Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Cliché Central, Part 1

Time for a tragic ode...also known by the ancient Greeks as a whinge.

Football journalism, and commentary, is becoming distinctly jaded. Descriptions of players, games, goals, saves, near-misses, individual performances, and even passes have a uniformity that is more noticeable by the year. The increasing popularity of the game, and the consequent conversion of jack-of-all-sports journalists into football columnists, has resulted in a reliance on sloppy descriptions and silly clichés.

Herewith an examination of a few of them, and some alternative suggestions.

“...on the stroke of half-time...”

This one is applied automatically these days to any goals, near-misses, send-offs etc. that occur between the 40th minute and the interval. The original effect of the phrase, with its overtones of a disastrous setback just before a rest, has been thoroughly worn away through over-use.

If it’s too prosaic to state the exact minute in which the incident occurred, “just before the interval”, “a few minutes (or, if we want to be punctilious, one/two/three minutes) before the break”, “in first-half stoppage time”, “shortly before half-time”, are just a few of the possible alternatives – sacrificing trite melodrama for modest accuracy.

A similar creature is:

“ the dying seconds/minutes...”

The mortality rate of small units of time has surged in recent years.

Although generally applied to injury time, significant occurrences which fall within the 85th-90th minute period have also commonly attracted this phrase, which always raises a groan.

Some alternatives, excepting again the more precise descriptions: “in injury time” (As simple as that? You’re kidding!), “with only a couple of minutes left”, “just before the close”, “near the end of stoppage time”.

You will notice that I haven’t included “deep into injury time”...which is fast becoming a cliché in its own right.

“...a teasing cross/centre...”

Images of the ball making sarcastic jokes at the expense of the defenders’ mothers as it comes over from the wing pop into one’s mind.

Was the cross accurate? Looping? Flat? Horizontal or diagonal? At an awkward height for a clearing header? From the by-line or from in front of the defenders?

Dunno, but, by Gawd, it was a teaser!

“...a slide-rule pass...”

Andrea Pirlo, Didi Hamann, Clarence Seedorf and others know how to use their geometry sets, you see.

Once again, there are many worthwhile things that can be written or said about a good pass. Diagonal? Long or short? Premeditated or instinctive? Defence-splitting? (A borderline cliché, that one.) Behind the fullback? Timed to coincide with the run of an alert forward?

Most passes, however, tend not to be analysed further than a slide-rule can reach.

“...a clinical finish...”

This is the worst and most nauseating of them all.

Originally just a quirky medical analogy for an accurate finish, the ghastly phrase is now ubiquitous. A quick dip into the nearest thesaurus would at least give you words like accurate, precise, deft and well-placed. Another look at the goal might give you further options: near-post, far-post, narrow-angled, firmly-struck, curved, long-range, calm, instinctive...and so on. It is football journalism, rather than a ball at the feet of a striker, that needs a trip to the clinic.

More to come soon, folks.

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