Here’s chapter one, ‘The Basic Concepts in Soccer,’ from Elliot Turner’s An Illustrated Guide to Soccer & Spanish.
Soccer in the United States, just like the country itself—even if the National Team and some, um, less liberal sections of the population have yet to fully realize or embrace it—is being shaped by Latino culture. Just listen to Jurgen Klinsmann, the new—and German!—head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team, in his introductory press conference. We really don’t have an identity as a soccer-playing nation, but as we, hopefully, start to develop one, Latino culture will and should have as big of an influence as any.
GMP contributor Elliott Turner’s newly released e-book, An Illustrated Guide to Soccer & Spanish, digs right into this confluence. It’s a chapter-by-chapter guide to the world’s greatest sport through English and Spanish comparisons and language. It ends with an exhaustive Spanish-English dictionary that translates every word you could ever associate with the sport, in either language. It’s an intelligent, hilarious read for anyone who even remotely cares about sports, culture, or being a human being. And if you don’t know how to read, it has pictures! Head on over to the Amazon Kindle or Barnes and Noble Nook shops and pick up a copy. It was released today.
Elliott was kind enough to lend us the first chapter. Enjoy.
SOCCER’S simplicity has played a rise in its popularity. The most basic rule is that a jugador/a [player] cannot touch the pelota [ball] with his or her manos [hands]. Only one player, the goalie, can touch the ball with his or her hands. And only while in the area near his or her own goal. This central rule, no hands, goes against human nature—our development as a species owes much to cognition, but also to our opposable thumbs. When a ball or object flies our way, the instinct is to reach out, to shield one’s self with his or her arms. And therein lies the fundamental skill and intrigue of the sport—reducing the unnatural to a graceful and fluid movement.
If hands are off limits, then what can a player do? He or she can use almost any other part of the body. The most commonly used body part is the pie [foot]. Please note that pie is not pronounced like a delicious American apple pie that you eat—rather, it is two syllables, “pee” and “eh.” The right foot is the pie derecho. Thus, one could technically say that the left foot is the pie izquierdo. However, a left-footed player kicks with his or her zurdo/a. And zurdo/a is also the adjective for these players, among them the great Diego Maradona.
And that brings us to the most basic of tasks: the kicking of a soccer ball. While humans have pies and animals have patas [hoofs], curiously, the common term for kicking a soccer ball is patear. This peculiarity could be attributed to the necessary back lift when kicking a soccer ball. Like a stationary horse kicking up dust, a player must first pull his or her foot back before propelling it forward. One could also employ the verb rematar [to strike]. Also, several words exist for soccer ball, including pelota, balón, and bola.
Multitudinous ways exist to kick a ball. A player that launches a high-flying and aimless ball forward has just kicked a balonazo. A smart and subtle player who prefers neat ten-foot passes to teammates will be praised for being able to tocar la pelota. Tocar means to touch, and also means to play an instrument. Thus, when Xavi Herandez of Barcelona sprays a hundred tidy passes in a single game, he might as well be playing the flute. Also, a player with good feet that can receive a difficult pass in a single touch has a good primer toque. If a player prefers to play first-time passes, then he or she likes to tocar de primera. Primero/a means first, and is both an adjective and an adverb.
But why do they kick the ball? To what end? At each side of the field, there are two netted cages referred to as “goals” in English. In Spanish, two terms exist: puerta and arco. Puerta, common in Spain, also means “door.” This is fitting, because the soccer goal is the entryway to victory. At the end of a partido [game], the team that scores the most goals will ganar [win]. Meanwhile, the preferred term in South America, arco, reflects the arched shape of the goal. To score a goal, the ball must enter the puerta or arco of the other equipo [team]. A goalie is known as a portero/a or arquero/a.
While soccer has certain regulations for the size of a playing field, all games are played on a campo [field]. Generally, the field consist of natural grass. In Spain, you would say césped for grass. In Mexico, you could say pasto. In Central America, many say grama. Yes, grama. No, not grandma. When two words in different languages sound similar and share the same meaning, they are cognates. However, when two words in different languages sound similar but have different meanings, they are false cognates. Beware the false cognates; they are killers of conversation and provokers of blushes.
For an artificial surface, the common term is pasto sintético, which means synthetic grass. Regardless of the quality of the campo, most games take place in a cancha. Cancha is the specific term for a sporting field, akin to the UK English term “pitch.” If the game is played by professionals, it probably takes place in an estadio [stadium]. However, in many countries in South America, even when a game is played in a stadium, the preferred term is cancha. Cancha is not to be confused with a similar sounding pejorative term, also common in South America.
Each team fields eleven players at a single time, including the goalie. Usually, a team fields three or four players in front of the goalie. Their basic task is to prevent the opposition from scoring. Individually, each single player is a defensor/a. However, collectively, they form la defensa. This raises another distinction between English and Spanish: gender. In Spanish, like other romance languages, a noun is either masculine or feminine. Singular feminine nouns end in “a” and the corresponding article is “la.” Masculine nouns end in “o” and start with “el.” So defense, that bastion of masculinity and muscular might, is feminine. Throughout this guide, nouns will end in an “o/a.” This represents a noun which can be either male or female.
In front of the defensa and the goalie, usually four or five players will have the dubious task of both defending and playing offense. They are often called mediocampistas. The campista comes from campo, and medio/a means half. Another common term is volante, and is derived from the term volar, which means “to fly.” This is very similar to the UK English term for a wide midfielder: winger. The modern game has imposed a series of sub-duties on mediocampistas. We will explore these tasks later. For now, know that teams prefer a fleet-footed angel of darkness like Dutch midfielder Arjen Robben.
Close to the opposition’s goal lurks one or two players, usually the best paid on the squad. Their task appears simple yet remains as elusive as grasping mercury: kicking or heading the ball into the back of the red [net]. They are the forwards. In Spanish, they are delanteros/as. This term derives from delante, the word for forward. Forwards range in size and skill, from the short but quick to the tall and strong. What they have in common is an insatiable appetite to do one thing: marcar un gol [score a goal].
One may ask – who are the bespectacled men and women standing on the sidelines in proper dinner attire, futilely shouting, waiving, and, in many cases, arguing with the árbitro/a [referee]? The American term is coach, but in the UK “manager” is more common. In Spanish, they are entrenadores/as. The term comes from entrenar, which means “to train.” Their personalities and methods vary like the colors in a rainbow, but they all share one thing in common: if their team loses, fingers get pointed in their direction.
With twenty-two moving bodies on one field, individuals inevitably clash. Who separates the good boys and girls from the bad ones? The árbitro/a and the asistentes [assistants]. Make no mistake—in a game of few stoppages in play, two 45 minute halves, and close scorelines, referees have a job best described as duro [hard] and difícil [difficult]. Yet, as we will later see, not all players and fans have respect for these hard-working men and women.
Lastly, the entire spectacle of sport owes much to me and you. Without a mass of aficionados/as [fans], clubs could never afford to build stadiums, much less fill them day-in and day-out. We form la afición. Different words exist for the various subsections of fans. Socios/as generally pay for season tickets, while the barra brava raises a ruckus inside and outside of the stadium.
Each component plays a part in the soccer ecosystem. Fans provide the financial spine, referees enforce the rules, managers give press conferences, and players kick a ball for ninety minutes. Somewhere in between, magia [magic] happens.