The Language of Football — Germany

This article originally appeared on the quite interesting The Language of Football site. The Language of Football explores the links – great and small, serious and silly – between two favourite things.  Other recent posts feature Turkey, Poland, the Czech Republic and Spain.

  • Official language: German
  • Interesting facts: West Germanic, features ß and umlauts

We’ve written before about how football mirrors language in Germany, using solid structure as a basis for all kinds of invention. It adds up to a language of football that is endlessly expressive and always worth revisiting.

So without further ado…

Choice phrases

Moving through the team, the goalkeeper can be known as a Teufelskerl (devil’s man) or, if he is no good, a Fliegenfänger (fly catcher). And in front of him you’ll expect your defence to put in the odd Blutgrätsche (blood tackle). In midfield you should have a couple of Wadenbeißer (lit. calf-biters, fig. short-arse waspish types), while your man up front is very much a Torjäger (goal hunter).

Some fairly no-nonsense terms of aggression in there, but on more playful grounds we have:

  • The mouse is over! (Aus die Maus!):  the game’s up, there’s nothing more we can do. This one is a catchphrase from a children’s show in the late 90s.
  • The keeper goes down like a railway gate (Der Torwart fällt wie eine Bahnschranke)
  • Cucumber troop (Gurkentruppe): A team that is, frankly, a bit pony
  • Death of chances (Chancentod): Nickname for a striker who keeps missing opportunities

And being a national obsession, football has coloured everyday language:

  • The arse card (Arschkarte): The referee keeps the yellow card in his breast pocket, and the red in his back pocket, next to his arse. “To get the arse card” is to have something particularly bad happens to you.
  • Keep the ball down low (den Ball flach halten): hold your horses, don’t be hasty
  • To give a through ball (eine Steilvorlage geben): to put something on a plate for someone

Finally, Mario Götze’s goal in the final of the 2014 World Cup was a Jokertor (goal by a substitute). As Rafa Honigstein pointed out in Das Reboot, it was also a goal which owed a debt to the new-fangled Footbonaut.


Unrequited love is a terrible, gut-wrenching thing. Unrequited hate, on the other hand, is just kind of sad.

So it’s not great that while in England we love to put one over on the Germans, they aren’t nearly so fussed by Tommy. Instead, they focus on the Käsköppe (“cheese heads”) to the north. So it’s with some glee that the chant of “We’re going to the Euros without Holland” (Ohne Holland fahrn wir zur EM) has rung out around German grounds in recent times.

It’s noticeable that German fans are happy to describe their opponents in their own language, using Tommy for England, Elftal for the Netherlands and Squadra Azzurri for Italy. The rivalry with Italy  goes back to at least 1970, where the World Cup semi final (4-3 to Italy) is considered as the Jahrhundertspiel (Game of the Century).

Who speaks what

germany22Unlike the UK, the Germans are not quick to associate regional accents with social class. However, the North German spoken by players like Toni Kroos has a very inherently homely feel.  It is closely related to Dutch and has vocabulary that is felt to be charming so, basically, you can swear all you like and get away with it. Compare, for example, the sound of the standard German Idiot or Dummkopf next to the altogether lovelier North German versionDösbaddel – you just can’t be angry with someone who calls you a Dösbaddel.


In 2006, Lukas Podolski won Football Quote of the Year (it’s a thing) from the Deutsche Akademie für Fußballkultur for the deep thinking behind the following doozy: “Football is like that. Sometimes the better one wins.” (So ist Fußball. Manchmal gewinnt der Bessere). He  supposedly once also remarked that “football is like chess, just without the dice”, but despite how much we want it to be true, we suspect that one is made up.

Patrick Funk doesn’t play for the national team, but wholly merits a mention for “left is similar to right, just on the other side” (Links ist ähnlich wie rechts, nur auf der anderen Seite). Just think how much head-scratching could have been saved if we’d had the Funk in 1990s England, when we couldn’t sort out that interminable left-side problem.


In 2006, Sportfreunde Stiller’s “54, 74, 90, 2006” became the unofficial anthem of theMannschaft. They’ve since had to go to the trouble of adapting and extending it because just they keep on winning things, which we in England can entirely sympathise with (“30/40/50 years of hurt”, anyone?)

Besides baiting the absent Dutch, another popular chant to goad your opponents with is  “you can go home” (Ihr könnt nach Hause fahren!).

And, of course, there’s always Mario Gomez.

Germany begins its 2016 Euro campaign Sunday June 12 with its Group C match against the Ukraine in Lille.  Poland and Northern Ireland are the other two Group C nations in this year’s Euros.

With thanks to Sebastian Kahl, Sascha Stollhans, Arne Siegmund, Okke Baumbach at the University of Newcastle and Jens Boyer at the Goethe Institut, London. Thanks also to Katrin Scheib for the corrections.

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Richard Furlong hails from north of England, supports a 5th-tier club called Tranmere Rovers and writes for the Language of Football

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