A Cluster of Clichés

The animal world enjoys an innumerable complement of collective nouns, ranging from the wonderfully alliterative to the impenetrably obscure. You may not be surprised to learn that football has quite a few of its own.

For reasons of sensationalism, laziness, inaccuracy or diversity, football coverage has demanded that a selection of collective nouns be made available, to be drawn from whenever appropriate. The list covers all aspects of the game, and leaves us in no doubt (despite the lack of cold, hard numbers) of the plurality of the objects or subjects in question:

Raft of substitutions - The sole domain of meaningless international friendlies, where the second half becomes fragmented by the experimentation of both managers, seeking to give debuts to one-cap wonders. Games are also seen to lose their shape and tempo.

Host of opportunities - Hosts tend to be fairly negative-sounding collections, consisting of missed opportunities or absentees from the first team.

String of chances - Chances can come in strings, as can a goalkeeper's saves or a player's impressive performances. Deviating slightly from the grammatical theme, teams will also aim to string some wins together.

Brace - A pair of goals, although simply the word "brace" is sufficient, as nothing else football-related arrives in the form of a brace. Braces are often quickfire in nature, and often leave the scorer vulnerable to be substituted before he can complete his hat-trick.

Flurry of yellow cards - Card-happy referees can sometimes end a barren first half-hour or so by unleashing a flurry of yellow cards in quick succession. They will often seek to justify this sudden outburst of disciplinarianism by pointing out various areas of the pitch to bemused perpetrators of persistent fouling.

Hatful of chances - A more flagrant exaggeration, used to ridicule the overpriced striker that has missed these chances, some of which may have been gilt-edged. One of the more imprecise units of measurement in football, as there seems to be no official confirmation regarding the volume of an average hat.

Run of victories - Similar to a string of wins, but tends to be more smoothly and less desperately achieved. High-flying sides aim to embark on an amazing run of victories as they march towards the title.

Array of talent - Most commonly found at major tournaments, but can also arrive on a club's youthful conveyor belt.

Mass of bodies - Generally found at the centre of an almighty penalty-area scramble, a mass of bodies can be the reason for a statuesque goalkeeper being unsighted, as a strike from all of 30 yards flies past him.

Embarrassment of riches - To further emphasise the options a manager has at his disposal, the cumulative international caps and transfer fees of his substitutes are often stated to illustrate his embarrassment of riches. The Big Four, for example, are not averse to turning to the millions of pounds' worth of talent sitting on the bench to spare their blushes in a Carling Cup tie.

Galaxy of stars - A rather naff alternative to the rather more understated array of talent, a galaxy of stars is often presented in contrast to the part-time bunch of journeymen they may be facing in a fairytale FA Cup tie.

Glut of goals - A goal glut can occur in a specific competition, particularly a weekend of league fixtures in a certain division. We will be told how many goals flew in in the dozen or so matches, leaving us to do the maths ourselves to decide if that is actually impressive or not.

Catalogue of errors - The media are always on hand to collate previous errors by an individual, if they sense that a catalogue of errors is emerging. Alternatively, unfortunate players may wish to browse a catalogue of injuries.

Series of high-profile gaffes - A more focused and specific offshoot of the catalogue of errors, a series of high-profile gaffes tends to be more easily attributed to goalkeepers, as the likes of Paul Robinson, David James and Fabien Barthez have all found to their cost in recent years. The series of high-profile gaffes becomes so because Sky Sports News insist in endlessly looping footage of its contents. The result for the victim is often the axe.

Swarm of [insert colour here] shirts - Sides that like to get the ball down and play have an equally established dislike of being denied space. The gameplan of their successful opponents may have been to close them down, snap at their heels and ultimately squeeze the game. Commentators will note the swarm of opposition shirts that descend upon a player if he happens to find time on the ball.



Mansfield v Middlesbrough: A Case Study of Cliché

Some casual, unstructured observations from today's FA Cup game between Mansfield Town and Middlesbrough, live on the BBC. I'll try and avoid addressing the usual Cup clichés, as that would, in turn, be an act of cliché in itself:

2 mins - Martin Keown, today's co-commentator, contends that the "swirling wind" will be a problem for the Midlesbrough defence. Therefore, watch out for a plucky Mansfield defender getting caught out by the swirling wind at some point.

5 mins - BBC coverage of a lower-league side hosting an FA Cup match is not complete without some young scamps (probably on the Beeb playroll for the afternoon) clambering up a tree outside the ground. This will, whatever its position, be described by the tradition-struck commentator as "the best seat in the house".

7 mins - David Wheater, apparently, has impressed this season. Why? The young, English, homegrown local lad has scored FOUR goals this season, making him the club's joint-top scorer. Oh, right. He can't manage to stop his side conceding to drag them away from the dropzone, but he has scored 4 goals. That's what he's in the side for, obviously.

This is typical. No defending can really catch the eye of any pundits, but a couple of goals will always be conspicuous for a defender. Furthermore, as soon as one media outlet describes him as "having an outstanding season", others will blindly follow.

My advice to any young defender would be to go up for a few corners. Get lucky at some set-pieces, and the media will be all over you.

17 mins - In a massive turn-up for the books, Mansfield's bright start has been followed by a straightforward Middlesbrough goal, caused by the Mansfield defence getting caught out by the swirling wind. The opener is "barely deserved", of course, because Mansfield have had a couple of corners at the other end.

25 mins - Robert Huth is booked for clearing the ball and following through on Michael Boulding's midriff. Cue horrified yelps from the commentators, convinced that a red card should have been issued. You wonder, if a Mansfield player had done the same, if the incident would have been dismissed as "clumsy". But no, Huth's foot "cut Michael Boulding in two".

47 mins - The second half begins with another bright start by Mansfield. A couple of corners brings about an "air of belief" at Field Mill.

60 mins - Mansfield embark on a "magnificent spell" of two corners and zero shots on goal.

73 mins - Martin Keown shares a joke with the commentator about the size of the latter's car. The nation can breathe a sigh of relief as it collectively ticks the box marked "Self-Deprecatory Joke between Commentators".

81 mins - Gareth Southgate demonstrates the modern skill common amongst aspirational, young English managers - standing up from the bench and clapping earnestly towards one or more of his players.

84 mins - A Mansfield defender commits an "understandable" foul, to go with the home side's "unfortunate" individual errors and under-hit set-pieces, which have been "a shame".

86 mins - Mansfield score an own-goal. "Cruel".