The rules of modern football were first developed in Britain and many of the first football clubs in Spain were established by British expatriates. For this reason, among others, some English vocabulary was adopted and some clubs, such as ‘Sporting’ or ‘Athletic’ still have English names. The denomination ‘balompie’ soon became outmoded in favour of ‘fútbol’ and the manager is still sometimes referred to as ‘el míster’. Words like these or, for example, ‘goal’, ‘penalty’ or ‘corner’ have also been phonetically adapted to become gol, penalti and córner. And to score a goal, you have to shoot or chutar. The origin of alirón is somewhat more doubtful, but one theory is that it is derived from ‘all iron’ that British mine owners in Vizcaya would write on the purest (and therefore most valuable) iron seams to distinguish them from the rest. This meant that the miners would be paid double and to celebrate they would shout ‘¡alirón, alirón!’, hence its subsequent use to celebrate sporting triumphs, especially in Bilbao.

Some terms are more difficult to adapt and so the original English spelling has been maintained. For example, when a player scores three goals it is a ‘hat-trick’ in Spain just like it is in Britain. Although this term originated in the sport of cricket, it is its use in football that made it popular in Spain. The RAE recommends triplete but that does not seem to stop people from using ‘hat-trick’.

It is curious how sometimes words are borrowed from another language but somehow acquire a subtly different meaning in the host language. Here in Spain, an exceptionally good player is sometimes called a crack. This is an English word but in English, it generally refers to elite soldiers. You can say ‘a crack regiment’ or ‘crack troops’, for example, but you would not call a football player a ‘crack’. And why do the Spanish call the English national football team los pross?, something that mystified me for many years. It seems that because the first professional players were English, this abbreviation became forever associated with the English team, even though professionalism has long since been the norm the world over.

Another word we associate with football is ‘derby’. It is an English word but is used in many languages to describe an important sporting event, usually a football match between two local teams. Why do we call these matches derbies? It comes from The Derby, Britain’s most important horse race, which was founded in 1780 by the Earl of Derby. The Derby was and still is a big event in England and competition in this race was much fiercer than in other horse races. For this reason, the term ‘derby’ became associated in other sports, particularly football, with the idea of intense rivalry between two teams from the same town or region, so, for example, Sevilla vs Betis or Oviedo vs Sporting are derbies but Real Madrid vs Barcelona is not.

Jon Ostler

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