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John Nicholson Tackles Cliches In Football

Editor’s Note: This week we feature a guest blog post from author and Football365 columnist John Nicholson. John has agreed to write a regular column for EPL Talk. You can check out his work at Football 365 here, or visit his web site here.

It’s a little known fact that rock stars like Keith Moon didn’t throw TV’s out of hotel windows just out of sheer wanton lust for destruction. Oh no. It was on almost every occasion caused by the sheer mind numbing, dumb ass cliches that litter football coverage on TV.

I spend a lot of time shouting at the television. I know it’s a pointless activity and you can no more change the world by screaming at that inanimate box of light than you can by putting your underpants on your head. It doesn’t stop me trying though – shouting at the TV that is, not he underpants thing. Not unless I’ve been drinking aftershave and there’s a full moon.

I spend a lot of time watching football on TV, and let me tell you the coverage regularly annoys the hell out of me. And the thing that makes my head steam most is the use of cliches in when talking about football.

These are not cliches that you or me would say in real life. This is not the ‘many hands make light work’ type of aphorism. These cliches are just made up especially for football and then used and reused until they’re threadbare and limp by lazy journalists and TV presenters.

In the UK, it’s got so bad that I even designed a t-shirt entirely of the cliches.

There are several different categories of cliche. There’s the national stereotyping – French players who are routinely described as having ‘Gallic flair’ even though there are loads of French players who are leaden footed and have as much flair as a dead dog. Just look at Jean Alan Boumsong.

Brazilians are said to play ‘samba football’! Do they really play samba football? You can’t dance and retain possession of a football all at the same time now can you? It’s bollocks.

Germans are always ‘ruthless and efficient’ – You’d think it was still 1940 sometimes.

A good player from Holland is always a Dutch Master – why? They don’t use this art world type reference in any other aspect of the game. A player is never described a French impressionist, mind you a lot of players do make a right Jackson Pollock of the game.

Any time a British club plays a European game in Italy, they are always, and I do mean always described as having to do ‘An Italian Job.’ Grrr! I don’t know why. Perhaps they expect the whole side will be balanced on the edge of a cliff in a bus at the end of the game. Annoying isn’t it?!

It has even started to penetrate the more stupid footballers brains that when they’re interviewed, they should now try and avoid that classic cliched phrase “at the end of the day”, or at least avoid saying it 10 times in 90 seconds, but at the end of the day, they don’t seem to be able to stop saying it.

Occasionally someone will attempt a clever variation such as ‘at the end of it all’ but they’re fooling no one. It’s like a form of footballing Tourettes syndrome. You can see them straining to say it; they want to say it; they know they shouldn’t but, like teenage boys who suffer form premature ejaculation, they just can’t help it coming out.

And you’ll heave heard these teeth grinding classics a few times – “There are no easy games in international football” – yes there bloody is, stop saying there isn’t. Haven’t they seen Andorra play?

“It’s not the performance, it’s the 3 points that matters.” Of course the performance matters, it’s the reason we watch bleedin’ game, its what we’ve paid for, have you forgotten about us already? And if it was true, exactly when does the performance actually matter then? You’re talking rubbish son. Your brain is in neutral. Shut it!

Or how about this media favourite, “He’s got good feet for a big man”

For the last 2 years it has been used almost solely to describe Peter Crouch, though he’s just the latest man to get the accolade. Never has a tall mans feet had such scrutiny. Why shouldn’t he have good feet anyway? Is there some law of nature that if you’re over 6 foot tall your feet will just flop around like useless flippers?

And while we’re talking about all things fishy, why are players always said to leap like a salmon? Why not like a kangaroo? It’s not like they’ve got scales and live under water now is it? I mean, I know some players barely look human but I don’t think any have actual piscine DNA. At least a kangaroo is a mammal.

Then there’s the vacuous euphemism, always deployed by a current or former player to describe a dreadful miss from 5 yards out. “He’ll be disappointed with that.”

It’s a big, stupid under-statement and it’s regularly deployed by the likes of Alan Shearer while wearing a face as expressionless as an arse. Why can’t they just say “that’s a shockingly, hopelessly bad miss?” Would that be so hard? Why do they have to be so inhibited? Just say what we all know to be the truth.

Other cliched phrases are so familiar you don’t even stop to think about them, but when you do, they are truly surreal. Take this one, “He’s got pace to burn”

Has he? Has he really? And how exactly do you burn pace? What type of flammable substance would you need to actually set pace on fire? What trippy world could this actually happen in? Can’t you just say ‘he is fast’. Is that so bloody hard?

A striker is often said to be “plowing a lone furrow up front.”

What is he, some kind of farmer now? What is he plowing? Look you f**kers, he’s not bloody ploughing and there is no furrow. He’s just bloody running around. Right?

Then there are the phrases you never hear in real life but which are rife in football. The best example is “He’s a bubbly character.”

No man has ever been called ‘bubbly’ outside of football. Bubbly is a word football people only ever use to describe other football people. Bubbly should be a word reserved for air-headed blonde girls who giggle a lot after two Babychams, not for a lunatic of a man like Paul Gascoigne who was routinely described as bubbly.

Then there are the made up words, I think Glenn Hoddle created this one “he’s out-strengthed him.” Are you sure Glenn? Which spirit guide told you this? Are you sure he wasn’t just stronger than him? The English language is a massive, complex lexicon, there are plenty of words to use, so let me tell you Glenn my son, you don’t have to make up your own f**king words! He’ll be disappointed with that.

When players start pushing each other around, it is inevitably described as being “…..just handbags”. I’m not sure if you can out-strength someone at hand bags though. Just for the record, actual handbags are never present on the pitch, though I would love to see players running around with handbags – that’s just a personal perversion though.

Cliche hell will be complete one day when there is a player who is a bubbly character, who has good feet for a big man, has got pace to burn, can leap like a salmon and out-strength someone while plowing a lone furrow up front who, at the end of the day, believes there are no easy games in international football, and its the not the performance that matters its the three points.

And when that happens, you know what? I’ll be disappointed with that.

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  1. The Scout

    December 5, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    I’m not sure you can find a happy answer to this “problem”

    1) You’re expecting football players to develop some level of erudition (or at least a better than common grasp of their own language). I don’t know about Europe but in North America, many of the professional athletes are actually given some training on dealing with the media and are coached on things to say. It’s more convenient to have the player recite some cliche than to say something that creates controversy within the team.

    2) Sports journalists have been leaning on cliches dating back to what seems like the invention of the printing press. Announcers have also bought into this secret society and through the repetition of these phrases they seek to numb the minds of the general populace. So far, it seems to be working.

  2. Anonymous

    December 4, 2006 at 8:50 pm

    I recommend a book entitled “Football Lexicon” by Leigh & Woodhouse.

    Why is a left foot either trusty or educated but a right foot is neither?
    Why is a back pass almost invariably suicidal?
    Why are hooligans almost a tiny minority even when there seem to be hundreds of them throwing seats across Kenilworth Road?


  3. Uknow325

    December 4, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    Whateva. sounds like some BS to me. Who is this guy?

  4. Anonymous

    December 4, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    Yikes Nicholson needs a beer. What a bunch of whiney crap this.

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