What type of potato are you? Learn to speak football with this global glossary of weird and wonderful soccer expressions

If you’ve ever felt the need to know 29 ways of saying ‘nutmeg’ then this book of football terms from around the world is for you

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 May, 2018, 8:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 May, 2018, 8:00am

The World Cup is right around the corner and sports journalist Tom Williams has just the ticket for those enamoured by the global game and wanting to shout at the television in the right language.

Williams, who covers football for Agence France-Presse from London, has written Do You Speak Football?, a glossary of football terms from around the world.

That’s how you’ll know that “Dundee United” means idiot in parts of Nigeria; that you don’t want to be called “lettuce hands” or “wooden leg” in Brazil; or that Italian coaches don’t want to “eat the panettone”.

It really is Roy of the Rovers stuff – another term handily explained – to know that “potato” is a long-range strike in France and a utility player in Norway.

Football nerds will not be shocked to hear that such manna came about from the thinking football hipster’s favourite journalist.

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“Jonathan Wilson had been asking me to write something for the football quarterly The Blizzard, which he edits, and I had the idea of writing a glossary of French football terms to coincide with Euro 2016,” Williams told the South China Morning Post.

“I spent four years covering French football in Paris, so it was a pretty straightforward – and very enjoyable – task.

“A literary agent saw the article in The Blizzard and got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in writing a global version.”

Wilson, Raphael Honigstein and Oliver Kay of The Times have given their seal of approval on the back cover.

With over 700 terms from 89 countries – including 29 ways to say “nutmeg” – Williams sought terms out from every continent, which is no easy feat for someone who can’t speak every single language in the world.

“I had to establish a network of contributors from all the countries that I wanted to write about in the book,” he said. “I asked them to suggest interesting terms from their respective countries and used their suggestions as the basis for further research.”

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Chinese football plays its part, in both Cantonese and Mandarin.

The May 19th Incident – still a bone of contention across the border 30 years on from Hong Kong’s famous win at the Workers’ Stadium – gets an entry, as does the corrupt referees of the “black whistle” and “South Korea-phobia”.

Williams explained that he found Cantonese to be a richer resource than Mandarin.

“The Cantonese and Mandarin terms that appeared in the book were the best ones that I came across,” he said.

“I actually found more colourful terminology in Cantonese, so I had to keep going back to the people who’d suggested Mandarin terms to ask them for more ideas.”

Not everything made it to the page.

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“One Cantonese expression that didn’t make the cut was ‘stir-fried Chinese broccoli’, which I’m told is used when a player is hurt by a forceful sliding tackle,” said Williams.

“I only left terms out due to concerns about space. All the ones that I really liked are in there.”

Chinese wasn’t even the most difficult.

“Arabic was tricky, because it’s such an unusual language,” added Williams. “I had no familiarity with Arabic and was therefore unable to tell whether the terms written in Arabic had been rendered correctly.

“It took a lot of double-checking and I was grateful to be able to call upon the assistance of a couple of Arabic experts.”

Do You Speak Football?: A Glossary of Football Words and Phrases from Around the World by Tom Williams is published by Bloomsbury Sport