I’ve been watching a fair amount of English Premier League soccer for a while now. I like it. It’s an interesting game to watch for those who don’t need the constant short-attention-span-theater adrenaline rush of scoring the way basketball fans seem to do. Concussions are considered abnormal, unlike in American football. And it can be an elegant game to watch in the way that hockey is, all back and forth and motion. It’s a game of space, where it often makes sense to go backwards. And it has a certain restful quality the way most spectator sports do – you get caught up in it and the rest of your brain turns off for a while.
That’s a nice quality to have this year. It’s been a long year and it’s still January.
The broadcasters here were smart enough not to hire Americans for their play-by-play announcers. They just stream the English broadcasts. I’m sure they have come to some arrangement whereby those original announcers take time now and then to explain things that the folks back in the UK probably don’t need to have explained, but I appreciate it.
Even so, there are noticeable vocabulary differences that took me some time to adjust to, even beyond the obvious “football” versus “soccer” dispute.
One thing I noticed after watching for a while was the constant use of the word “pace.” In the US, announcers would probably use “speed,” especially when describing the motion of the ball. Sometimes “velocity,” if they felt their audience could handle it. It’s interesting that the EPL announcers often use it to describe the motion of people too, usually as a property – “he’s coming down the side with pace.” We don’t really use the word that way here.
Nor do we use “quality” quite the same way. Quality in the EPL seems to be a general term covering all manifestations of skill. Teams have quality. Shots have quality (though in the US we would say that they displayed quality, if we used quality that way at all). “Skill level” seems to be the term here, as far as I can tell, as far as we have an equivalent.
Games are called “matches.” In the US, match is generally reserved for tennis. And there are all sorts of matches in soccer, none of which have any real equivalent here. “Fixtures,” which are the normal league games. “Friendlies,” which we would call exhibition games. And things in between that I have no idea what they are. EPL teams seem to play in about a dozen different leagues simultaneously – the EPL itself, the FA Cup, the European Cup, and so on. They all overlap. American sports are much more monotone.
Soccer games are generally played on a “pitch,” which is a word that has a number of meanings in the US, none of which have any connection to a playing surface unless that surface sits on a significant angle. “Field” is preferred here.
EPL players wear “boots” and “kit” for games. Kits are “uniforms” here. As for boots, well. During a halftime show of an EPL game I watched one announcer explain that in America boots were “cleats,” which struck me as inaccurate. Cleats go on the bottom of shoes. We say shoes. Boots are for skiing.
The announcers also use the word “touch” a lot. It mostly means contact with the ball and can be heavy or light depending on whether the ball gets kicked away or stays where it ought to be. I don’t know what the equivalent term would be in any American sport.
They also say “side” where we would say “team.” Matches are played by sides. Here games are played by teams.
It took me a long time to figure out what a “table” was and how it mattered. In the US we would say “standings.” It’s just the ranked list of teams according to their won/lost records, and sides move up and down the table just as American teams move up and down in the standings.
Soccer is a timed sport, like American football and unlike baseball. They have overtime like we have, at least in some World Cup games, but they also have “extra time,” which has no real equivalent here – time added on to the game to make up for various halts in the action. My favorite term, though, is “normal time” or “regular time” which refers to the standard 90 minutes of play without either overtime or extra time. We would say “regulation time,” which sounds kind of rigid. I like the idea of “normal time,” as if it is an island of sanity in a world gone mad. It makes a difference which side of the line you’re on.
The one thing that they do that isn’t really a vocabulary difference but which did confuse me for a while anyway is list the sides differently when describing matches and giving scores. At the top of the screen during the matches there will be a little graphic with the score that will look something like this:
Everton 1-0 Crystal Palace
It’s easy enough to see that Everton is winning, though in the US we’d put Crystal Palace’s score after their name rather than before. But who’s the home team and who’s the visitor?
In the US we’d read that as “Everton at Crystal Palace,” making Everton the visitor. But they would read it as “Everton hosting Crystal Palace,” making Everton the home team. This took me forever to figure out, but I’ve now gotten to the point where I find it more comfortable and am constantly having to stop and think the other way when looking at American sports.
So I drink my tea and let it all wash over me, unaware that I’m learning things anyway.