• Official language: Spanish
  • Interesting facts: Highly phonetic language, Latin and Arabic influences, uses this ¿ and this ¡

Every night, thousands of Spaniards get into bed and disappoint their partners.

From midnight to 1.30 am Spain’s biggest radio stations broadcast hugely popular sports programmes – usually football. To much spousal chagrin, it’s not unusual to put on your headphones on and listen while you drift off.

Football matters to Spain, and Spain matters to football. La Furia Roja has enjoyed massive success at both club and national level in recent years. Thanks in part to this, and the popularity of the game in Latin America, Spanish is one of few languages that offers a challenge to the English as the international language of football.

Despite this, Spain has been a team racked by both inward and outward questions of identity. Fierce regionalisms, or ‘peripheral nationalisms’, abound in the country, notably Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, where the Spanish national team has traditionally enjoyed muted support. And while attitudes softened with success, this hasn’t meant wholesale embrace.

Meanwhile, the inclusion of Diego Costa – born and raised in Brazil – in 2014 did also cause some soul-searching. Admittedly, though, this wasn’t helped by the character of the man, and it’s worth noting that players such as Marcos Senna (also Brazilian) have been well accepted by the Spanish public.

Features of the language of football in Spain

One area in which Spanish excels is the use of suffixes to hype something up. So a gol becomes a golazo when it’s great, a partido (match) is a partidazo when it’s particularly good, and a jugada (move) becomes jugadón.

The Spanish language doesn’t much like to repeat words, which leads to a wide working voacbulary for the basics of the game.

  • The ball can be referred to as balón, pelota, cuero (leather), esférico (sphere).
  • The goalkeeper can be the portero, guardameta or cancerbero (a reference to the Greek myth of Cerberus, the dog who guarded the gates of Hades).
  • The referee is variously the árbitro, colegiado (member of the College of Referees) and trencilla (from the braided cord they once used to hang the whistle around their neck).

Choice phrases

A player is expected to sudar la camiseta (sweat the shirt) and sentir los colores (feel the colours) of his club. Sometimes though, they simply couldn’t score even if the goal were as big as a rainbow (no mete gol ni a un arco iris).

Not exclusive to football is hacerle la cama a alguien (to make someone’s bed), which is used when players are fed up with the manager and play badly to get them sacked (think various Chelseas of recent past).

Somewhere towards the other end of the scale is sacarle las castañas del fuego (take someone’s chestnuts out of the fire). This means to bail your team out, and is another one used outside of football.

Who speaks what

As well as Spanish, Catalan  is spoken by the Barcelona contingent – Pique, Busquets, Jordi Alba and Cesc Fabregas. The two languages are very similar (painting with a very broad brush, Catalan is a cross between French and Spanish), and the Catalan natives are all bilingual.

Accents range from the word-swallowing Andalusian of the not-dead-bright Sergio Ramos, to David Silva and Pedro’s Canarian, which comes over as a hybrid of Castillian and South American Spanish, and has a reputation for being difficult even for other Spaniards.  Somewhere in the middle, Iker Casillas and Andrés Iniesta have the central-Castilian accent which is considered the standard.

Rivals

At European level Italy, Germany and France have always been the enemies-in-chief, while rivalry with Portugal is on the increase since their Iberian neighbours got good. Nicknames are usually colour-based: Brazil are the Canaries (Los Canarios), Italy the Blues (Los Azules) and so on.

The exception is England, who aren’t huge rivals but are often referred to as Los Pross. The origins of this are unclear (it’s not a Spanish word), but there is a misconception that in Spain that this is how England refer to themselves. One theory is that it goes back to the English word “pros” – as in professionals – and it is a reference to England as the birthplace of professional football.


With thanks to Dr. Karl McLaughlin at Manchester Metropolitan University, Robert Goodwin, Luis Ventoso, Dr. Stuart Green at the University of Leeds and Andy Walsh at Universidad Pontificia de Comillas, Madrid. Thanks also to Alejandro Lacomba for the corrections.