Football is the most popular sport in the world and if you ever want to watch a match in English, you will need to know the terms in order to understand the narrator of the game. Keep reading for an extensive list of football vocabulary in English, some history about the sport, and an explanation of what is the correct way to call this sport (soccer or football?).

The first thing you need to know about me is that I was born and raised in Brazil. That means I take football seriously. Wednesdays nights and Sunday afternoons are sacred — if you turn on the TV, a football match will be underway. The World Cup is another major thing for us here. School is canceled on the days Brazil plays. I also remember the afternoon of July 8th, 2014. If you, like me, are a football fan you know what I am talking about. If that’s not your case, I will explain it. On that day Brazil lost the semifinal of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which was being held in Brazil, by 7-1 to Germany.

Ok, enough about me. Let’s start by answering one of the most common questions about football. Is is ‘soccer’ or ‘football’?

The name of the game: is it ‘soccer’ or ‘football’?

There are many differences between American English and British English We have covered some of them here on the PrepEng blog — color or colour and grey or gray, for instance.

However, one would say the best-known difference is that Americans call the most popular sport in the world ‘soccer’, while British call it ‘football’. Actually, before we go on, it is important to mention that Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa also refer to the game Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar play as ‘soccer’.

The funny thing is: the word soccer originated in England. Back in the 19th century, the word ‘football’ was used to refer to the game as we know today. One day, during a football match, the young player William Webb Ellis decided to take the ball into his hands and started running

towards the goal. The game happened in a field in the Rugby School, in England. People seem to like Ellis’ idea and the game ‘rugby football’ was created. Now they had two different games they could play: rugby football and associated football (which is the one we play nowadays).

In order to differentiate them, rugby football started being called ‘rugby’ and the associated football was known as ‘asoccer’. Time passed and ‘asoccer’ became ‘soccer’. In the United States, what most people know as ‘american football’ is referred to as simply ‘football’, so ‘soccer’ was used to talk about what most people know as ‘football’.

Football vocabulary in English

There are many words and phrases you should know to understand a football match in English. We have divided them into nine sections including the place where they play, the referees, the positions on the team, the equipment, the match, the stages of a competition, scores, expressions, and important events.

The football pitch

The pitch is where the game takes place. In American English, the pitch is referred to as ‘field’. Look at the image below and try to identify each part of a football pitch.

Clothes for football players

Every team has at least two kits: the home kit and the away kit. The home kit is the main uniform players wear for a match. The away kit is the second option and it is used to prevent teams from wearing similar colors, which avoid confusion between officials, players, and spectators. There is also a third kit, which is often pretty different from the other two.

Let’s take a look at Real Madrid’s kits for 2020/2021. The home kit is white, the away kit is pink, and the third kit, which was announced early September, is a black and grey pattern inspired by tile paintings found in the Spanish capital.

Officiating a football game

Every game has rules. The person who is responsible for spotting any violation to those rules during a soccer match is called a referee. Besides the referee, there are other 3 officials present during the match: 2 assistant referees and 1 fourth official.

The assistant referee (also known as ‘linesman’) patrols the touch lines and responsible for signaling when a player is in an offside position. The fourth official keeps track of all the stoppages during the game and verifies all the substitutions made during the game.

  1. Referee: he is the main official of a soccer game. The referee makes sure all rules are applied. Referees usually wear black or yellow.
  2. Assistant referee: there are usually two assistant referees and they help the referee apply the rules. They run up and down the pitch lines.
  3. Fourth official: he keeps track of all the stoppages and verifies the substitutions which are made during a soccer match.
  4. VAR: the VAR, which means ‘video assistant referee’, reviews decisions made by the head referee using video footage in order to minimize human errors.
  5. Yellow card: the referee shows a yellow card to show that a player has been cautioned.
  6. Red card: the referee shows a red card to show that a player must leave the pitch immediately.
  7. Offside: this is one of the most complicated soccer rules for those who aren’t familiar with the sport. A player is in an offside position if any of their body parts, except the hands and arms, are in the opponents’ half of the pitch, and closer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.
  8. Whistle: used by the referee to control the game. If he blows the whistle, the players stop or start playing.
  9. Handball: the only player who can touch the ball with his hands is the goalkeeper. If any other player does this we have a foul. If this happens inside the goal area, it is a penalty.
  10. Flag: used by the assistant referee to signal something is wrong.
  11. Foul: fouls are actions that break the rules of the game.
  12. Suspension: whenever a player gets a red card, he is sent off and gets a suspension. This means he can’t play the next match of the competition.

Football vocabulary about the match

If you want to discuss a football match with your friends, you ought to know the English terms for each time period within the game. Read these descriptions of each vocabulary term to learn them.

The football players warm up before the game. They usually do the warm-up on the pitch before the game starts. Note that the verb to warm up is spelled differently than the noun a warm-up. We warmed up for the football match with a warm-up.

The game starts with the toss-up. Before the football game starts, the referee throws a coin in the air. The captain who wins the toss-up decides which half to play on.

The kick-off is the start of the game. The ball must be stationary and on the centre spot. All players, except for the kicker, must be in their own half of the field of play, and all opposing players must remain away from the ball until it is in play.

The first half is the first 45 minutes of a match. A few minutes are often added to the first half.

Half-time is what we call the break that the two teams have after the first half of the match.

The second half is after half time, when the teams go back to the pitch for the last 45 minutes.

Full-time is the end of the 90 minutes.

Injury time is whenever some time is added on after full time because of interruptions that may occur during the match.

The final whistle is when the referee blows the whistle to signal that the game is over.

Who are the football players?

Learning the vocabulary about football players in English is a common request from students. Some of these terms are specific only to football or soccer, so read on. Can you tell us who your favorite footballer is? Leave a comment with their name and position.

  1. Team: a soccer team is made of 10 players plus the goalkeeper.
  2. Captain: the coach chooses one player to be the captain of the team.
  3. Defenders: defenders must stop the attacks of the opposing team.
  4. Full-backs: full-backs play at the sides of the defense.
  5. Center-backs: center-backs play at the middle of the defense. Famous center-backs: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) and Piquet (Barcelona)
  6. Wingers: they can be left-wingers or right-wingers. They play at the side of the midfield and they also attack. Famous wingers: Messi (Barcelona) and Neymar (PSG).
  7. Goalkeeper or ‘goalie’: they must protect the goal. they can use their hands if they are inside the goal area.
  8. Strikers: strikers are usually the ones who score goals. Famous strikers: Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) and Ronaldo (retired, Brazil National’s Team)
  9. Midfielders: they play in the center of the team, both defending and attacking.

Stages of a football competition

Has your favorite football team made it to a competition? I hope so! Let’s learn the vocabulary about competition stages for football games.

Some soccer tournaments are divided into phases. The stages of a competition can vary according to the type of tournament. In the World Cup, for instance, the group stage is formed by 32 national teams that are divided into 8 groups of 4 teams each. The teams in each group face each other within the group and only 2 out of the 4 qualify for what we call the ‘knock-out’ stages. The first ‘knock-out’ stage is the ’round of 16′ which is composed by 16 teams. After 8 games, the winner of each game qualifies for the ‘quarter-finals’. Four teams then play the ‘semi-finals’. Two of those teams proceed to the ‘final match’. The other 2 teams play the ‘third-place playoff’.

  • Group stage
  • Knock-out stages: Round of 16, Quarter-finals, Semi-finals, Third-place playoff, Final match

The football score

A common question people ask when watching a football game is: “so, what’s the score?” You can give the actual numbers of course, but there is some specific football vocabulary in English to describe zero points or a tie score. Can you see what those words are?

This is how you answer this question according to the results of the match:

  • 0-0 = nil nil
  • 1-0 = one nil
  • 2-0 = two nil
  • 2-1 = two one
  • 2-2 = two-all
  • 3-0 = three nil
  • 3-1 = three one
  • 7-1 = seven one

7-1 is considered a thrashing. One can say:

Toni Kross scored twice in Germany 7-1 thrashing of Brazil.

If somebody that hasn’t watched the game asks you “so, what was the score?”, you can say:

  • We lost two one (2-1)
  • We won two nil (2-0)
  • We drew three all (3-0)
  • It was nil-nil (0-0)

Football Expressions

These are some common football phrases you may hear from commentators when you are watching a match.

  • take the penalty
  • take the throw-in
  • take the corner
  • take the free-kick
  • hit the post
  • hit the crossbar
  • head the ball into the net
  • make a pass
  • save a penalty
  • make a save
  • miss a penalty

The most important football events

There are many football competitions during the year. The most important ones are the FIFA World Cup, which happens every four years, and the UEFA Champions League, which happens every year in Europe.

World Cup

The World Cup is organized by FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and it happens every four years since 1930, except in 1942 and in 1946 because of World War II. After a qualification phase, which happens in the three years prior to the competition, 32 teams, including the host country national team, compete for about a month in order to become the next champion.

Brazil has won the title five times, Germany and Italy have won four times each, Argentina, France, and Uruguay have two titles each, and England and Spain have one title. The current champion is France, which won the title over Croatia in the 2018 Russia World Cup. The next World Cup will take place in Qatar in 2022.

UEFA Champions League

This competition, organized annually by the Union of European Football Associations, is one of the most prestigious football tournaments in the world. It started back in 1955 and it was rebranded in 1992. The Spanish team Real Madrid has won the UEFA Champions League 13 times. Bayern Munich is the current champion.

Further practice to learn football vocab in English

Wow that is a lot of football vocabulary! Did you learn some new words? One of the best ways to practice is by watching a match and trying to describe what happens. You could be your own personal football commentator!

We hope these lists and exercises about football (or soccer, if you prefer) vocabulary in English help you while watching games on TV or talking about it with friends. Do you have a favorite team? Let us know in the comment section!