Football Vocabulary: 9 People in Football and What They Do

Football Vocabulary: 9 People in Football and What They Do

This is part two of a series on football vocabulary in English. If you want more, check out How to Say Football Scores in English and Football Vocabulary: 23 Essential Words and Phrases.

So which one are you?

Are you one of the people who’ve been enjoying the World Cup, supporting a team and following it every step of the way?

Or are you one of the people who have run to the forest to avoid all this football?

If you’ve run to the forest, then I’ve got some bad news for you: in the next two posts, we’ll continue learning how to talk about about football. So meanwhile, why not forget football rules and enjoy some lovely little pictures to help you with English rules?

However, if you’re one of the football people, then welcome on board. It’s time to talk about football! Specifically, different people in football.

102 Little Drawings eBook

1. Player

Football vocabulary: player

Who is he?

He’s the guy that plays the football. Obviously.

Back when I was a kid, everyone wanted to be a rockstar — they were paid countless millions and had the most awesome lifestyles. So I learned to play guitar.

Now it’s the football players (or “footballers”) who get all the money and the glamorous lifestyle.

Maybe I should’ve learned to play football instead?

What does he do?

Well, when he’s not arguing with the ref (see below) or taking his shirt off and running around, this guy does a lot of kicking. A lot.

There are other things that he does, too:

  • boot — When a player boots the ball, he kicks it hard and far.
  • pass — To kick the ball to another player on the team.
  • throw — Sometimes it happens: the player is actually allowed to pick up the ball with his hands when the ball goes out. Then he throws the ball. This is called a throw in.
  • head — It’s not just kicking! The player can head the ball. Looks great. Probably doesn’t feel so great.
  • tackle — And of course there’s the tackling. This is when a player tries to kick the ball away from another player who’s already got it.

2. Attacker / Striker

Football vocabulary: striker

Who is he?

If being a footballer is like being a rock star, then being a striker is like being the lead singer.

The striker is one of the guys chosen by the coach to try to score the goals. He usually hangs out on the side of the pitch near the other team’s goal, waiting to strike!

What does he do?

  • shoot — To kick the ball towards the goal. And hopefully score a goal.
  • score (a goal) — To erm … you know this, right?

There’s a classic phrase in football that actually comes from a Canadian sports presenter in the 80s. The phrase captures all the excitement of a football match:

“He shoots! He scores!”

Sounds fun, right? You can also use this phrase when you see someone achieve something difficult.

3. Defender

Football vocabulary: defender

Who is he?

So, if the striker spends his time near the other team’s goal, this guy’s always hanging out near his own team’s goal.

What does he do?

As you can imagine, his job is to defend the goal.

4. Midfielder

Football vocabulary: midfielder

Who is he?

So strikers at the front, defenders at the back and midfielders?

Yep — in the middle.

Midfielders actually have a variety of different roles: they can be used to break up the other team’s attack; they can be used to keep the ball moving in the right direction; and some can be just like strikers or defenders. It depends on the manager.

5. Goalkeeper / Goalie

Football vocabulary: goalie / goal keeper

Who is he?

We all know this guy, right?

The only one who can use his hands! And, as a result, always my favourite player.

What does he do?

  • catch (the ball) — Of course his main job is to catch the ball, right?
  • throw (the ball) — Yes. Sometimes football vocabulary is really, really simple.
  • concede (a goal) — When the goalie concedes a goal, it means he fails. He lets the ball into the goal.
  • dive — This is when the goalie makes a dramatic jump to the ground to catch the ball.


6. The Referee / The Ref

Football vocabulary: ref / referee

Who is he?

The judge. The man in charge. The guy who makes the decisions. The man the players shout at when they get a card.

The referee, or “ref,” is the judge of the game.

What does he do?

  • award a penalty — This is when the ref decides that one of the teams has broken a rule and lets the other team have a penalty kick.
  • award a corner — When one team kicks the ball out of the pitch just behind their own goal, then the ref awards the other team a corner kick.
  • award a free kick — This is similar to a penalty. (For more on penalties and free kicks, click here.)
  • give/hand out a red/yellow card — This is one of the most iconic images in football:


There are a few ways you can say this. You can say:

He hands out a red card (to Messi).


He hands Messi a red card.

7. Spectators / The Crowd

Football vocabulary: the crowd

Who are they?

Well, these words have slightly different meanings:

A spectator is anyone watching the match. Maybe at home with a bowl of pasta or in the stadium with thousands of other spectators.

The crowd is the general word for all the spectators in the stadium.

What do they do?

While a spectator simply watches the match, a crowd tends to do quite a lot:

  • chant — Have a listen to this. This is a chant:
  • cheer – This is the noise the crowd makes after something exciting has happened. Especially after a goal or when the game’s over:
  • go wild — There’s a common phrase in football English we can use when the crowd makes a ridiculous amount of noise:

“… and the crowd goes wild!”

You can also use this phrase when a friend does something quite impressive — usually something physical — like when they get into the elevator as the doors are closing. It’s a fun, friendly thing to say.

8. Substitute / Sub

Football vocabulary: sub / substitute

Who is he?

It’s good to have some extra players around, right? Just in case one of the main ones gets tired or decides he’s had enough and runs off to go travelling around Asia. (That happens sometimes, right?)

So you have a substitute — though we always say “sub.”

What does he do?

Most of the time?

Not much. He just sits. And waits. On the bench.

But sometimes he gets brought on to the pitch.

9. Assistant Referee / Linesman / Lineswoman

Football vocabulary: linesman / lineswoman

Who is she?

The assistant referee (AR) — still commonly known as a linesman/lineswoman — is there to help out the ref.

What does she do?

The AR actually has a variety of roles, but her main job is to indicate when the ball is out of play and to signal an offside offence.

What’s an offside offence? That is one of the great mysteries of football, and we’ll be looking into it next week.

So those are the people in football!

If you’re a football person, now you can describe what’s going on in the game a little better.

If you’re not, then well done for reaching this far. Here’s how you probably feel about football right now:

Click here to learn the different parts of the football pitch and the stadium, the different rules in football and the different types of football match.

Meanwhile, how have you been enjoying the World Cup? Which team do you support? How well are they doing? What’s been the highlight (best part) of the World Cup so far?

Let me know in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “Football Vocabulary: 9 People in Football and What They Do

  1. I’d been enjoying the play of Japan team but they failed.
    And of course Russia 🙂 Their game with Spanish team was quite dull, but sensational!

  2. Hi Gabriel. I’m not very fond of this sport but I support F.C. Barcelona. Somehow it represents my country which is Catalonia, and I’m very proud of it.
    Tanks for your lovely, original lessons.

    1. In that case you’re lucky you come from somewhere with an excellent football team!

      I’m originally from Brighton in the UK. I don’t really follow Premiership football, but as far as I can understand, they’re not particularly good.

      Thanks for the positive feedback and keep learning! 🙂

  3. thanks a lot for your lessons. I’m saving them for my students in September coming back to school. I’m sure they will enjoy!!!!

    1. Thanks for the thanks, Caterina!

      I’d love to hear how the lessons go down with your students.

      I’m also thinking about doing lesson plans based around these blog posts. Would that be something you might be interested in?

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