Antonio Conte was snapped on the beach this week basking in the Italian sun, taking time off during the international break. Cue a few jokes about budgie smugglers, whether Diego Costa was invited and why, after a year in England, Conte was caught reading a book called Football English: Soccer Vocabulary for Learners of English, by Tom Challenger.
The book is a practical guide to football-specific phrases and terminology. It is broken up into thematic chapters – there is one for coaches and one for training – and set at three levels of difficulty. It is not a phrasebook, though. It is written entirely in English, so one needs a basic understanding of the language before one can start. “There’s nothing special about football English,” says Challenger, presumably referring to the vernacular rather than the book. “Within that community of speakers, however, they use particular phrases more often than others and I tried to identify those in the book.”
Challenger teaches English as a foreign language in Vienna, where he lives with his wife and trilingual child (German, English and Hungarian). His book was the result not of a gap in any market but a desire to improve his CV as a teacher. Over two years he hand-built a database of articles, press releases and interview transcripts from which he worked out the most commonly used terms.
“The idea is to give you the most useful language,” Challenger says. “The first chapter, for example, deals with what wages are and the fact in the UK we quote the salary per week. I think they should know what a cone is, what a marker is, what the outside of the boot is, because we tend to say boot rather than the outside of the foot. They should know what the difference is between manager and coach. Though that’s not really well defined.”
Conte, after the transfer window he has just had, can probably identify with that final statement. For Challenger, who was not aware of his newfound tabloid infamy when the Guardian spoke to him, what started out as a résumé enhancer has become a nice little earner (with an emphasis on the little). He self-published online and copies of the book are printed on demand. He estimates that, given the hours worked and the copies sold, he has made at least minimum wage from his endeavours.
Sales have also been rising year on year and Challenger suspects word is getting round in an industry increasingly using English as a second language, whether in the UK or not. “There’s actually a lot of English teaching going on within Premier League academies,” he says. “I also noted the Man United soccer school franchise bought 150 copies at one point. But it’s useful, too, for players in Austria who might want to learn English before a possible move or for players in a new league who use English as they adapt to the domestic language.”
Given the exposure provided by Conte, Challenger may expect an extra boost in sales yet. And as for the Italian, there is no shame in brushing up further on his football English. The intricacies, after all, can often be subtle. “One phrase that’s difficult to explain is ‘being let go’,” he says. “In many languages they won’t have a different word for leaving your job because it was your fault or just because of bad luck. In German, in fact, they don’t have that word.” Wonder if that is also true in Italian?
The Guardian Sport