is to be believed, most of them are mindless chess pieces moved around at will by their gesticulating manager. But, while the positions they are allocated have well-established names, the areas of the pitch they occupy are still subject to the eccentricity of the football cliché.

All credit to @jon_foley for putting the image together

The Engine Room
Smack-bang in the middle of the park is the British Crown dependency of the midfield engine room, the domain of the Lampards, the Gerrards and the Parkers of this world. As the name suggests, everyone within the engine room must possess an engine, or at least be full of running.

Going Nowhere
You know the drill - a bumbling winger, in a desperate attempt to track back, fouls an opponent as they loiter (facing the wrong way) in this specific, innocuous part of the pitch. Located near half-way and close to the touchline, the vast majority of free-kicks conceded here will be classified as silly.

The Hole
The hole is fast becoming a quaint anachronism in the era of false nines who flit between the lines. A stealthy place to inhabit, the hole confounds opposing defenders who struggle to pick up the deep-lying forward.

The Channels
The thinking man's wings, the channels represent the dire straits between penalty area and touchline where full-backs can be given a torrid time - either by fleet-footed (or jet-heeled) wingers or by their swashbuckling opposite numbers.

The endangered species of the old fashioned winger (centre-forwards and cup-ties can also be old-fashioned) has been forced inside to survive, leaving its former home of the wing (or the "flank") derelict and languishing under the vague term "wide areas". 

In a figurative sense, one of the worst places a footballer can find himself is on the periphery, from where it is very difficult to get into the game.

David Beckham Territory
A hotly disputed area, but various attempts to annex it permanently over the last decade have proved fruitless, many coming to a ignominious end up in Row Z.

It is the most popular strategic base to launch attacks on the tiny enclave in the top corner of the goal - known as the postage stamp - located just next to the angle of post and bar.
The Mixer
There's a distinct whiff of Big Ron about this (Ronglish was an unsanctioned splinter lexicon which is thankfully fading from view), but the mixer remains a great leveller. From Sunday League to the top flight, last throws of the dice find their way into this perilous badland. The mixer must be accessed with a hopeful long ball - no team has ever attempted to walk the ball into the mixer.

To further emphasise the stresses of the mixer, it often gives proverbial nosebleeds to no-nonsense defenders who venture upfield, often with the kitchen sink tucked under their arms.

many thanks to @Steve_Sub for the image
No Man's Land
A horrid void in which hapless goalkeepers are said to have "gone walkabout". Littered with suicidal backpasses, this is where the custodian feels most alone. But it's not the only danger that 'keepers face...

The Corridor of Uncertainty
One of the most poetic of all the football cliches. Originally a cricket phrase, as many seem keen to point out, but now undeniably adopted by football. The narrow corridor of uncertainty straddles the six-yard line, and is permeated regularly by crosses fizzed in from the channels.

Whether you're marauding, swashbuckling, rampaging, venturing, flooding, backpedalling, gliding, ghosting, wandering, drifting, racing, slaloming, jinking or simply ambling
always know where you are.


"Where's the Talking?!" - Part II

Last January, Football Clichés detailed ten of the most mindless Sunday league phrases heard week-in-week-out in public parks up and down the country. Attempting to cash in on Inspired by today's prolifically trending #sundayleagueshouts, here's ten more Sunday league trademarks for the 2012/13 season...

1) "Who's got tape?"

The gold-dust of amateur football, despite being available in any hardware shop. As the sole provider of tape, once you declare and dispense it, you will never see it again.

2) Injury Prevention

The warm-up routine of the typical Sunday league team is a complex one, drawing on the game's modern obsession with sports science:

- Jog from one touchline to the other
- Run back again - knees up at the front
- And again - heels up at the back
- And again, "picking it up a little bit"
- Sprint to the line, having left around 70% of the team by the wayside

The substitutes, should your team be fortunate enough to have any, are spared this tedium. They have the important task of firing the ball at the goalkeeper from the six-yard line as part of his carefully-tailored warm-up programme.

3) "Ref! Ref!! How long?"

Usually asked by an overexcited player from the leading team, with surprising desperation. Whatever the answer, the player will always add about 10% on before relaying the revised figure to his teammates. 

4) "Watch the short!"

It is considered a cardinal sin to let an opposing Sunday league team pass a goal-kick out to a full-back. Precisely what sort of devastating attack an average Sunday league team are expected to be capable of, deep in their own half, with the ball at the feet of statistically the least capable player in their ranks, is anyone's guess.

Traditional goal-kicks, thumped aimlessly as far down the pitch as possible, aren't often the task of the goalkeeper. As the designated goal-kick taker for my side, I can confirm that fetching the ball in preparation for this moment is one of the more soul-destroying aspects of life at around 11am on every Sunday between September and May.

5) "They're fighting amongst themselves!"
An extension of "All day! All day!" from Part One, this is the ultimate psychological blow you can land on the opponents, so gleefully is it delivered. 

6) "One of you!"
When a Sunday league midfield is so often instructed to "get a [insert team's shirt colour] head on this", you often witness an unsightly clash of [insert team's shirt colour]-clad bodies as they attempt to perform their primary duty. It is left to a team-mate to helpfully point out that only one of them was required on the scene.

7) How to Insult a Sunday League Opponent - a 3-Step Guide

The Respect campaign is yet to trickle down the grassroots, it seems. Sunday league pitches can be horrible places, as devoid of joy as they are of any real wit. With that in mind, it seems pertinent to document the standard procedure for unpleasantries. When angry adversaries clash, the following hierarchy of verbals should ensue:
  1. Appearance - Latch on to anything you legally can. Having ginger hair or (in my case) no hair puts one at a significant disadvantage here. Should you be on the receiving end of this, though, my advice is to act genuinely horrified and heartbroken - no-one's prepared for that.
  2. Presumed intelligence - neither big, nor clever, but this is barrel-scraping territory.
  3. Footballing ability - Surprisingly, the last bastion of offence in any on-pitch exchange. A simple "you're shit" often seems to suffice.
8) How to Befriend a Sunday League Opponent - a 2-Step Guide

Amid the snarling testosterone-toting, the hand of friendship can still be extended. Exchanging cheerful words with your opposite number can seem a little odd, and the moment is fleeting, usually because of the sheer banality:

Ask them "how they're doing in the league" - an answer he is unlikely to be able to accurately provide, which is fortunate since you don't actually care.

Ask them if that's their regular goalkeeper - Often squarely to blame for all eleven goals that have sailed past him, the goalkeeper is a worthy spectacle to discuss with his striker. Sharing in his resigned despair at a floundering teammate is a tenuous kinship, which borders on patronising.

9) "Don't let it bounce!"

A rare example of a phenomenon that afflicts a Premier League side just as much as it does your Sunday league rabble. Letting the ball bounce, especially there, is (like raising your hands to an opponent) traditionally asking for trouble.

10) "See it out!" vs "Leave it!"
The former is perfectly acceptable, the latter an absurd taboo. Physical and verbal abuse is dished out in spades but no-one's ever conceded a free-kick for shouting "L**ve it!" after the age of about thirteen. 

Thanks to Twitter for providing the occasional few #sundayleagueshouts that weren't about being "pissed from the night before" and which helped compile this.


You're Not Fit To Wear The Shirt...

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Get Football Clichés on the Plane to Poland!

This is an unashamed come and get me plea, but Football Clichés has entered a competition to become BettingExpert's Euro 2012 blog correspondent. Take a look at my entry here:

What the average TV pundit knows about the Euro 2012 teams

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Injury Time Incredulity: A Brief, Pseudoscientific Analysis

A week, they say, is a long time in football. Meanwhile, it's imperative to keep it tight for that crucial first twenty minutes. And it only takes a second to score a goal. This unusually philosophical approach to timekeeping does not apply to the moment that the fourth official's board goes up to display (sorry, "indicate") how much time is to be added on.

Fans of a team who are clinging on to a lead expect at least three minutes of injury time. Four minutes? Makes sense.




1992-2012: The Premier League in Cliché

Football began in 1992, the purists sarcastically say, so here are ten clichés from the two-decade Premier League era.

1) The Foreign Influx.
We should start with our traditional point here - no-one uses the word influx anywhere else. The Foreign Influx has become almost as established a brand as the Premier League itself. Before Arsene Wenger (the man credited with inventing the concepts of nutrition and not drinking alcohol) arrived on these shores, we made do with exotic imports such as Andrea Silenzi, John Jensen and a certain Frenchman by the name of  Eric - whatever happened to him?!

These early pioneers have a mixed legacy. They are said to have brought lots of good things over with them but, on the other hand, are deemed to be responsible for all sorts of horrors that have crept into the English game - going to ground easily, waving the imaginary card and (despite always claiming to have "watched it on TV as a child") not understanding the significance of the dear old FA Cup.

Scouring the continent for new signings has been a hit-and-miss affair for Premier League clubs. For all the Thierry Henrys, Dennis Bergkamps and Gianfranco Zolas of this world, there are the pub-bore anecdote staples such as Marco Boogers, William Prunier and Ali Dia. 

2) Mind Games.
One of the lazier Premier League clichés, admittedly given credence by Kevin Keegan's infamous on-screen meltdown. Nowadays though, pretty much anything Alex Ferguson says from February onwards qualifies as mind games. The less potent cousin of mind games is kidology, a pseudo-science that usually involves a manager playing down his team's chances. Resistant as I am to welcoming new entries to the football lexicon, it appears that Ferguson's absurd notion of squeaky-bum time has embedded itself firmly in fans' consciousness.

3) Parking the Bus.
Here we have another cliché whose provenance is indisputable. Jose Mourinho, whose penchant for a war of words has led to this tedious Premier League dichotomy of having to love or hate people you have never met, coined the phrase after a Tottenham's rearguard action had frustrated his Chelsea side. It's a charming phrase, increasingly relevant as the haves continue to race away from the have-nots at English football's top table.

4) "Top, top player".
This particular phrase has experienced a meteoric rise over the last two or three seasons. The much-maligned Jamie Redknapp is responsible for its osmosis into common usage, seemingly deciding that one "top" just isn't enough for the elite players. Occasional sightings of a trio of "tops" have been reported, but only for players for whom pundits have run out of superlatives

The surface-skimming that passes for TV punditry relies on similarly vague criteria to judge players' performance. Co-commentators often trade in the currency of quality, either as an unenlightening noun or a rather clumsy adjective. "A player of his quality," they say, "should be doing better from there". Quality can also be conspicuous by its absence if a team is just lacking that little bit of quality in the final third - note the trademark, non-committal imprecision there - it's very important.

The concept of credit has become so commonplace that anyone new to football would be forgiven for thinking it was an official scoring system. All credit usually goes to the winning team, but some credit must go to plucky losers.

5) Potential Leg Breakers.
The array of gadgets available to Andy Gray and his able Sky Sports successor Gary Neville has enabled them to analyse flashpoints to the degree that it becomes almost self-defeating. There is usually a sensible pundit on hand to briefly and half-heartedly pipe up about the "referee not having the luxury" of a slow-motion replay and several camera angles, but this UTTERLY CRUCIAL POINT is quickly brushed aside. 

Goal-line decisions and offsides (despite claims to the contrary) are clear-cut laws, and are often easily cleared up in the studio. The latest bone of contention, however, is the potential leg-breaking tackle. With referees clamping down on excessively forceful challenges, in the hope that the traditional hatchet man will finally be consigned to the history books, going in with studs showing is now officially asking for trouble. No malice is ever intended, of course, while the list of names who are that sort of player remains empty. 

6) Statistics.
Stats aren't a new thing, obviously, but the no-stone-left-unturned approach has now reached saturation point. For years we only had to deal with the moderate suspense of the pause between the shots stat and, signalling the co-commentator's cue, the shots-on-target stat. Ignore what you've actually seen, because we need a number to tell us that a team haven't really troubled the goalkeeper. Then, Sky started bombarding us with Action Areas, a crude separation of the pitch into thirds - again, essentially a device to nudge the auto-pilot co-commentator into assembling a few words to confirm what we can see in front of us. "Just look at that", he instructs, as we finally cotton on to the concerted spell of pressure exerted by a team camped in the opposition half.

In 2012, it's all about passing. Attempted passes, key passes, pass completion. 10 minutes in, the early possession stats flash up. "No real surprise, that", our dutiful co-commentator assures us, like a doctor holding up an X-ray of an incredibly obvious bone break. Possession percentages pile up as teams become happy to let their opponents have it there, resulting in the lion's share of the ball (sometimes combated with tigerish - but usually dogged - defending.) 

But, ultimately, the only stat that matters is the one in the top left-hand corner of your screen.

7) Storms.
Premier League football is a pantomime. At the heroic end of the spectrum lie your Scott Parkers and the inexplicable awe-magnet Mario Balotelli (a "complex character", apparently, because he gets sent off a lot and acts like a child in his spare time), while the well-established villainous contingent is too strong to count.  In the middle somewhere is a rather lost-looking Gareth Barry.

Football games can also be quite boring, especially for people who don't really follow the sport. To make up for this, there is a nine-month conveyor belt of the following controversies:
  • Spat - Usually involving spitting, allowing the media to declare a spit spat
  • Fracas Fracases (pluralised here, but never in football-speak) take place only in the tunnel. Details usually remain vague, but angry words are usually exchanged. The only ever witness is the pusillanimous Sky weasel, Geoff Shreeves.
  • Bust-up - Clubs feeling the pressure are always susceptible to the training-ground bust-up. These usually occur when a player reacts angrily to a heavy challenge, coming to blows with his teammate. Thankfully, Dave Bassett will be on hand in the Sky Sports News studio to point out that this kind of thing happens at training grounds every week.
  • Storm - Once a wide-ranging term, storms are now confined to social media controversies. Each week, a teacup-sized Twitter storm is manufactured from very little, as the gutter press sift through the list of tweeting players for any trace of an opinion. Twitter has now become the main arena for the rather grand-sounding concept of the war of words.
  • Row - The slow-burner in this family of footballing controversies. Rows can tend to rumble on somewhat, especially if a certain issue deigns to rear its ugly head. Most are now familiar with the hallmark of a truly established row - the adding of the godfawful suffix "-gate", regardless of how unwieldy that makes the subsequent monster of a word. Like storms, rows can also give rise to a war of words, with managers using their press conferences to wade into debates such as the perpetually-raging club v country row.
8) The Sack Race
FootballCliché has analysed previously the Managerial Merry-Go-Round, but the ruthless Premier League prefers the less friendly-sounding (but equally thrilling) sack race to describe the perilous position of its managers. 

You know the drill: a team makes its worst start to a league season since the war and their manager is said to face the axe. Pressure (like credit, an unquantifiable thing that football media seems desperate to measure) continues to pile and mount, while the beleaguered boss must bat back questions about whether he has the backing of the board/owner. 

This backing used to be expressed in the form of the vote of confidence. This has now become the dreaded vote of confidence. Out goes the hapless manager, often by mutual consent, and he is invariably offered half-hearted "thanks for all his efforts" and "best wishes for the future". In comes the caretaker manager, a rabbit-in-the-headlights figure who tries desperately to say all the right things to steady the ship, whilst looking uncomfortable in his new suit, or just pathetic in a tracksuit with his initials on (WHY? WHY DO TRACKSUITS STILL HAVE COACHES' INITIALS ON?!). 

He will leave quietly in the summer, and the club will attempt to prise the latest coaching flavour of the month away from whichever club where he has worked wonders. Reports suggest the newly-installed boss will be handed a transfer warchest with which to rebuild the squad, while he has the safety net of the traditional honeymoon period (which later becomes a transitional period). 

But it won't be long until the cycle repeats...

9) The Best League In The World
Thanks largely to the aforementioned foreign influx, the Premier League carved out a reputation for being the best league in the world. No detailed rationale was ever supplied to back this claim up - it just is. Italian football is defensive and boring, you see. They can't defend for toffee in La Liga. Who even watches the Bundesliga? 

However, now Gray and Keys have taken their tub-thumping to the radio and ESPN/Sky have started covering all the major European leagues, a new breed of football hipster has emerged - one that emits a strange vowel sound of approval when "Barca" string a few passes together. You're nobody if you don't follow the caution-to-the-wind fortunes of Mazzarri's Napoli or the unique club culture of St. Pauli. You're supposed to know who has been dubbed the new Neymar before Neymar has even left Brazil. You've nominated yourself as your 5-a-side team's trequartista. You've bought a Deportivo Wanka away shirt off the internet for the bantz. You don't care about England's chances at Euro 2012 because you want to see RV-fucking-P fire the "Oranje" to glory.*

Still, the Premier League clings on to its lofty status, thanks to the odd pulsating 4-4 draw here and there. Anyone can beat anyone, apparently, even though they frequently don't. But what about the fabled Premier League tempo, which England are urged to employ at major tournaments? Those languid, ponderous continentals don't like it up 'em, etc.

*All of that is more than welcome, of course, apart from the Deportivo Wanka-inspired bantz.

10) Benefactors
With the financial state of many clubs officially classified as "parlous", all offers of investment are being considered. The floodgates opened with Roman Abramovich, henceforth referred to by his first name for no apparent reason, whose success with Chelsea suddenly made lots of people care very passionately indeed about the dubious acquisition of Russian oil companies. 

Then, various "fit and proper" chancers appeared at West Ham and Portsmouth, promising to bankroll missions for Champions League football, but actually getting closer to "doing a Leeds" - a quaint pre-Abramovich term that has happily stuck around. Chelsea, and now fellow billionaire's playthings Manchester City, face accusations of (attempting to) buy the title as they stockpile players. Despite their wealth, such clubs declare that they won't be held to ransom over signings before happily paying over the odds for players who subsequently struggle to pay back a huge chunk of their transfer fee. Usually, only one vital goal is required to complete this rather unfair transaction, although the actual monetary value of the chunk is never established.

Saturation point is nigh. Here's to the next twenty years.


Stevenage v Tottenham: Cliché-by-Cliché

Live cliché-by-cliché coverage of ITV's broadcast of Stevenage vs Tottenham in the FA Cup fifth round. Join in the not-inconsiderable mirth by commenting in the client below or via Twitter to @FootballCliches