11 football idioms to help you keep your eye on the ball

  • Know the score and get the ball rolling with these useful English phrases from the world's most popular sport
  • These idioms with add flavour and personality to your writing
Karly Cox |

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These 11 football idioms will make your writing more lively and creative.

Football, also known as the beautiful game, is the world’s most popular sport. It is also a source of some very useful phrases to use in everyday English.

Here are 11 football idioms to make your writing more interesting. 

Keep your eye on the ball

Meaning: pay attention to what is happening around you, or what you are doing.
In use: If you want to win the student election, you need to keep your eye on the ball and track what other candidates are promising. Note: to take your eye off the ball means to stop concentrating on something important.

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Score an own goal

Meaning: in football, this is when you kick the ball into your own team’s goal, giving the other team a free point. Off the field, it’s when you do something that you think will be helpful, but actually causes more harm.
In use: The government’s new recycling programme has proved a bit of an own goal, as it requires a lot of print-outs, creating more waste paper. 

Know the score

Meaning: be aware of all the important facts in a situation, especially the unpleasant ones.
In use: Tim knows the score – he can only meet up with his friends if he finishes his chores and homework.

Get a kick out of

Meaning: be amused or excited by something.
In use: My grandma gets a kick out of watching her cat try to catch the light from a laser pointer.

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Be on the ball

Meaning: be quick to understand and react to things.
In use: I didn’t get any sleep last night, so I’m worried I won’t be on the ball if we have a quiz today.

Move the goalposts

Meaning: change the rules or objective in a situation to make it more difficult for people trying to meet the conditions.
In use: Every time I try to apply to join the club, they move the goalposts and add another requirement.

Game changer

Meaning: a new event, idea or element that changes an existing situation in a big way.
In use: Stranger Things was a game changer for Netflix, and convinced a lot of people to subscribe to the service.

Blow the whistle on someone

Meaning: In football, the referee blows the whistle when someone does something that breaks the rules. In life, blowing the whistle on someone means telling a person in  a position of authority that someone is doing something wrong.
In use: Three officers were willing to blow the whistle on their corrupt captain.

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Get the ball rolling

Meaning: begin an activity, or make something happen.
In use: Ms Chan got the ball rolling in our counselling session by telling us about her own mental health issues. 

Game plan

Meaning: a plan for achieving success.
In use: We’re putting together a game plan for winning the student council election.

Be on/ Watch from the sidelines

Meaning: the sidelines are marks on the ground that show the area of play, or the “field” where all the action will take place; to “be on” or “watch from” the sidelines means to not be actively involved in something.
In use: You can’t just watch from the sidelines if you want to make a difference. You need to speak up and do something.

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