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Say What? The Premier League’s Most Mystifying Phrases

Brace yourself, Webster, footy slang is here, and your oeuvre could be next.

By Andrew Woodin
Jose Mourinho, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea FC

As Americans, we regularly infuse our daily lives with a vast number of colloquialisms and nonsensical idioms that are sometimes barely comprehensible even for a native, but if you’re a Premier League fan, you know the wacky vernacky of the EPL exists in a lingo lexicon unlike any other. In light of the recent changes the shot callers behind the Oxford English Dictionary made to include some seminal headscratchers from legendary managers Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, we’re breaking down the Premier League’s most curiously confounding slang so you don’t have to. 

Let the ‘squeaky bum time’ begin!


Origin: Derived from the German word for ‘counter-pressing,’ Deutschland’s Ralf Rangnick is credited for applying the term to football.

As a tactical strategy, gegenpressing is employed to swiftly lead a counter-offensive. This typically happens when an attacking squad loses possession, then immediately swarms the opposing players in their own backfield with pressure so relentless, they make a mistake and cough up the ball. This allows the original attacking team to regain possession. Developed in the Premier League during the 1980’s, Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp is a huge proponent of this style of play.

Park the Bus

Origin: Though he’s more known for delivering one epically bizarre statement after another, Portuguese manager José Mourinho (dubbed "The Special One" by British press) is the architect for this phrase.

While Mourinho was still managing for Chelsea in 2004, he claimed that Tottenham played in such a defensive-minded manner that they “…brought the bus and left [it] in front of the goal.” 

This style of play characterizes a team that stacks most of its players very close to its goal to create a protective shield, rather than trying to push the ball on attack. Mourinho viewed this as a frustrating strategy because, in his mind, teams only did this if they were fearful of conceding a goal.


Origin: This term is derived from its Italian meaning ‘three quarters’. 

A trequartista is somewhat of an obscure position where a footballer engages in gameplay between the frontline and the midfield. Traditionally, this requires an agile athlete with a superb touch and the ability to instantly diagnose the state of play on the field before carving up the opposition’s defense. This player drifts in space, and with any viable trequartista, creative vision is of paramount importance while defensive responsibilities take a back seat. With their dazzling footwork, Frenchman Zinedine Zidane and the fabled Argentinian talisman Diego Maradona are prime examples of how effective a true trequartista can be, even in cluttered space. 

Row Z

Origin: Though debatable about its humble beginnings, 'Row Z’ is largely used by commentators to jokingly describe wildly errant strikes or clearances. 

Well away from being even remotely close to within the confines of the pitch, Row Z is humorously used to describe a location up high and in the distant back of the stadium where severely off-target shots or uncontrollable passes land. As the Premier League has grown in popularity in recent years and garnered massively lucrative television contracts, color commentators have been integrating the term more and more in an effort to infuse more cheeky quips into their in-game dialogue.


Origin: Some may point to other traditional cockney rhyming slang, but as author Peter Seddon points out in his book Football Talk: The Language & Folklore of the World’s Greatest Game, the term 'nutmeg’ originates from the 1870’s in Victorian England, meaning to "be tricked or deceived, especially in a manner which makes the victim look foolish."

No matter the skill level of the player or the league in which he or she plays, when someone’s nutmegged – one player purposefully sends the ball through the legs of an opposing another – the only thing that’s nearly as embarrassing is scoring an own goal. 

Squeaky Bum Time

Origin: Despite being the Premier League’s most successful manager, owning a record 13 titles with Manchester United, Fergie’s greatest contribution to the sport just might be cementing this goofy gem in the Oxford English Dictionary. 

Ferguson initially used the phrase in 2003 to describe Arsenal’s late-season run that rivaled that of his Red Devils. The phrase is employed to convey "a particularly tense period of time, especially one leading up to the climax of a competition or event." The Oxford English Dictionary further denotes the silly phrase to reference "…the sound of someone shifting restlessly on plastic seating during tense closing stages of a contest."

Some other noteworthy footy entries in the Oxford English Dictionary include "Total football," "False No. 9" and what’s called a "Cruyff turn" which is named after the eponymous Dutch soccer savant Johan Cruyff. This is an evasive maneuver where a player fakes a pass in one direction before pulling the ball back with his instep to the other side behind his front foot. It may sound simple enough, but the execution of a proper Cruyff turn at full speed is a dizzying yet elegant display of sublime skill. So, before the next batch of Premier League games are played, use this as a road map so you can not only walk the walk but also talk the talk.

Watch Premier League coverage on USA Network, featuring Premier League Mornings, select matches, and Premier League Goal Zone (check listings for games/schedule). And catch up on all the action on Peacock.