Talking football

You may or may not be aware that the football championship is just around the corner with national teams beginning to arrive, stadiums being finished and with thousands of people brushing up on their English.

Football (or ‘scoccer ’) is the most popular sport in the world, played and talked about by millions of people. It is therefore no surprise that numerous expressions that began life being used to describe the beautiful game have now entered common usage as idiomatic expressions. Although the contexts in which these expressions are used have spread far and wide, they do seem to be particularly popular in both business and political spheres. Needless to say, all the expressions are pretty informal.

So, here are ten of my favorite football related idiomatic expressions along with their meanings and an example. If I have missed any other meanings then please post and let us know.


  1. 1.       To move the goalposts

 To change the rules in a situation in a way that is not fair, usually in order to make it more difficult for someone to achieve something.

It’s really difficult to get anything done as my boss keeps on moving the goalposts.


  1. 2.       To play on a level playing field

 A situation that is fair to all; a situation where everyone has the same opportunity.

I don’t think I’ll get the job as we are not playing on a level playing field.


  1. 3.       To kick off

 To begin something.

To start a fight (very informal).

It’s 10 o’clock so let’s kick off the meeting.


  1. 4.       To give it your best shot

To try your best.

I’ll give this meeting my best shot.


  1. 5.       To watch from the sidelines

 To act as an observer whilst not participating directly.

 I’m not going to take part in the meeting. I’ll just be watching from the sideline.


  1. 6.       To keep your eye on the ball

To remain alert to the events occurring around oneself.

Keep your eye on the ball and tell me what happens, ok?


  1. 7.       To take your eye off the ball

To lose concentration and miss something important which is happening.

I can’t believe you took your eye off the ball and missed what she said.


  1. 8.       To be on the ball

To be quick to understand and to react to things.

Why don’t you ask Tony?  He’s always on the ball.



  1. 9.       To score an own goal

Something that someone does to try to get an advantage, but which makes a situation worse for them.

He really scored an own goal in trying to pull off that deal.


  1. 10.   To blow the whistle on someone

To tell someone in authority about something bad that is happening so that it can be stopped.

Are you going to blow the whistle on her for stealing the money?


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Dominic Walters

I am CELTA and DELTA qualified and have an MA in Educational Psychology. I have been teaching English since 1991, working in Brazil, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Portugual, Egypt and the UK. I am a DELTA, ICELT, CELTA, FTBE assessor and tutor as well as a CELTA online course tutor. I am also an examiner for the Cambridge, IELTS, Trinity exams.

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