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September 6, 2011

I’ve just been watching England play Wales at football (bad luck the Welsh, there) and noted Andy Townsend’s insistent use of the word ‘quality’ whenever England did anything that resembled decent football. This has become a staple feature of football commentary. It means something akin to skill (the word ‘skill’ itself is not used quite so often in football as it used to be; when I first started watching televised football way back in the 70s, it was the word of choice for commentators- ‘lovely bit of skill there’) but it’s more specific than that. The skill must also include some element of originality or unexpectedness – a visionary pass that splits the defence, a cheeky back-heel,  a player cutting inside his marker, an overhead kick. Moreover, it’s only ever attacking moves that are referred to as ‘quality’ (or ‘a little bit of quality’);  defensive play can be as brilliant as you like, but it will never qualify as quality. The word is often used when there appears to be no chance of a goal, amid passages of tedious, predictable play (‘England need to find a little bit of quality from somewhere’) or when a goal is finally scored (‘At last England find that touch of quality they needed’). Skilful, unexpected attacking play that does not result in a goal probably won’t be described as quality; though the commentator may say ‘And England nearly finding that elusive bit of quality there’. It would be interesting to know who first originated this term; I’ve certainly been aware of it for a decade or so. Does anyone know?

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