It was one of the first football clichés I can recall and goes back to the 1970s. ‘As sick as a parrot’. There are many different explanations as to the origins of this particular cliché date although my favourite dates back almost a century. Tottenham Hotspur went on an overseas tour in 1908 and the captain of the ship they sailed on presented them with a parrot as a gift. The bird sat happily in the confines of White Hart Lane in North London. However, controversy arose in 1919 when Spurs arch rivals Arsenal were admitted to the First Division - at Spurs expense. The day the decision was announced the parrot died (I won’t make the obvious Monty Python gag…)
Clichés are so ingrained in football these days it’s little surprise that players and managers will trot them out ad finitum. In my more idle moments I have wondered when they were first spoken and who by. I’ve often heard it said after a particularly physical game that ‘no quarter was asked’. What does that mean exactly? How does that fit with another well-worn cliché ‘a game of two halves’? I’ve never quite understood what it meant. I can fathom its use in other scenarios. I had an argument with my local sweetshop owner the other day when I accused him of falling short with the number of liquorice allsorts he put in my bag. His response of ‘well there was no quarter asked’ was understandable if somewhat irritating. However, what it means in a football sense is less clear.
Then there’s the 'stonewall' penalty. I heard ESPN summariser Craig Burley say the other week after a player was hauled down and the referee waved play on that ‘for me, it was a stonewaller’. Burley is far from alone in using this phrase but it does make me wonder what it means in a football context. That said, my favourite Burley moment was when Newcastle United demolished Aston Villa 6-0 a few weeks ago. At 0-0, Villa’s John Carew blasted his penalty into the upper tier of the Gallowgate Stand of St. James Park inducing Burley to opine ‘he hit the ball too well….’
One that I havent heard for a while - educated foot - as in "he's spraying the ball around the park with his educated left foot" Now there are two inexplicable clichés in the same sentence. Can you spray a solid, spherical object? And in what context can your left foot be educated? Did it go to St. Andrew’s University while the rest of your body hopped around the streets with a sweeping brush?
ITV’s Champions League coverage includes summaries from the former Liverpool defender Jim Beglin. The Irishman talks a good game but he does tend to use the phrase "that was meat and drink for the goalkeeper" whenever a cross ball is easily collected. I half expect Manchester United’s Edwin van de Sar to catch the ball, produce a napkin from his shorts and start tucking in to the match ball…ITV used to have former United and West Bromwich Albion manager Ron Atkinson as a summariser until he courted controversy with a racist comment. Atkinson is given the credit - or should that be blame - for first coining the phrase ‘early doors’ as in ‘United will look to keep things tight early doors’. Many people use that term now and we all know what it means but I do wonder how on earth Atkinson thought it made any sense.
There are clichés in all walks of public life. How many politicians do you hear saying ‘the fact of the matter is’? (usually when they’re trying desperately to think of an answer to a probing question) However, they seem more prevalent in football and it’s not just players and officials. Newspaper reporters will often refer to a manager ‘losing the dressing room’ or the more successful ones as ‘supremo' while the transfer window always 'slams shut' at the end of August and January.
At the end of the day, cliches are part and parcel of football. It’s a big ask for me not to write this article without resorting to cliché mode and, to be fair, I set my stall out early doors. Although, I have to say, as I wrote this whilst consuming copious amounts of brandy this there’s a fair chance ‘I’ll be feeling that one in the morning…’