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Teaching English is Just a Funny Old Game (of football)

By Paul Finnerty

So, I’m an English teacher. I have been for seven years now.

I also happen to be an absolute fanatic of football. Since for as long as I can remember, I have played, watched, talked and breathed football. So why not consider my job as a game of football?

Having sat down and thought about it, I’ve basically figured out that English language learning and football are two parallel dimensions where people’s roles transcend both worlds.

For a start, EFL also stands for English Football League!

Anyway, here are 10 footballer’s roles played out in the EFL world, or vice versa if you prefer. Warning! The further you go down the list, the more tenuous they become!


    1. Where else to start but with the COACH? Who else but we, the teachers would be the coaches? We put the team out, organising our classroom, and after a hard week pre-teaching vocabulary on the training pitch, we expect our students to deliver on matchday when we give them a chance to show their skills in a freer speaking activity. Our tactics might vary. Some of our students quickly need to become good communicators or have a test to pass, so route one football might be the best option for them. There are, however, those of us who promote a brand of total football harking back to the late 80s. Idiomatic expressions, a range of vocabulary, fluid pronunciation and a swagger to intonation is what we demand. It takes time, but boy is it worth it when it all comes together.

    2. Next, the PLAYER. It’s quite obvious that our dear students are the ones with the ball at their feet. Thrown under the floodlights they have to make decisions about where and who to pass to, what language to use, all while being gegenpressed by a teacher and classmates expecting a good performance. Some students will take control of the ball and shoot from outside the box as they test out that new less-common lexis they came across the other day, while those less inclined to speak will hide and do their utmost to avoid possession of the ball. If they do receive the ball, they’ll look for an easy pass to a teammate.

    3. CAPTAINS are essential if a classroom is to put in a good performance. They are the fulcrum of the group, a leader of learners. They are willing to help out teammates when they are in trouble, and the coach knows he can depend on them to get other players onside with his tactics, even if instructions haven’t been given clearly. They lead by example and kiss the course book every time they score a spectacular phrase. Their absence demoralises the team and performance levels visibly drop when they are not present.

    4. ONE-FOOTED WINGERS might be seen as mavericks by some, what with their tricks and flicks and occasional long-range screamer of an idiomatic expression that luckily matches that of their L1. You see, they are stuck in their ways, unwilling to test out their other foot. On the training pitch, you put together lexical routines and give instructions for set piece delivery, but ultimately they will just do things their way and make the same old mistakes.

    5. There is, of course, always the need for a REFEREE in the EFL classroom to keep students in check. Offences include time-wasting (arriving late), taking too long over a throw-in (doing tasks slowly) and dissent (talking back to the teacher). A red card is assured for those who dare to speak or copy during a test.

  • Every football club needs SUPPORTERS through the turnstiles to survive, and they come in the form of demanding parents. They’ve paid hard-earned money to see good performances, but results in exams are what really count. When students are called up for international duty when travelling abroad with parents they are thrust into the limelight and must prosper at the highest level of the game. Supporters will question their players’ abilities if they can’t perform on the international stage.


  • The KITMAN doesn’t often receive the credit he deserves. Think about the amount of players that turn up without their pens or boots, or those who deign it acceptable to come to matchday in mud-stained shirts or with scruffily-written homework. He’s definitely got his work cut out, and in the lower echelons of the profession he often has to give away his own pair of socks to a needy player.


  • All good clubs are constantly on the lookout for new talent and for this reason the role of SCOUT is of paramount importance. Checking out how other practitioners do things is key, and he has to identify methods that first, can be viably brought into the classroom, and second, that will actually improve performance. Some scouts have to submit dossiers to their seniors before permission is given to freshen up the squad.


  • What so often makes the difference at clubs these days are the MILLIONAIRE OWNERS. They come in to a club with the promise of short-term glory, spend big on advertising campaigns and promise punters that championships will be won or English spoken perfectly within months. Their clubs usually have the cream of innovations at their disposal. Sometimes it works, but sometimes they drive disillusioned fans away, who reminisce about the way things used be done with solid dependable players like non-interactive whiteboards, talking teachers and a good old worksheet. Rather than overpaid mercenaries such as smartboards and wireless technology.

  • Every football club, no matter how squeakily-clean they are run, is worried when the ANTI-DOPING INSPECTORS come in. Observations are sometimes forewarned, never by more than 48 hours, and no club employee will deny there is a hint of nerves when a clipboard unexpectedly pokes its way into the premises. The assessor makes sure that their regulations are being abided by, and then suddenly leaves before you can justify why there were traces of illicit substances found in your board work.


That’s enough of that for now! I hope you’ve enjoyed the read.

What other footballing roles could be compared to those of EFL teachers?

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

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