Karen's Linguistics Issues, August 2005 | Previous Months  

 Discourse Analysis of a Football Match Report


Nick Delleman


The article analysed is a post-match report on the Euro 2004 European championship qualifying association football match between England and Slovakia, on June 11th 2003, taken from the website Football365.com. The article can be found at the following Internet address: http://www.football365.com/Match_Stats/Match_Reports/story_70521.shtml.

My choice of article was motivated by my interest in football and also as many of my students are keen football supporters, especially of international football which has had increased coverage in Japan since the Japan/ Korea World Cup of 2002.

As the article was rather long I decided to analyse an extract of ten sentences. The extract, with the numbered sentences referred to in the discussion, can be found in Appendix 1.

One should note that the writer could have made an error in sentence (7). I believe the phrase ‘left fly’ should actually be ‘let fly’. Although this error has remained in the original of the text in the appendices, any quotes and discussion concerning this phrase have been made to the corrected ‘let fly’ rather than the original ‘left fly’.

The Analysis

In this paper I will endeavour to examine the article looking at cohesive properties of the text in regard to referential cohesion, substitution and ellipsis, and lexical cohesion. I will deal with each of these in turn, giving examples from the article. I will conclude giving brief implications of discourse analysis in the ELT classroom. 

Referential Cohesion

The strongest set of referential cohesive links can be found upon reading the first six sentences. These set out the details of the game and the game’s most important figure; Michael Owen, mentioned in the first two words of sentence 1 ((1)). In these six sentences we find a total of seven supra-sentential cohesive references to ‘Michael Owen’. These are show in figure 1 below.









Figure one illustrates that here ‘Michael Owen’ has six ties; one immediate tie, i.e. occurring in the following sentence (A1 in figure 1), two mediated ties, those which can only be resolved by referring to a previous tie (A3i and A4ii in figure 1) and three cases of remote ties, those which have a sentence or more in which the tie is not presupposed between the presupposed and presupposing (A2, A3 and A4i).

One could argue however, that the ‘Owen’ in sentences 4, 5 and 6 refers to ‘(T)he…striker’ (2) (indicated by the dashed line in figure 1) thus itself becoming a mediated tie having to be resolved through the reference ‘(T)he…striker’ (2). This decoding would become essential if there were more than one player with the surname ‘Owen’ taking part in the same football game, as without the reference to ‘the striker’, one might have difficulty in decoding which particular player was being referred to (as in the case of the Neville brothers, for example). As there was only one player with this surname we can assume that A2, A3 and A4i refer primarily to the initial reference of ‘Michael Owen’ in sentence 1.

For efficient decoding of the text we must understand that ‘(T)he…striker’ in sentence 2 refers to ‘Michael Owen’ (1). If we were to substitute it for ‘(T)he player’ or ‘(T)he team member’, for example, we can still see that the demonstrative reference in these examples would be an anaphoric reference to the only person mentioned in the text until that point; ‘Michael Owen’. If we replaced it by ‘(T)he…defender’ however, one could experience a conflict between cohesive links of the demonstrative reference and coherence in the form of exophoric knowledge of football and more specifically, Michael Owen. It could therefore be stated that in this case the demonstrative reference plays a more important role in understanding the link than exophoric knowledge. 

In (6) however, we can see that exophoric reference is crucial to our understanding of who ‘(T)he striker’ is, as two other players as well as Owen; Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard, who are incidentally midfielders, are also mentioned in the sentence preceding it. The reader however, would have acquired this knowledge from earlier references in (2).

Other demonstrative references occur in the text. One, but possibly not a strong one, occurs with the reference to ‘a ball’ and ‘the ball’ in (5) and (6) respectively. On one hand, one can see the demonstrative reference in (6) clearly refers to the ball on the pitch at the time of play, and is therefore intrinsically linked to ‘a ball’ in (5). But as exophoric knowledge might tell us, football is played with one ball on the pitch at any one time, so reference to ‘a ball’ may seem unusual unless it could be a synonym for pass. It could also provide coherence in that these two references to ball are linked by virtue that they both belong to a report of the same attacking move involving three England players, which spans over two sentences.

An example of comparative reference comes in the last line of the chosen section of text, comparing the similarity between the teams’ missed scoring opportunities, when the writer says ‘…and then England and Slovakia traded miss for miss for the rest of the half.’ 


One case of substitution as a cohesive mechanism can be found in the text in (8). Halliday and Hasan (1976) point out that ‘the same’ is used to indicate substitution especially ‘(I)n the environment where a ‘fact’ is involved’ (p107). In (8) we find the author using this in a statement of opinion:

            ‘Although Slovakia continued to look suspect defensively…the same could be said of England…’

In this example ‘the same’ substitutes for ‘look suspect defensively’. 


Much of the ellipsis in the text concerns the omission of nominal terms such as ball and goal (as in score a goal). The inclusion of such terms would make the text more cumbersome leading to a reduced readability. As synonyms for ball and goal are few the writer may have decided that the inclusion would lead to unnecessary repetition of such words. Examples of such ellipsis include:

a)      ‘...have scored five [goals] on the night.’ (4)

b)      ‘The striker looked odds-on to score [a goal]...’ (5)

c)      ‘…to get the merest of touches [to the ball] to defect it...’  (6)

d)      ‘…with an important block to clear [the ball].’ (7)

e)      ‘…Vittek [a Slovak player] had le(f)t [the ball] fly with an angled drive...’ (7)

f)        ‘… but he sliced [the ball] into the crowd.’ (8)

g)      ‘… the ball curled over every player and [it] bounced past the …’(9)

h)      ‘… forced James [the goalkeeper] to parry [the ball] and then England...’ (10)

Most of these cases of nominal ellipsis follow a similar pattern. In example (g) however, a pronoun with an anaphoric reference to ‘the ball’ earlier in the sentence is omitted. This omission is due to the use of the additive conjunction ‘and’ which enables the pairing of verbs without the need for a subject on the second verb.

Another case of pronominal ellipsis in sentences (6) and (9) can be observed due to the inclusion of the additive pronoun ‘and’:

‘The striker looked odds-on to score and [he] tried to lift the ball over Miroslav Konig….’

There is also one example of omission of a verb compliment in (7).

               ‘David James made a smart parry after RobertVitteck had let fly with an angled drive and Matthew Upson followed up [the angled drive] with an important block’ 

Lexical Cohesion


Cohesion using similar or near-similar terms is seen throughout the text. Sentences (1) and (2) show an important case of synonymy here. The term ‘two goals’ seen in (1) is referred to again in (2) as ‘double’. It is essential for the reader to be able to link the two, as without doing so one may have cause to suspect that Michael Owen had a look-a-like playing as well as him. Other synonyms are shown below:

a)      ‘found’ (5) is synonymous with ‘picked out’ (8)

b)       ‘slide a ball’ (5) is synonymous with ‘pass’ (5)

c)      ‘parry’ (7) is synonymous with ‘block’ (7)

It is interesting to note how in this last example the writer uses a synonymy of structure in the two cases ‘a smart parry’ and ‘an important block’. This could have been done deliberately to give the text added symmetry.

As mention in the referential cohesion section above one may relate exophoric knowledge of football to find a lexical synonymy between the ‘Michael Owen’ (1) and ‘(T)he striker’ (2). A similar case can be seen between ‘Slovakia’ (1) and ‘the visitors’ (3). In this case however, a certain exophoric knowledge of geographical location is required to decode Slovakia as being a European country and Middlesbrough (2), the place where the match took place, as being a place in England, thus indicating that England were the home team and Slovakia ‘the visitors’.

Another possible cohesive relationship can be found in the two items ‘blushes’ (2) and ‘embarrassed’ (9). How much of a cohesive effect this might have on the text is open to debate. Halliday and Hasan (1976) claim that ‘relative proximity’ i.e. the textual distance between two related lexical items has an effect upon the cohesive effect of the items. Since the distance between ‘blushes’ and ‘embarrassed’ is seven sentences, we can see these as having a reduced cohesive effect on the text. A similar, possibly weaker cohesive link can be made between ‘threatening’ (2) and ‘warning’ (9), the added weakness caused by a weaker lexical proximity.


In articles such as football reports it is often the case that writers gain and keep the reader’s attention whilst cohering the text by using synonyms and also hyponyms. This seems to be true of this report as the writer incorporates a range of terms for the various kinds of kick, run and save amongst others. Below is a summary of hyponyms for the superordinate noun kick from the article.




We can note that hyponyms for kick occur in all but three of the first ten sentences with an alternative lexical item used in each. This exerts a strong cohesive force due to the high relative proximity between them.

A similar strong cohesive force can be see in another chart, shown below, which indicates the various hyponyms used for the superordinate verb kick in the article.




We can also find terms for the different kinds of pass including ‘first-time pass’ (5),‘cross’ (8) and ‘lateral pass’ (8). There are also two kinds of save mentioned in the article; ‘block’ (7) and ‘parry’ (7&10). In addition one can observe three different players in ‘striker’ (2&6), ‘defender’ (5) and ‘keeper’. 

Antonymy, Repetition, Meronymy

One case of antonymy, causing a relatively strong cohesive force, can be seen by the use of ‘…get the merest of touches…’ (6) and ‘… let fly…’ (7) due to their close relative proximity and close lexical proximity.

There are a couple of instances of repetition in the text with the item ‘goals’ occurring in (1) and (2) and the repetition of ‘miss’ in (10).

One can see some evidence of meronymy in the relation to the word ‘stadium’ (1). These are illustrated in the chart below.





One can note a range of collocation (words which naturally and regularly occur together) in the article. Lexical collocations include:

a)      ‘…his double saved England’s blushes…’ (2)

b)      ‘…Slovakia were threatening an upset…’

c)      ‘…get the merest of touches’ (6)

d)      ‘The warning was not heeded…’ (9)

e)      ‘…England and Slovakia traded miss for miss…’ (10)

Another example of this can be seen in ‘look suspect defensively’ (8) which is of often use in reports of similar genre.

Idiomatic collocation included examples such as ‘let fly’ (7), which means kick with added force. Another example is  ‘…England and Slovakia traded miss for miss…’ (10). It can be seen that no trading occured during the match but indicates that perhaps the number of missed opportunities was similar for both sides on this occasion.

Certain phrases collocate in a grammatical sense. Phrasal verbs such as ‘picked out’ (8) and ‘keep above’ (3) bond together to help bind the text and thus can be considered as cohesive devices.


The analysis of texts such as the one used, is, from experience, essential to the teaching of texts in the English language classroom. For the text to be coherent for the student of English, the teacher must pre-teach any exophoric knowledge (for example geographic references) to enable the reader to successfully decode any links found. It might accurately be assumed that the higher-level student would understand lexical items such as visitor, but without the ability to relate that to other references in the texts, the knowledge of that word would not, in this example, be sufficient to fully understand the wider implications of its usage.

As this article, and others in its genre, is very rich in lexis related to football, it would serve to enhance the vocabulary of any learner who may or may not have an interest in this sport.



Halliday M. and R. Hasan (1976) Cohesion in English, London: Longman  


Appendix 1

The Extract of the Football365.com Article Used for Analysis.

N.B. The numbers indicate sentences and are used in the discussion of this article.


Michael Owen celebrated his 50th international cap with two goals to take England a step closer to the Euro 2004 finals (1). 

The 23-year-old Liverpool striker now has 22 England goals after his double saved England's blushes when Slovakia were threatening an upset in Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium (2). 

Vladimir Janocko's free-kick had given the visitors a half-time lead but a penalty and a header by Owen saw England do enough to keep above Turkey in the Group Seven table (3). 

Owen could easily have scored five on the night (4). It took just 49 seconds for his first chance when Paul Scholes slid a ball out to Steven Gerrard and his first-time pass found Owen sprinting between two defenders (5). 

The striker looked odds-on to score and tried to lift the ball over Miroslav Konig only for the Slovakian keeper to get the merest of touches to deflect it past the post (6). 

David James made a smart parry after Robert Vittek had left fly with an angled drive and Matthew Upson followed up with an important block to clear (7). 

Although Slovakia continued to look suspect defensively - Rastilav Michalik almost headed Scholes' cross into his own net - the same could be said of England as Radoslav Zabavnik picked out Igor Demo's run with a beautiful lateral pass but he sliced into the crowd (8). 

The warning was not heeded and after 31 minutes Janocko swung over a free-kick from the left touchline, the ball curled over every player and bounced past the embarrassed James (9). 

It was almost 2-0 when Michal Hanek forced James to parry and then England and Slovakia traded miss for miss for the rest of the half (10).

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