Football is a sport with one narrative. The good teams beat the teams that aren’t so good, more often than not… That’s it really.
Notwithstanding, a very different story comes unbidden into our homes through the medium of television and radio, broadsheet and tabloid newspapers, as well as the omnipresent social media which we all like so much.
It just wouldn’t be interesting if the North London derby montage on the expensive television channel stated, ‘genuinely, either team could win. Just watch it’, would it? We wouldn’t like it if the ex-footballer in the suit before Manchester United vs. Sunderland said, ‘conservative estimates suggest that in any given football match, 65% of the final score is determined by talent and skill and 35% of this outcome by luck and external factors. With this in mind, it is still true that the wider the gulf in talent the more likely it is that the better team will win. However, football is a low scoring sport and this, coupled with the 35% chance factor, means even when the likelihood of the weaker team being beaten is huge there’s always the chance that that weaker side can score more goals than the stronger side’, would we?
Whilst this frank, unbiased assessment would be very surprising and very funny to hear from pundits who haven’t quite grasped when and when not to pluralise, it doesn’t fit the Shakespearean drama and often soap opera-like view of football with which we are presented instead ‘from the Gary Linekers and Paul Mersons of this world’. So, in the world where Gary Neville gets so much credit for simply doing his job so low is the standard of his colleagues, commentators, journalists and pundits alike have semi-consciously developed a rhetoric laced with referential shorthand on our behalf to help to tell their stories, hereafter – football clichés. We’ve all heard them. They range from speculating whether somebody who isn’t from England could do ‘it’ on a ‘cold, wet, Tuesday/Wednesday night in Stoke (who often does do ‘it’ in a hot, humid and intimidating Friday night in the Basque region without having been paid on time)’, to the fictional Managerial Merry-Go-Round (where the last known sighting of Alan Curbishley took place). They are our yardsticks during the season and part of the narrative framework, so we know exactly what our opinions should be and when they should be our opinions.
Football clichés are so voluminous however, it’s wise to get someone in on loan (with an option to buy) in order to help us understand them, and in doing so grasp this narrative with both hands and enter the world of football where all our thinking is done for us. Our expert is the rather post-modern, and constantly hilarious Adam Hurrey, who is an avid collector of football clichés. Let’s all say hello to him and kiss him on the forehead.
Better known by most as twitter’s voice of reason, @FootballCliches, and sole contributor to the 2nd best blog on the internet – www.footballcliches.com, Hurrey’s observations are worryingly accurate and will hopefully make you ‘laugh out loud’. If you want to know when we’re officially in the ‘business end of the season’ or whether a goal was by a shot being fired, drilled, rifled, thundered, hammered, powered, slammed, rammed, or blasted into the back of the net then Adam is the man to tell us. In a very modern, twitter-based boast his approximate following of 30k is testament to the popularity and accuracy of his opinions about the coverage of the game. In his own words he is on a ‘crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football‘. He does a very good job and I bet he has more fun than the man who edits the interviews of the managers and players for Match of the Day who must really hate the term ‘Well, there’s no easy games at this level’ as it seems to come out of just about everybody’s mouth even after the person stating it has just scored three in a 6-0 win. “Most pre-match and post-match interviews are utterly worthless’, says Adam, ‘If it wasn’t for clichés, nothing would be said – managers are never really going to give away their secrets or confirm/deny rumours, are they? Of course, there’s the possibility that football, off the pitch, really isn’t that interesting after all. Still, it’s keeping us all nice and busy”, he concludes, as he wipes our collective saliva from his brow.
Perhaps key to Adam’s views, writing style, and his fantastic ability to convey sarcasm in written text when discussing his favourite subject, is the fact that he has no background in journalism at all. “Apart from being paid to watch football, I don’t really envy their job too much. They’ve almost all worked ridiculously hard to get where they are”, he adds. Adam, who is starting to get quite lippy now, also tells us about how his blog, and what inspired him to write about football clichés. To be fair, I did ask him. “Starting the blog in the first place was inspired almost entirely by pub conversations as I watched live televised games. Sneery cynicism at the mindless clichés turned into something a bit more constructive, and I wanted to get all my observations on record somewhere. I thought it was a unique angle on football, and I was surprised it hadn’t already been covered in much depth, but I didn’t really have any ambitions for the blog, and this was well before Twitter became a vehicle for it”. The twitter arm of his cliché offensive he mentions is like a drop-in centre for those who can’t wait until their next cliché fix between blog posts. Giving ‘in-game’ tweets, as well as witty graphics and other things too, a ‘follow’ is a must for the twitter savvy. Some previous tweets include, ‘In a way, that goal doesn’t change Townsend’s job of telling us whose “job hasn’t changed very much” very much’, and, ‘imagine how annoyed Alan Hansen and Gary Neville would be if they watched some actual schoolboys trying to defend’.
But, with all the clichés he consumes you have to wonder if Adam ever gets sick of them, like someone who works at chocolate factory would surely one day get sick of chocolate. “I’m not against football clichés in the slightest – most of them are unavoidably true statements and there’s often no alternative way to describe elements of the game. It’s the mindless repetition of them that fascinated me – there are some very odd words and phrases in football [think 'derisory' and 'lacksadaisical'], which we wouldn’t think of using in any other context, that have become instinctive staples of the football language”. His favourite cliché? “Undoubtedly, my favourite is “if anything, he’s almost hit that too well.” Never has one short sentence been repeated and understood by so many, yet contained so little logic. The lazier clichés are the most annoying, perhaps – the “lottery” of penalty shoot-outs, for starters”. As he alludes, like all clichés, football clichés tend to struggle with credibility. In reality, stability doesn’t really tend to help football clubs at all, form books rarely fly out the window for big derby matches, and penalty shootouts rarely resemble a succession of numbered balls drawn from a machine designed to dispense them.
Fans of Adam’s blog and football cliché connoisseurs have always asked Adam for his help in finding the right phrase to draw on in a game-based scenario, and it’s obvious they are a receptive bunch. Reaction to Adam’s blog posts and tweets are obviously positive, but why do people have so much fun making fun of Andy Townsend, among others, with him? “Possibly because when the words, phrases, mannerisms and opinions in football are laid bare, the ridiculousness of some of them is exposed. Everyone watches the relentless TV coverage of football, so they’re starting to know what to expect from pundits and commentators before they’ve even opened their mouths”, states Adam, who really is starting to dominate the conversation now.
Despite the success, there has to be a fear that football clichés will die out? Andre Villas Boas’ upper-middle class family background was surely a scare? “Not at all. For every manager, like Villas Boas, who likes to stray occasionally from the script, there’s someone like Tony Pulis, Harry Redknapp or Sam Allardyce to keep the clichés alive and well. Let’s not forget that Jose Mourinho brought his proverbial bus and parked it permanently into the lexicon of every football fan – new clichés are born all the time”, Adam adds, with the confident tone of a man whose well is far from dry. And who, I suppose, still metaphorically likes chocolate.
Well then, football clichés, previously as confusing as it is to know who to boo at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea fans, have been roundly summarised by our new friend Adam. They are the strange, yet seemingly harmless dialogue of football which puts the flesh on the bones of the sports tales of transfers, contract talks, managerial reigns, and play-by-play match commentary. They seem to be perpetuated by the vast and constant analysis of football. It is surprising though, that some of the more advanced clichés are so woven into the sport that the press exert a lot of pressure on football clubs to act on them. It is also a shock just how much of the narrative framework of football people are willing to believe. But with Adam’s reassurances, lovers of the football cliché can breathe of sigh of relief; they are on a production line as reliable as Barcelona’s la Masia.
One helpful aspect of the phraseology football embraces is that football clichés can be used as a social tool as well (‘did you see that ludicrous display last night?’) for those who know little about the game. For offering opinions about big players who may play abroad and out of sight, Adam offers a parting piece of advice before handing in his transfer request: “I can just say that born goal scorer Falcao “knows where the goal is” and that, apparently, is enough. Like quite a lot of people who like to share their opinions on Falcao… I’ve barely ever seen him play”. To show you how simple it is, I decided to have a go myself and came up with the following sentence – Neymar has ‘bags of potential‘, but ‘is unproven in Europe‘. Easy.
All that remains is to wish Adam all the best, and I suggest we all track his progress in the future.
Adam Hurrey has a range of very funny t-shirts and other products for fellow lovers of football clichés that are well worth of look. They come in all reasonably priced shapes and sizes and can be found at http://footballcliches.spreadshirt.co.uk/ . They’re well worth a look with Christmas coming up (eventually).