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English Premier League: A Dictionary for the Curious American

That guy calling the game said something about them parking a bus somewhere?

Villa Park celebrates Aston Villa’s 2-1 win over Hull City in the Premier League by Ben Sutherland is licensed under CC BY 2.0

English Premier League: A Dictionary for the Curious American


Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

New fan of the English Premier League? Just generally curious about how differently they call a soccer game over in England compared to the U.S.?

I’m here to help.

I am certainly not the only one to have picked up a new interest during the ongoing pandemic. In the summer of 2020, I joined the ranks of millions of hooligans as a steadfast fan of the English Premier League. It was a sports-fandom decision that was honestly long overdue- I played the sport throughout most of my youth and enjoy following the MLS and US soccer, but had never closely followed the Premiership. At the behest of a few of the aforementioned hooligans (who also write for this site), I dove in head first.

My new club? SOUTHAMPTON FC BABY, WE MARCH ON! I’ll spare you the details of the recent victory over Liverpool, or how we spent A WHOLE NIGHT at the top of the table a few months ago.

What I really am here to do now is help out other fans like me.

And by “like me”, I mean those who are perhaps sports and/or soccer-specific fans looking to follow along with the EPL. The game itself may be easy enough to follow, especially if you played the sport before. But what may throw you (like me) for a loop when watching the EPL for the first time is the terminology. The phrases (I already bolded one for you). The things a broadcaster says that you can tell are a euphemism, but you have no idea for what. It’s a lot to handle.

But fear not. I have compiled here a list of definitions of commonly-mentioned terms for you PL newcomers, and a list of (let’s call them) “classy-UK alternatives” for words us American sports fans might be apt to use inappropriately. If you want to sound like real wanker, go ahead and say that Harry Kane “plays offense”. If you want to sound like a pro, call him a striker and memorize this handy guide to get you started on your Premier League journey.

Word Choice

First off, it’s not “soccer”. It’s football.

Players wear kits, not “jerseys”, and boots, not “cleats”.

They take the pitch, not the “field”.

A 1-1 score is not a “tie”, it’s a draw.

Sometimes you’ll hear reference to “games” on the schedule, but try to refer to them as matches or fixtures.

You want to keep it real classy? A player isn’t “good”, nor is a shot or a pass. A player is quality. A shot, or a pass, is quality.

Teams don’t generate “offense”, they create chances.

Your team finally playing well after a couple losses? They’ve returned to form.

Don’t refer to a player as “fast”. What that player has is excellent pace.

And when your team “gives up” a goal, say that they’ve conceded.

A blistering shot into the side netting from distance? That’s a cracker.

Your keeper picking up a back pass from a defender with his hands? That kind of error is a howler.

It’s not called the “standings”, either. It’s called the table, and the goal is to be on top of it.

Upper body injury? Contusion? GTFO with these American terms. That player picked up a knock.

The “goalie” didn’t get a “shutout”. The keeper kept a clean sheet.

And players don’t get “carded”. They get booked.

A hat-trick is a hat-trick. But 2 goals? That player scored himself a brace.

Your rival club has a player you downright despise? Call him a wanker.

Common Phrases and their Meanings

During a broadcast of a PL match, you may hear things like…

Aston Villa is certainly asking more questions at the moment…” – This is just another classy UK way to say that Villa is carrying the play, or generally looking like the better side, and often follows an extended run of pressure in the attacking third of the pitch.

Sheffield looking quite leaky at the back” – Try not to snicker. This just means that Sheffield defenders are playing poorly, and are apt to concede a goal.

Son has scored 10 goals in all competitions this year…” – This refers to all goals Son has scored for his team in the Premier League, and other Cups or tournaments his team might be engaged in (for example, the Europa League or FA Cup). These additional matches/tournaments occur concurrently with the PL season, which can be a bit confusing.

Bale is making his first appearance this season for Spurs, on loan from Real Madrid…” – Okay, so this one is definitely weird to us Americans. Essentially, players in (non-U.S.) football can be “loaned” from one team to another. These transactions can happen between teams within the PL, and (in the case of Gareth Bale), between teams in different leagues around the globe. For now, just know that these loans are fairly common, and that if a player from one PL team is loaned to another, he is not allowed to play in match against his parent club should the two square off.

After extending their lead to 2 goals, Manchester City seems content to park the bus” – This phrase refers to the tactical decision to play a conservative, defensive style in the attempt to preserve a lead or hold on to a draw. You may hear this along with something like “putting more men behind the ball.”

It was a brilliant cross into the penalty area, but Richarlison’s gone and fluffed his lines…” – Basically, the broadcaster in this example is referring to Richarlison making a mess out of the play in some form. Like if he tripped while attempting to bury a chance from in close.

De Bruyne is one of the best in the business as a number 10” – For starters, Kevin De Bruyne is number 17. But that’s not what this is referring to. In football (similar to baseball, actually) the positions in the field have a generally accepted numbering system. Number 1 refers to the goalkeeper, number 2 the right back, and so on all the way up to 11. In this example, the broadcaster would be referring to De Bruyne’s status as the team’s top playmaker and attacking midfielder (number 10 in the numbering system).

“Ward-Prowse is absolutely clinical with his delivery on set pieces…” – This is a catch-all term that refers to both corners and free kicks in the attacking part of the pitch. Essentially, and situation where a team gets a free chance to deliver a cross into a dangerous area in an attempt to score.

NOTE: This sort-of dictionary is a living entity, and will be updated as needed.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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