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Squeaky bums and bottle jobs: How to speak football at the end of the season



There are only a few weeks left of the season, and things are getting exciting, nervy and frantic in leagues across Europe.

Who’s going to win the title? Who’s going to be relegated? Who’s going to make the Champions League places? Who’s going to suffer the indignity of finishing below Chelsea?

All of that will combine to create a swirling, chaotic and often confusing time. So to help make some sort of sense of it all, here are a few phrases that you’re going to be hearing over the coming weeks…

The run-in

Let’s start with the basics. For some reason, the closing stages of any season are often characterised as a running race of some description, as if we collectively can’t cope with the concept of several football matches eventually reaching a conclusion, so we have to visualise it as people sweatily sprinting towards a finish line. Anyway: run-in = the last few games, usually for those with something at stake.

The wire (down to the)

Continuing the race theme, when the conclusion of the season is uncertain and it looks like things will be close right to the end, they will ‘go down to the wire’, evoking the frankly insane past practice when the end of a horse race would be signified with a wire at the finish that the horses would have to break. Sounds incredibly perilous.

Business end

See above, to a point, but ‘the business end’ tends to be a little lengthier than the run-in. As a rule, anything post-Easter in the European season structure is the business end: the time when business is concluded, hopes are realised and dreams dashed.

Squeaky bum time

In the run-in, when things go down to the wire, at the business end, people get nervous. And this is where this aphorism from Sir Alex Ferguson comes in… well, sort of.

There is some dispute about whether the former Manchester United manager actually did coin this phrase: the story is that he said something that sounded like this in a press conference, but it wasn’t clear due to a combination of his broad Scottish accent and a ropey recording. It was either “squeaky bum time” or “squeeze ya bum time”: the assembled journalists discussed which was more likely, took a vote and the former was chosen.


It’s also slightly unclear exactly what Ferguson meant, if he did in fact say “squeaky…”: competing theories for what squeaky bum time literally refers to include nervous farting, the squeak caused by tensely shifting on a plastic seat, sweating that causes said squeaks, or even simple… erm… bottom-related discomfort, caused by tension-filled scenarios. Whatever the intention, it simply refers to the nerves elicited by the end of the season. And is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Sir Alex Ferguson – squeaky bum merchant (Andrew Yates/AFP via Getty Images)


A game between two teams competing at the top or bottom of the table, which becomes so important that winning it feels like it would be worth six points, rather than merely three.

On the beach

The exact opposite of teams involved in six-pointers are those who have nothing to play for and as such, their minds are already well past the end of the season, thinking about their holiday. Hence, when they’re playing with little commitment or enthusiasm, they are ‘on the beach’. Probably in Dubai.

In the shop window

Players who are on the beach may also be in the shop window, which brings to mind a pleasant seaside souvenir shop selling trinkets made of shells, those bottles with multi-coloured sand in them and discontented Premier League footballers. This term is used to describe players who have little to play for and thus source their motivation from trying to impress other teams who might want to sign them in the summer.

As things stand

Most appropriately saved for the last day of the season, when all games are played at the same time and the shifting sands of the league table develop in real-time. So, say, Arsenal take the lead in their game in the opening five minutes, they might be described as “top of the league… as things stand!” And then things will change, many, many times, to the point that it’s essentially a waste of time trying to follow it all. But it does allow commentators to excitedly shout quite a lot during the game.

The relegation trap door

The portal through which demoted teams fall, into the Championship/whatever the next lower division is. Not an actual trap door.

Basement battle

The basement is the bottom of any league table, as it is the bottom of a house — although it is confusing, from an architectural point of view, given that the trap door opens to a level lower than the bottom.

The lottery (of the play-offs)

Plenty of things in football are referred to as a ‘lottery’ — which is to say, something you compete in but doesn’t actually rely on skill or competence and is governed solely by chance — but perhaps even more baffling than believing penalty shootouts belong in this category, there are the play-offs to determine who gets promoted and, in some countries, who gets relegated.

The idea here is how you could finish many points ahead of another team, then lose to them in a one-off game and thus your season goes down the toilet, but the lack of randomness involved is a concept that English football fans, in particular, simply cannot get their head around.

The richest game in football

As such, the importance placed upon the Championship play-off final, to decide who will ascend to the Premier League, has to be measured. And this being English football, the only metric we can place on it is monetary: the winner of that game will guarantee themselves something like £190million in TV money, and while it would be much more entertaining if this money was delivered from the air at the conclusion of the game, like ticker tape, it is nonetheless always billed as ‘the richest game in football’.

Luton won football’s richest game last season (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)


The team that ends the season steaming towards glory with a sense of inevitable, unstoppable dominance and is therefore always Manchester City (currently on a run of 32 games unbeaten).


Only applicable to Bayer Leverkusen.



Probably not one for this Premier League season, unless either Arsenal or City collapse in quite a flamboyant way in the next couple of games. The team that, while not officially champions, are going to be in the very near future.

Bottle jobs

Chokers, essentially. Teams/players in a winning position who went on to throw it away, in theory, because of a lack of courage or moral fortitude. There are various ideas over the etymology of the phrase, but the most likely is probably rooted in Cockney rhyming slang — bottle and glass = arse — the suggestion being that one who ‘bottles it’ has lost control of their bowels in fear.


The opposite of a bottle job, sort of. A player who emerges from a pack, horse-like, to become a contender for a national team squad in the final weeks of a season before a major tournament. Take your pick this year from Kobbie Mainoo, Adam Wharton, Dominic Solanke or Jarrad Branthwaite.

Could Kobbie Mainoo bolt into the Euros squad (Michael Regan/Getty Images)


Most people don’t know how things work. Cars, air traffic control, wifi — we simply assume that they will work and rely on a small group of boffins who do know how they work to tell us what’s gone wrong when they don’t work.

‘Coefficients’ belong in that group, too. Put simply, they are the ranking of certain leagues across Europe in comparison to rival leagues, based on their teams’ performance in European competitions. And they’re important as they will decide which two countries get an extra Champions League place next season. It is going to be Italy and almost certainly Germany, but you’ll still be hearing the word plenty of times in the coming weeks.

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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