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Anti-football, the hand of God and a 'clean sheet': learn English while watching the World Cup!
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Anti-football, the hand of God and a ‘clean sheet’: learn English while watching the World Cup!

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It is said that the British invented (or at least devised the rules) for many of our favourite sports including tennis, golf, rugby, horse racing, rowing, curling and squash. And, of course, pride of place on this list goes to football!

Given that football has been played in England since the 11th century, and the first written record of it dates back to 1314, it is no surprise that the sport’s basic vocabulary has British roots. You may already know what these English football terms mean: goalkeeper, hat-trick, play-off.

English is the international language of space exploration, business and research. And the same goes for sport! With globalization, football clubs have become highly multinational. 

For example, London’s Arsenal currently have players from Brazil, Portugal, France, Japan, Norway, Ghana, Egypt and Switzerland in their first-team squad. 

But how does a multinational team communicate on the pitch? Of course, football itself is a means of communication that goes beyond words. But speaking English  helps the players and coaches to achieve better understanding and produce even stronger teamwork on the pitch. 

Say it in ‘Football’

Are you watching football matches with English commentary? Novakid has compiled a special football dictionary to help you understand what you’re hearing: 

  • 12th man: the fans enthusiastically supporting their favourite team
  • Anti-football: negative play from a team focusing mainly on defence. No one wants to see an anti-football play.
  • Clean sheet: the achievement of not conceding any goals in a match. The record of the match contains no goals against the team in question, so their ‘sheet’ is ‘clean’.
  • Goal-line technology: modern technology that registers whether the whole of the ball crosses the goal line.
  • Hand of God: an iconic description of a situation where a footballer scores a goal with their hand, but wants it to be counted.

The expression has its roots in a legendary incident in a quarter-final of the 1986 FIFA World Cup, when Diego Maradona scored a controversial goal against England. The referee did not see the foul. At a press conference after the match, the footballer was asked if he had scored with his hand. He replied that the goal had been scored ‘a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God’. 

  • Mexican Wave: the ‘wave’ produced by successive sections of fans at a match with people standing up, then raising and lowering their arms, and sitting down again.

Here’s a surprising fact! In the USA, the word ‘football’ refers solely to American football (which has similarities to rugby). Americans call the sport ‘soccer’.

The ‘language’ of cards and the whistle

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In general, there aren’t issues with translation during a match, partly because football uses a special ‘language’ of hand signals set out in the Laws of the Game. But the referee can also use the ‘language’ of their cards and whistle. 

For example, if a player commits an infringement, the referee just needs to blow their whistle to stop the game. They then communicate their decision using hand signals. If the foul is serious, the referee may produce a yellow or red card from their pocket.

Be a polyglot and don’t ‘lukaku’

Some footballers are genuine polyglots. For example, the Portuguese Gedson Fernandes, Croatian Ivan Rakitić and Bosnian Miralem Pjanić each speak six languages. And the Belgian footballer Romelu Lukaku, who was born Congolese, speaks no less than eight languages! 

The latter’s name has been made into an interesting slang verb, to lukaku, which means ‘to mess up’. The term was coined as a result of his unsuccessful time at Manchester United. 

– I really like my new job, Steve! Don’t lukaku it, bro. [Don’t mess it up, my friend.]

Record a video for an international football star

To get closer to famous footballers, you don’t have to know the ‘language’ of football. English is quite enough 🙂 

Record a video message in English for your favourite footballer or team, and we at Novakid will do all we can to make sure they get it! 

For the terms and conditions of this contest, see here.

Would you like to learn more about football with Novakid teachers? 

A special lesson for kids is already on our YouTube channel. 


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