The Language of Football – Number 3

A game of two halves or the match of the day?

Language CloudDo you use the word game or match in football terms? Which do you prefer? There are no specific rules for describing a game of football, or a football match. You might use the term game of football but are unlikely to say a match of football. I would usually say “I’m going to the game today”, whereas my wife is more likely to ask “Are you going to the match today?”

Many synonyms have come about to describe a game or match using different terms, many to satisfy the needs of journalists trying to avoid repetition. Game or match are the two most common and can be interchanged, or used to describe most of the scenarios that will arise in this article. Sometimes the word game doesn’t describe a single game, but can refer to football in general terms. A game of football for example can refer to a specific game, the game of football to football as a whole. The beautiful game is a term used to describe football as a whole, it’s never the beautiful match.

Sometimes you may hear the term “he’s been in the game long enough”. This does not describe a specific match, but someone who has been involved in football for a long time. However, a defender given a torrid time by the opposing attacker would know that he’s been in a game; you are less likely to say been in a match. A team that have been totally outplayed may be described as never in the game, but you could use match here.

All kinds of adjectives are used to describe a game/match. Sometimes the word clash is used but only in certain circumstances. The term suggests a more physical game where the teams will be more hyped-up than usual. So, for example, if we are about to play Tottenham then it might be an eagerly-awaited clash, whereas if we are about to face, say, Bournemouth, the word clash is less likely to be used. A derby game is likely to be described as a clash, an old firm game between Rangers and Celtic and the El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona will definitely be clashes. A clash will often be a heavyweight one, or a titanic one, a Clash of the Titans, or a top-of-the-table clash. A fixture clash however is where a team might reach, say, the semi-final of the cup, when there is already a league game scheduled for the day of the semi-final.

Another term used is a fixture. This is often preceded by adjectives such as long-awaited, top-of-the-table, relegation (sometimes called a six-pointer), plum, or mouth-watering. Relegation often precedes the word scrap which suggests the game might be a bit of a battle. Relegation also precedes the word battle to describe teams in the drop-zone playing against each other. Sometimes a game may be an almighty battle. It could be a ding-dong one. Although teams meeting in battle is another phrase for a game/match, a battle is more frequently used to describe players having individual battles all over the field, or midfield battles, or Andy Carroll being involved in an aerial battle with a tall, uncompromising defender. Aerial is another interesting adjective often used to describe an onslaught, a tussle, or a bombardment. Teams facing a side managed by Big Sam have often faced these, although he would of course deny it.

Sometimes a game/match is described as an affair. No, not a sexual liaison between married people who are not married to each other, but often a game that is not a lot of fun. So affairs are often dismal, drab, lifeless, dull, boring, ill-tempered, or physical.

Contest is another alternative and these are often absorbing, fascinating, or gripping. The phrase all over as a contest is often used when one side has a big lead and we may as well go home.

An encounter can also be absorbing, fascinating or gripping, and can additionally be thrilling, boring, or drab. A game can be an end-to-end one with flowing football, teams that are stretched, and gaps appearing in defences. These often provide chances at both ends which often lead to goals. Games with lots of goals at either end are specifically designed for the neutral spectator, but these games are not for the purists who, for one reason or another, like to see good defensive play, and abhor lots of mistakes leading to goals.

My final description of a game/match occurs if say, West Ham are drawn against Accrington Stanley in the Cup. This match can be described as a banana skin for us, although (to keep up the use of fruit) it is a plum draw for the minnows, Accrington Stanley.