‘If anything, I’ve written this almost too well’

Adam Hurrey of @FootballCliches fame chats to us about Andy Townsend, the language of Sunday League football and more.

ADAM HURREY RUNS the popular @FootballCliches Twitter account and writes for several publications including The Telegraph and The Guardian.

He has recently released a book, based on his love of football clichés, which is discussed along with other topics below…

How did the idea for the book come about in the first place?


I’ve had the blog for seven or eight years now, and I started a Twitter page in 2010. As cynical as it looks, I genuinely had no plans to turn it into a book. It was just something I wanted to get out of my system. I knew I was the only one who cared about it for a while.

Last year, the publishers said to me ‘do you ever have plans turning it into a book?’ They convinced me it was a good idea rather than the other way around, which is unusual. And that’s how it turned out. But I’m quite happy with the final product.

Tell us about the process — was it easy or painstaking to write?

In terms of the material — that part was easy. I’m ashamed to say there wasn’t a great deal of research involved because I kind of had it all pulled together. The biggest challenge of the book was the introduction, which explains how I feel about football clichés — they’re not a bad thing, they’re an enabler.

And I’ve always felt that the coverage of football hit saturation point a long time ago and there are only so many ways you can talk about the game, so you have to rely on clichés.

You have phrases like ‘a game of two halves,’ which is kind of like the godfather of football clichés. It’s evolved to a stage where you can’t say it with a straight face anymore. You have to describe it as a cliché when you say it.

So that’s the evolution of not just football language, but language overall. Football is an interesting microcosm of how language works. And another good thing about it is you can claim to be an expert in it, because no one really talks about it.

You’ll have a phrase or word that people will start to use unknowingly almost, and then it will start getting repeated. So, for example, the word ‘derisory’ is always used by chairmen for a transfer offer for one of their players that hasn’t quite hit the mark. It’s an example of a football cliché at the peak of its phase whereby the word is used almost endlessly. And they’re using it almost without thinking.

But there’s a point where they say ‘I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but…’ And then they’ll describe the transfer as ‘derisory’.

Football is becoming more and more self-aware, particularly because there is so much coverage of it and people are becoming more aware of what they’re saying. Not only is there so much coverage of football but there’s more coverage of the coverage — there’s more articles these days on the television coverage of football than there’s ever been. It’s become really inward-looking, so I guess the lifespan of clichés may become even shorter.

You cover a lot of ground in the book from commentators’ clichés to Sunday League ones. Were some parts easier than others to write about?

FC 2

It’s something that’s just seeped into my brain over the last 31 years, I guess. In that sense, it wasn’t too difficult. The Sunday League one was probably the easiest chapter to write of them all, because that’s drawn directly from my experience of Sunday League football week-in-week-out for decades.

It’s quite a curious place, Sunday League football, because you’ve got these 22 players trying to live out what they’ve seen on TV in the most basic way possible. These words tend to spill out as well — these phrases that they feel they have to say. I guess the best one is when you win a throw-in deep in the opposition half, and someone says ‘we’ve got to box them in,’ as if this is some sort of crucial instruction. But it isn’t.

Not only do they want to play like footballers, they also want to sound and act like footballers. But the last thing I want is for it to look like I’m criticising it, because I’ve done it myself. It’s pure instinct at that level.

So rather than lamenting clichés, you look at them in an almost affectionate manner?

Yeah, clichés can be celebrated, they can be groaned at, they sum up a part of football better than any other phrase could no matter how good you are at language. Some clichés are clichés because they’re true — you could never argue with them. On the other hand, there are clichés that make no sense at all, and they’re there to be ridiculed.

Unfortunately, the word cliché has a negative connotation. If you look up cliché in the dictionary, it will say ‘unoriginal thought, it lacks any insight’. But there are only certain insights you can have over certain mundane aspects of the game. They perform a function from TV all the way to talking about it down in the pub.

Is there any pundit or commentator that you feel is especially prone to cliché?

It’s not something I’d like to accuse someone of, but I guess Andy Townsend has almost created his own kind of language for himself that’s fast-tracked its way to cliché, but only in his own world.

Michael Owen is a really interesting character on TV now, because he’s putting his heart and soul into commentary. You can tell the effort he’s putting into it, but he doesn’t quite have the charisma that, for example, Ron Atkinson had back in the day, for all his faults. He relies heavily on these stock phrases. At the start of every game, he’s giving this intro just before kick-off that’s so obviously scripted. And he’s using words and phrases that you wouldn’t instinctively use off the top of your head, but he’s written it down and thought: ‘well that looks good written down’.

There are lots of football clichés that you’ll only ever see in text and papers, but no one in their right mind would ever say them out loud. You’ll often see a reference to someone ‘vowing’ to do something. No one would ever ‘vow’ to do something in real life. It would sound ridiculous.

Do you have a favourite cliché?

FC 3

I definitely have one favourite. I love the concept of a player ‘if anything, hitting the ball too well’. It’s one of those football clichés that screams at the person who’s listening to it: ‘you know what I mean!’

On the face of it, it makes no logical sense. It’s said if a player hits a shot where the trajectory is so straight and lovely, but it just goes over the bar. I guess what they mean is if the player had hit it in a scrappier way, it would have gone in.

You can also head it too well. You can tackle too well. It comes in all sorts of manifestations. No one has ever really sat back and thought: ‘what the hell does that mean?’

And conversely, is there any cliché you would love to be able to wish out of existence?

Some of the nouveau clichés haven’t really sat well with me. [For example] ‘parking the bus,’ which Jose Mourinho famously introduced around 2006. It’s one of those things that seems to have caught on too quickly. And I’m more of an old-school cliché fan — I don’t like it when new phrases come in.

The internet has helped propagate the word ‘golazo’ and that’s one of many continental terms it seems to have helped creep into our language. I can’t stand the word ‘golazo,’ simply because I can’t understand at what stage a goal becomes a golazo. How good does it have to be? And I still haven’t worked that out from Twitter.

We’re also yet to establish what the ultimate test in English football is. I believe it’s a ‘cold, wet Tuesday night in Stoke’. Some people might think it’s a Wednesday night. There may be some windiness involved, but we’re yet to establish what exactly it is. I think it might evolve to become a wet Thursday night on Channel 5 in Milton Keynes perhaps.

You once had trials at Swindon, I believe?

I played for the youth team when I was about 13, but my heart wasn’t really in it. It was just an extension of Sunday League for me. So I played for them a few times, broke my leg, and then just never went back. I don’t really regret it. Despite having all the money, being a footballer sounds really annoying. Having lots of people shout abuse at you every week doesn’t sound like fun.

How much football would you watch in an average week, given that you seem so well versed in clichés?

Probably not as much as three or four years ago. It’s just that you have to put a limit on it really. Football Clichés is ticking along quite well. I don’t feel the need to watch every single game and tweet on it — it’s only Twitter after all.

But waking up on a Saturday, watching the early game, and then going all the way through to seven o’clock — that’s enough for me in a week, I think. Sunday’s have started to fade for me as a football extravaganza — I just can’t do it anymore.

Will you still be running Football Clichés in 10 years?

FC 4

People are almost certainly already sick of it. But who knows? I don’t know if Twitter will even be around in 10 years. If I’m still around doing Football Clichés in 10 years, then the language will almost certainly have to have evolved pretty steadily.

I can’t keep getting away with all the old stuff any longer. I certainly won’t do another book. This has summed it all up for me. It’s been fun to write, but maybe come to the end of its cycle in terms of getting everything out there. But if people are talking out football clichés a little bit more, then I’m delighted to have raised awareness of such an important subject [laughs].

You’ve built up a lot of Twitter followers in the last few years. Do you tend to attract many trolls?

A lot of the anger on Twitter is based around club tribalism — once you tweet positively or negatively, you’re always going to annoy somebody. It’s not something that really interests me.

I’ve got no real desire to wind up people, it’s such a pointless thing to be involved in. The anger that football tribalism generates amazes me. I try not to get involved, especially in club versus club debates, because it’s just the most boring thing imaginable — this set of fans are better than that set of fans. It’s absolute rubbish.

Finally, speaking only in cliché, why should the average punter buy this book?

One reviewer on Amazon today said that if anything, I’ve written this almost too well, which I guess sums it up.

We’re all watching far too much football these days, so it’s time someone tries to pull it all together and makes sense of it, because there is so much coverage of football and we’re not really pausing to consider what they’re telling us.

There are so many people on TV talking intensively on the subject of football for about three hours. This book will go some way towards making sense of explaining why they’re doing it and why they’re choosing one phrase over another. It’s laying it all out and making sense of some of the nonsense.

Football Clichés by Adam Hurrey is now available to buy. For more info, click here.

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